A friend and I were debating the other day about which was smarter—cats or dogs. He kept talking about the tricks his dog could do. I kept saying Simon my Siamese was too smart to waste time learning skills. I needed proof that Simon was smart, so I went looking for some.
Are Siamese Cats Smart? Research has shown that Siamese, like all cats, are intelligent. Their brain structure provides some clues as to why they might be smarter than their size suggests. Siamese cats, in particular, exhibit higher levels of intelligence than other cat breeds, according to experts and cat lovers. You can observe their intelligence in how well they problem solve, interact with people, and show off their ability to learn.
What The Research Says
Plenty. If all the research ever done since time began were stacked up, it would reach, well nobody has researched that yet.
But we’re talking cat research. There’s less on that. A lot less. Part of that is because it’s a lot more challenging to measure intelligence when you can’t ask multiple-choice questions. Also, it’s not a high priority for researchers.
There are some, however. Sure, no one is sure why cats try to move their litters of kittens once a week. John Bradshaw, in his book Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, suggests they do this to avoid fleas. But is that what we mean by smart? Or do we mean how well a cat can learn a new behavior, problem-solve, and remember things? That is what researchers are studying.
Testing Cats Using Object Permanence
Many researchers consider Object Permanence, which is the idea that just because an object can no longer be seen, it still exists, as an essential first step to intelligence. A baby usually learns that until it is four months old, at the earliest. One method used to test object permanence is through the Visible Displacement Test.
The researcher puts something like food behind an obstacle, and if the subject remembers it is still there, he or she understands that just because it’s out of sight, it still exists. Out of sight, but not out of mind. Sort of like my car keys.
Numerous researchers have found cats can do this, including François Y Doré, of Laval University, and others. Additional studies have shown that cats have a highly-developed long-term memory. I would tell you who they are, but I forgot. Seriously, if you want to explore the research in more detail, follow this link.
An Object Test You Can Try
If you want to take this test to the next level, try this on your Siamese. Gather together
• A container that can hold cat treats
• Something that could serve as a screen, such as a cereal box
• The cat treat
Put a cat treat insider a container so that the cat can see it. Then put the container behind the box. Quickly take the treat out and then show the cat the empty container. If your cat searches for the food, she’s passed the Visible Displacement Test. If she can’t, then she’s probably tired of your games and waits for you to feed her something better.
When you circle C on the test, whoever is scoring your test has no idea why you choose C. Maybe you
a) Actually knew C was the right answer
b) Thought C might be correct
c) Heard that when you don’t know, pick C
d) Meant to circle D
Researchers have similar difficulty when studying animal intelligence. They know what the animal did but not necessarily why. So, if your kitty flunks your test, maybe she was disgusted by your choice of cereal.
The Brain Matters
Does brain size say anything about how smart someone is? Neanderthals had larger brains than us, and you see how that worked out. When it comes to body weight, our brains are 2 percent of our total weight. A cat’s brain is about one percent. The dog—half a percent of body weight.
Dogs weigh more, you say. Quite right, Watson. But brain size isn’t everything. Brain structure is more important. The surface folding—think wrinkles—of a cat’s brain is far superior to that of a dog’s brain. The cat’s brain structure closely resembles ours. The cerebral cortex (where higher-order thinking takes place) of my Siamese is larger and more complex than a dog’s.
Simon’s brain carries around 300 million neurons, almost twice as many as a dog’s 160 million. A cat has more neurons in the part of her brain in charge of visual processing than either a dog or a human, according to researchers at Tufts University. A cat can even out-process an iPad. Think 91,000 gigabytes instead of 60 or 6 trillion operations a second versus 170 million. Just imagine what a cat could do with Wi-Fi and access to Alexa?
What Can Cats Do With 300 Million Neurons
Plenty. Here’s how they do it. First, they take in new information and connect it to the information they already know. Then they can combine those two to do something new.
For example, I recently bought a cabinet for my tv. Put Simon in the bedroom while I assembled it. After I set it up, I let him back into the living room. He walked around the new piece of furniture, then sat down in front of it. When I came back from the kitchen, guess who was exploring the inside of the cabinet?
Not only has Simon learned from observing me open cabinets, but he was also able to connect that knowledge to a new piece of furniture.
Another thing they do with all of those neurons is learn to communicate with us through meowing. Cats rarely meow with one another, yet its how they “talk” with us. (Simon always talks—but then he’s a Siamese.) Cats realize early on that meowing works to get our attention. They develop different meows for different purposes. Ask any cat owner—there’s a meow that means feed me, another that means to play with me, and even one that says leave me alone.
Cats Can Be Trained
Everybody knows that dogs can be trained. But cats? People think cats are stubborn and have a mind of their own. When Simon jumps on my couch, and I shoo him off, and then he does it again, I shake my head and think he’ll never learn. Sarah Ellis, co-author of The Trainable Cat, would say the cat is training me.
“What they don’t realize, though, is that they are subconsciously training their cats on a daily basis.”
So how can you train a cat?
It starts by deciding on some goals. Do you want your cat to be able to do tricks to impress your friends? Or would you like to train her for daily life? Me, I want Simon to do a few things
• Come on command
• Get into the cat carrier when its time to go to the vet
• Stop scratching my couch
• Be calm when I’m trimming his claws
We will get along much better if I can get him to do these things. Shaking hands, turning over, and walking on a leash sound fun, but I can’t walk him to the vet. I’ve heard people train their cat to use a toilet, but that sounds too complicated. I don’t need any more arguments about who left the seat up or down.
If you can’t decide on what you want your cat to do, Google. I did, and immediately websites about cat tricks showed up: 5 tricks to teach your cat. 9 tricks to teach your cat. Top 5 cat tricks. And on and on. It seemed like there’s practically no end to cat tricks. Or cat trick videos such as this one, which explains the Top 10 Funny Tricks to teach your cat.
Training a cat seems similar to training a dog. I’ve watched my share of YouTube videos about it (this is one of the most helpful). One thing I’ve noticed is that most cat trainers use a clicker and have treats ready. And all of them advise you to use only positive reinforcement because a cat will not respond to punishment.
Cats Can Set World Records
In case you haven’t heard of Didga, let’s rectify that immediately. Didga is a skateboarding cat made famous through YouTube that set a Guinness World Record by performing 20 tricks in under one minute, including jumping over a bar while riding a skateboard. Pretty smart, if you ask me.
Cats Can Be In A Circus
I had never heard of the Amazing Acro-Cats, but it makes sense in a way. After all, a circus has lions. Why can’t you have a circus made up of house cats?
That is what Samantha Martin decided. When she was 10, she started training animals. At first, it was the family dog. As a teen, she began to train rats. She created a show called Amazing Acro-Rats, but it wasn’t a successful venture. Next, she trained birds to perform on a variety of instruments.
That didn’t work out well either. So she switched to cats. Now she has a 14-cat circus that tours the country performing their act (watch here for a sample). Samantha Martin mainly uses cats from shelters as a way of rescuing them and showing what they are capable of.
“So many cats end up in shelters because they have behavioral problems, and most behavioral problems are due to boredom,” Ms. Martin said. “If you train your cat to do tricks, you make them use their brains.”
Source: New York Times
Cats Can Enter Tournaments
I’ve watched the National Dog Show or Westminster Dog Kennel show, and I assumed there must be something similar for cats. And there are. The most popular are hosted by the Cat Fanciers Association or CFA. Pretty kitties are paraded around (and some not so pretty ones) and judges probe and prod to see which cats are the most beautiful.
I also knew that there were obedience shows were dogs showed off their training. The American Kennel Club is the largest organization behind these shows.
Recently I learned of an organization that provides tournaments for people to show off their cat tricks. The International Cat Agility Tournaments, or iCAT, was created by Vickie Shields, Adriana Kajon, Shirley Piper, and Kathy Krysta, in 2003, as a way to encourage more interaction between cat owners and to create healthier and happier cats.
The tournaments feature a set of routines that cats have to learn as a way to show their agility, balance, endurance, power, and reaction time. You can learn more about these tournaments on their website.
So Which One is Smarter
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter to me if other folks think Simon is smarter than a dog. I know he is. What I want from him is companionship, and I get plenty of that. I’ve seen him use his smarts to get into all sorts of mischief. Just last week he learned to open the refrigerator. Now if I can teach him to close it.