Monday, August 10, 2009 6:07 PM

Exploding Cat Myths: Cats Aren' t as Smart as Dogs


If you've ever heard this one, I'll be willing to bet it came from a dog person. Not any dog person, either, but a particular type: One who dislikes cats. People who have both dogs and cats in their lives know very well that this statement is untrue, and would never utter it themselves. While it is certainly true that some dogs are smarter than some cats and vice versa, they are, I think, pretty evenly matched. I have never owned a dog, but I have worked with them and have known many dog people over the years. The issue here is the fact that these two species are so different.

When people get a puppy, they expect it to behave a certain way. They know, for instance, that the dog must be house trained. They lay down newspapers and spend much time trying to teach the animal to hold off until he can be let outdoors. Some time and many messes later, the job is done. With kittens, litter box training usually entails placing her in the box, moving the front paws back and forth, and letting nature take its course. Does this mean that cats are smarter than dogs? Not necessarily. It's just a different teaching method for the same end result, with one being a bit more complicated than the other, therefore taking more time to learn. It doesn't mean that dogs are dumber than cats, right?

The biggest complaint regarding cats versus dogs is that some people claim that cats can't be trained as dogs can. Is it a matter of "can't", or "won't"? I would say the latter. J. gets our cats to do all kinds of tricks for their pieces of cheese, for instance. They won't do the same for a chunk of carrot, though--because they don't want to! I have seen dogs do tricks for rewards, too, so what's the difference?

I've also heard some claim that cats can't learn their names. Wrong! When we lived in the city, I would call Min and Sweet Pea in before dark. Our next-door neighbors got a big kick out of seeing these two come running full speed from the yard behind ours and zoom into the house as I held the door open. If a cat doesn't appear to respond to his name, it is just IGNORING you! Look closely. Despite their apparent nonchalance, they do react to hearing their names spoken. The ears move, whiskers flick, and they may even deliberately look away. So, even if they don't come trotting over to see what you want (and most of the time they will, anyway), they are reacting. So much for that theory!

Lastly, it is commonly thought that cats can't be leash-trained. Many breeds of cat take to the leash quite readily, and even the average house cat can be trained to the leash, if training is started early enough. Of course, a prime reason for choosing a cat as a pet instead of a dog is due to the fact that one does not need to walk them! What the heck--they walk themselves! Or, if they are indoor cats, walking is unnecessary anyway--they have their litter box, and one of the primary reasons for dog-walking is to take care of "that stuff".

So the next time you hear cats maligned in this manner, just point out that cats and dogs are like the proverbial apples and oranges: too different to compare equitably. Anyway, wouldn't you say the point is to just enjoy them? I knew you would.
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Amanda
Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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