Statistics reveal Facebook has 1.35 billion active users in the world per month. The world population is estimated to be 7.125 billion. That means roughly one in seven people in the world uses the social media juggernaut. Until very recently, I was proudly not among that number. The pressures of starting a new business prompted my becoming a citizen of what is estimated to be the 3rd largest country in the world by population. For me, Facebook assimilation was inevitable, but resistance was not futile.
Since being assimilated, I check my face book feed at least once a day. In doing so, I have noticed the exceedingly large number of post, pictures and videos which are about animals. The numbers are staggering. Besides the selfies of pets and the ubiquitous cat videos, there are many videos that have a heading of “This is INCREDABLE” or “THIS IS SO CUTE” featuring animals doing something the poster thinks is unusual or exceptional, especially for a cat or a dog. That is not necessarily true. People seem to have the general idea that animals are monolithic in their behavior and intelligence. The truth is actually astounding.
The measuring of canine intelligence is biased on language development test. The average dog can learn about 165 different words, visual cues, and gestures. This means they have roughly the mental abilities of a 2-year-old child. Like human toddlers, dogs also show some basic emotions, such as happiness, anger and disgust. More complex emotions, such as guilt, are beyond their capabilities as best we can determine. According to research, what we see and interpret as guilt in dogs, has actually been determined to be a manifestation of fear. As humans, we anthropomorphize the actions of animals. We interpret the emotions and behaviors in relation to our own, resulting in misinterpretation. In fact we are actually dealing with a 2 year old with the physical agility and strength of a dog. More recent research provides some surprising new insights as to how we have shaped dogs physiologically, similar to the way we have literally shaped them through breeding.
When animals are domesticated, especially a companion animal like dogs and cats, we are placing new demands upon them. Many of the demands are social in nature, such as understanding human communication, gestures, and words. Dogs being highly social, are more intensely subjected to these pressures than cats. Through coping with these pressures, it appears dogs are becoming progressively more intelligent over time while cats have remained at much the same level of mental ability they had when we first domesticated them. This means that not only are dogs smarter than cats, but the intelligence gap between the species is increasing over time. Sorry cat owners, you can’t argue with science. While dogs thrive in our environs, cats have a very different social structure.
The cat’s natural social structure is to live in large interrelated groups of females with males tending to roam and not being part of a group. The most commonly known example of this social grouping is the pride of lions we see so often on nature television shows. Cats by nature are more independent and have a limited need to co-operate with other cats and humans unless it serves its purpose. So in fact, we are forcing cats to live in an artificial social structure that neither fits nor contributes to their needs. We judge cats by our anthropomorphic standards, condemning and praising them for what we describe as being aloof, mysterious, and independent when they are just being cats.
In short, we find the social media postings depicting dogs, cats, and other animals astounding because we just don’t have a good understanding of their true intelligence and behavior. They are truly miraculous creatures. It is sad we don’t take more time to learn about the beings which share so much of our lives.
Dr. Pierre Bland is the owner of Dr. Bland’s Vet House Calls. He can be reached at 954-673-8579 or at doctorblandvet.com.