The common stereotype about cats and dogs is that dogs are kinder than cats but cats are smarter than dogs. Maybe it’s because dogs are so sweet. Maybe it’s because of their big, goofy grins. Or maybe its because cats are less likely to eat broken glass and think that’s it’s absolutely delicious.
Whatever it is, recent research suggests that we’ve been underestimating dogs. A 2017 study found that dogs actually possess way more brain neurons than cats, 570 million versus only 250 million to be exact (humans have 16 billion, for comparison). While what defines a living being as “smart” is a matter of debate even among humans, the study’s researchers believe that the number of neurons animals have in their cerebral cortex determines the “the richness of their internal mental state and their ability to predict what is about to happen in their environment based on past experience,” which means that “dogs have the biological capability of doing much more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats can.” Dogs also have slightly larger brains than cats have. (Though that doesn’t actually mean anything. Bears, for example, have brains that are ten times larger than a cat’s, but they possess roughly the same amount of neurons.)
Previous studies have also found that dog’s possess a “theory of the mind”—the ability to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own—by engaging in deception. I was once eating a pizza when my dog barked at the door, and when I got up to check, I found that, puzzlingly, there was no one there. In that time, he had managed to eat most of my pizza, and that was all the proof that I needed to know he was a secret genius.
Other research has found that dogs are incredibly emotionally intelligent, and possess the same social intelligence as toddlers. This is proven by their ability to engage in “cooperative communication,” aka communicating using physical gestures in the absence of verbal ones. Now, researchers at the University of Salford, in Manchester, England, have managed to identify 47 gestures that dogs use to communicate and translate what 19 of them mean. The study, which was recently published in the science journal Animal Cognition, found that many of the gestures mean “scratch me” and not “feed me,” as many believe. So read on to find out what your dog is trying to tell you. And for more on dogs, check out these 50 Corgi Facts That Will Make You Want a Corgi!
They Use Their Snouts to Move Your Hand Onto Their Bodies
“Feed me.” For more on the science of “dog-speak,” check out Why It’s Totally OK to Talk to Your Dog Like a Baby.
Rolling Over In Front of You
This is a call for belly rubs, obviously. Dogs are notoriously affectionate, as evidenced by this labrador retriever that adopted nine ducklings.
Holding One Paw In The Air While Sitting
Surprisingly, this is a request to be fed.
Pressing Their Noses Up Against Your or Another Object
Head scratches now please!
Turning Their Heads From Side to Side
Looking for food, please. Perhaps this is one of the Secrets You’re Dog Walker Is Not Telling You.
Please return the favor and give scratches immediately.
Standing On Their Hind Legs
This is a request for food. To learn more about pet nutrition, read our feature on the Former Model Who Wants to Save Your Dog’s Life.
Lifting a Paw And Placing It On You
“Wouldn’t cuddles be so good right now?”
Using Its Mouth to Throw a Toy Forward
You might think this is a request for fetch, but according to the scientists it’s actually them asking to be fed.
Gently Biting Your Arm
“Perhaps the human has forgotten that arms can be uses for head scratches. I will remind him.”
Shuffling Along the Ground While Rolling Over
It’s time to rub the belly. If you still aren’t convinced dogs are every bit as intelligent as humans, check out this photo of a dog politely waiting outside a cafe that doesn’t allow pets.
Lifting Their Back Leg While Lying On Their Side
You might think they’re preparing for snoozing, but they are actually asking for the love. If you don’t have a dog already, you should read about the 15 Amazing Benefits of Adopting a Pet.
Rubbing Their Heads Against You While Leaning On You
This is a pretty desperate call for affection.
Briefly Touching You With One Paw
It is time to play. Want to know if your favorite breed is influenced by location? Then check out The Most Popular Dog Breed in Every State.
Lifting Both Paws Off of the Ground And Placing Them On a Human or Object
“I would like to go outside now.”
Diving Headfirst Under a Person or Object
Playtime has begun whether you’re joining or not.
Jumping Up and Down In The Same Place
“Really, really gotta go now!”
Reaching a Paw Towards An Object
“Please to play now.”
Wiggling Their Bodies Underneath a Person or Object
“Seriously, you can stare at the glowing rectangle later. Playtime is now.”
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