Controversial I know, but I’ve always preferred cats to dogs, you don’t have to walk a cat, or pick up its mess, and you can leave it for the weekend if you have an automatic cat feeder. Stroke a purring cat’s side, caress its chin and feel the gentle rumbling purr for instant stress relief. By contrast, the happy, barking, panting and often over-excitable dog just aims to please, fetching things for its master, and doing other stuff, like rolling over.
Even the loudest of cats cannot compete with the barking, or worse, whining of a dog. However, unless you train it from an early age, a cat won’t instinctively play fetch or perform ‘tricks’ and it obstinately refuses to defer to ‘master’. Dogs may seem more sociable, but then a cat has never tried to hump my leg and it’s invariably clean and well presented.
But what about intelligence? Feline intelligence is notoriously hard to analyse scientifically. For example, put a dog in a maze and it’ll get out much faster than a cat, which often just bides it’s time and sits there washing itself (did I mention that cats are clean?). Only once the cat is properly motivated (i.e. made hungry) can it be bothered to exit the maze in the same time as the dog, and a cat can (with patience) be taught to do tricks and even use a toilet.
Unfortunately, much as I love him, I do not think that my cat is the brightest of animals. He’ll shout for his breakfast, despite the fact that he’s always fed at the same time every…single…day. He responds to his name…sort of, maybe it’s just the inflection that we use when calling him though, and he always scratches stuff up, despite the fact that I’ve made him a scratching post. But then, cats are contrary beasts, if you want one on your lap, it wont jump up. If you’re sat there, scared of cats, they seem to be able to sense this and will unfortunately grace you with their furry bodied presence.
No cat that I have ever owned has learned to retract its claws to free their paw from fabric. You have to help the animal to free itself from the predicament. Anyway, I decided to test my cats intelligence by following an online BBC test, that you can try for yourself – here. Test one was to put some cat crunchies in a container and then turn said container upside down. Sure enough, he knocked the container over using his paws and head and ate the crunchies underneath by reaching in with his paw. According to the test, this means that:
“Your cat understands what psychologists call “object permanence”. It realises that objects continue to exist even after they have disappeared from view. This is cleverer than you may imagine. To understand this, it must believe in a world beyond its perception.”
I then moved onto another test, that was not in the BBC’s guide. I put crunchies into two containers and then swapped them around, whilst the cat was watching. Now, I expected him to at least flip both containers over in the search for food. Instead, he just watched and then wandered off for a sit-down.
Later that evening, when it was feeding time, I placed some treats around the living room. Carrie was holding the cat, so that he could see where everything went. We then took the cat out of the room and set him down at the door, expecting him to rush in and find the treats. Instead, he went in the opposite direction and started yowling loudly at the cardboard box that contained his crunchies on the table. According to the BBC this means that…
“Your cat has forgotten where you hid the treat. This is less dim than it may seem. To succeed your cat has to use two types of memory, a spatial memory to remember the layout of the space, and an episodic memory to remember the action of you placing the treat in the hiding place. So it’s quite a complex task.”
I can’t be sure that the cat failed the test though, because although he did not find the hidden food, he did obtain his normal meal through his vociferous mewing. Also, the little blighter seems to have worked out how to open the fridge! so he’s not that daft.
There are times when the cat seems to deploy strategies to deal with setbacks. For example, I was on the sofa munching some leftover Chinese the other day, when the cat jumped up onto my lap. After pushing him away, he jumped back up, on the opposite side of the sofa and then stealthily crept around the headrest to appear at my ear. It did not get him any treats, but it did show some cunning.
Whilst it is interesting to look at feline intelligence, it won’t affect how much I like the cat, after all, how much you like someone is not dependent on their meeting a certain intelligence level. As Mr Data said of his cat in Star Trek The Next Generation:
“…although you are not sentient, and do not comprehend, I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.”