Q: Is a horse smarter than a dog?
Asked by Eve Exley
Horses and dogs are very different animals. People often judge the intelligence of animals, wrongly we might add, by assessing how well they meet our needs.
Therefore, because horses don’t have the same motivations and wants that humans do, some people assess them as being ‘stupid’. Dogs, on the other hand, have similar social needs and respond to negative and positive reinforcement in the same way that humans do, which often results in them having a reputation for being ‘smart’.
Another common misconception is that a horse’s brain is the size of a walnut. In reality, a horse’s brain is roughly 25 times the size and weight of a walnut and has a considerable number of involutions (creases and furrows) that add to its surface area. With surface area often used to assess intelligence capacity, horses have considerably more brain area than most people realise.
As any horse lover knows, horses are very good at picking up human body language. However, they may not outdo dogs in this respect. Dogs, are able to read our cues even better than horses! Research has shown that we can train horses to do many of the things dogs do, but it takes much more effort to train a horse. This may have to do with how we have bred horses – selectively breeding for qualities such as size, speed, strength and good looks, but not necessarily selecting for intelligence or companionship qualities.
There is no definite way to rank animal intelligence, but when viewed according to some of the common criteria for establishing human intelligence, such as memory and problem solving, horses tend to rank below some other common mammals such as apes and monkeys, dolphins and whales, and dogs and elephants.
On the other hand by most human intelligence standards, horses are decidedly more intelligent than cows and cats.