Are Rats Smarter Than Dogs? The Surprising Answer!


While you may not consider rats one of the most intelligent animals, rat fanciers everywhere know just how much of an oversight this is. Rats are one of the most intelligent mammals and can comprehend everything from counting to empathy. While they may not be on the same intellectual level as humans, they have quite a bit of crossover with dogs. The most brilliant rats are about as bright as the low-mid intelligent specimens of dogs.

The Different Types of Intelligence: How Do Rats and Dogs Compare?

You may have heard of the theory of multiple intelligences. This theory states that intelligence should be broken up into various types. Harvard psychologist Howard Gardener posits that there are eight different kinds of intelligence and that every living creature scores differently on each type of intelligence.

You may see different figures for the number of types of intelligence. Still, we’ll be using the eight types proposed by Gardener:

  1. Logical-mathematical intelligence
  2. Linguistic intelligence
  3. Spatial intelligence
  4. Musical intelligence
  5. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
  6. Intrapersonal intelligence
  7. Interpersonal intelligence
  8. Naturalistic intelligence

Every individual will score differently in each category. Still, there are some tests we can run that help us determine the relative knowledge that animals who can’t talk display.

There isn’t a tremendous amount of information regarding the different intelligence styles of other species. These concepts rely strongly on verbal self-assessment of the subjects and the ability to comprehend test material regarding these subjects.

While dogs and rats may be well-equipped to handle these concepts, they have no way to communicate with them to explain testing measures and get results. Here’s some information regarding the relative intelligence of rats and dogs within the Gardner framework of intelligence.

We will focus on mathematical, linguistic, and interpersonal intelligence. These are the intelligence that is most widely tested in science. While there can be arguments for maze-testing being indicative of spatial intelligence or bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, there’s no way we can confirm this information without being able to communicate with rats and dogs in a way that’s understandable for both parties; they rely on self-reporting and assessment to understand the motivations.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence

It’s hard to explain the mathematical abilities of animals. To explain these concepts requires a shared spoken language which we don’t have with rats or dogs. However, rudimentary mathematical knowledge has been displayed in rats and dogs.

A study showed that dogs could read and understand basic mathematical calculations like “1+1=2.” When presented with an incorrect analysis like 1+1=1 or 1+1=3, the dogs spent a more extended period looking at the result and, presumably, trying to understand why they were being presented with incorrect information.

Rats have also been shown to have rudimentary mathematical abilities, though less so than their canine counterparts. Several studies have shown that rats have an essential counting ability that allows them to count at least up to three, according to a survey that judged rats’ ability to measure time intervals between electric shocks.

Linguistic Intelligence

Dogs have shown some level of linguistic intelligence. However, it’s limited to the amount of training the owners are willing to put in for their dogs to learn. Most dogs will discover a limited amount of language during their lives; that’s how they recognize their names or the commands you give them.

Rats have also been shown to display linguistic intelligence. Training can teach your rats to learn their names and respond to them as dogs do. Rats have also been shown capable of language discrimination using prosodic cues. They could discriminate between Dutch and Japanese, but not Japanese from Dutch. Still, being able to distinguish between languages requires a lot of intelligence.

Interpersonal Intelligence: Do Rats and Dogs Show Empathy?

Another factor we want to look at is empathy and emotional intelligence. Empathy studies are generally ethically questionable because to trigger empathy; you must mistreat an animal in front of another animal to see if it reacts.

Rats have been the subject of several empathy “tests” of various ethical questionability, but the studies have all had pretty similar results. In one study where a rat was presented with two options, freeing a caged rat who was standing in water or eating chocolate, the rats seemed to prefer to release the caged rat and share the chocolate than hoard the chocolate for themselves, demonstrating some level of empathy for the suffering rat.

Dogs have also been shown to show empathy for both humans and other dogs. Most people with dogs have experienced their dog cuddling up to them while crying or seeming to know when something is off. This is because dogs understand when something is different or wrong. They are smart enough to see that a crying human is one in distress.

rat on a rock
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Who Is Smarter: Rats or Dogs?

It’s hard to say for sure which species is more intelligent. Without self-reported data on motivation and thought processes, there’s no way to choose a clear winner. However, in terms of testing, dogs generally test higher than rats. However, the lower range of dog intelligence scores overlaps with the highest degree of rat intelligence scores. So, it’s safe to say that the most brilliant rats are about as bright as the dumbest dogs.

Final Thoughts

It can be hard to imagine how intelligent rats are since they have endured a long history of persecution by humans. Still, a portion of rats is just as intelligent, if not wiser, than dogs! So it’s time we stopped overlooking these brilliant animals and started treating them like kings and queens of intellect because that’s what they are!


Featured Photo Courtesy: Pixabay



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