Are Rats Smarter Than Dogs? 6 Intelligence Facts Compared

Last Updated: January 22, 2024
Smart rats vs dogs

Dogs are known to be some of the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom. Thanks to thousands of years of domestication, dogs learned to coexist with humans in ways other animals can't.

Smart rats vs dogs

They're our support animals, family members, and partners. Not only do they provide amazing companionship, but many dogs work hard to herd livestock, find objects with their sense of smell, and even take down criminals.

There's no denying that dogs are smart. But are they the smartest animals around? Maybe not! Interestingly, the animals with a similar intelligence level are lowly rats!

Rats are large rodents most commonly associated with filth. They roam urban streets and can live in most habitats as long as there's a water source nearby. Scientists often use rats for testing because of their intelligence.

So which animal is the smartest: dogs or rats?

Measuring Intelligence in Dogs and Rats

Before we get into the head-to-head match of smarts, let's look at how scientists measure intelligence. The truth is that both dogs and rats have a lot to offer regarding intelligence. However, these animals express intelligence in different ways.

Neither animal can do complex algebra or figure out how to work a computer. But they show their smarts in more ways than most realize.

When measuring intelligence, scientists consider a few key factors. The three biggest are their ability to remember information, solve complex problems, and learn.

Of course, intelligence is more complicated than boiling things down into three categories. But it's the best way to get a good idea of these animals' true potential.

Scientists put dogs and cats through various tests that shed light on how they think, helping us understand more about intelligence in the animal kingdom.

Related: Can Dogs Be Retarded Or Mentally Challenged?

Dogs vs. Rats: Which Animal is Smartest?

Ready to get to the showdown? We'll look at different types of intelligence to see how these animals stack up.

Emotional Intelligence

Here's where dogs truly shine the brightest. Emotional intelligence refers to an animal's ability to recognize emotions and empathize with others. Think about how your dog acts around you when you're in different moods. These lovable goofs are dripping in emotional intelligence!

One of the most beautiful things about having a dog is that they can read you like a book. They might not know what's happening or fully understand your feelings. But they sure can brighten your day! 

Dogs can observe owners, reading subtle visual and audible cues to get inside your head.

If you're sad, they recognize the change in your tone of voice and see how your facial expressions become more negative. So, they approach you and try their hardest to make you feel better.

On the other hand, entering a room with a smile on your face makes most dogs gleam with the same level of happiness!

So what about rats? Believe it or not, these rodents also have impressive emotional intelligence. They, too, can read emotions and will change their behavior based on how others feel. Pet rats act similarly to dogs, bouncing off your feelings to display their own.

Rats can also exhibit a wide range of emotions, including happiness, anger, boredom, and fear.

Spatial Intelligence

Rats and dogs have great spatial intelligence. This form of intelligence refers to how an animal can navigate their surroundings.

Rats have the upper hand in this category. Look no further than those iconic "rat in a maze" experiments from decades past. They're agile creatures with no problem finding their way out of a sticky situation.

What makes rats so intelligent in this regard is that they can look at their environment and find ways to meet their objective. They look beyond the obvious solution to exploit loopholes and navigate the path with the least resistance.

That's why rats are so hard to eliminate when pests are in your home! These animals can hide, flee, and stay out of sight!

Dogs can be a little clumsy when doing smaller-scale movements. How often has your dog fallen or tumbled against a wall because it can't keep its balance? It's a goofy quirk!

Where dogs are most impressive is navigating large-scale movements. For example, dogs can often find their way home from miles away. Despite never roaming that path before, they use their sense of smell to get back to you.

Some researchers suggest that dogs may even read magnetic fields to find their way around.


Regarding problem-solving skills, rats and dogs are on an even playing field.

You can see examples of dogs solving problems everywhere you turn. Canines can guide the blind, help identify medical episodes, find substances, and more. They can also learn to conquer difficult obstacle courses, learn how to use mental stimulation tools, etc.

Dogs are smart creatures that often rely on social learning. They observe others and take guidance from you to learn.

Rats, on the other hand, solve problems through trial and error. They make mistakes and learn from them. Many rats will remember unpleasant experiences from the past to conquer hurdles. For example, pest rats that get sick eating baited food will learn to avoid similar foods.

There's no clear winner in this battle. Dogs and rats excel at problem-solving, but their approaches are unique. Dogs are observers, while rats thrive on learning from their past.

Verbal Intelligence

Next up, we have verbal intelligence. This category covers communication with others.

Rats and dogs don't speak words as humans do. However, that doesn't mean they can't communicate with us or one another.

Rats have a language of their own. Experts believe it's not as well-developed as dogs' communication methods. But it exists nonetheless. The rodents use squeaks and ultrasonic noises that fall out of the range of human hearing. They can also take advantage of their tails to send messages to others.

A group of rats can easily communicate with one another to stay safe. They can warn others of danger, help them spot food, and more.

Dogs tend to be smarter when it comes to communication. Like rats, they have their own language with barks and whines. You can also look at a dog's body language. Everything from ear twitches to tail wags has a meaning. But that's not all.

Canines get tons of information from one another through smell. A dog's sense of smell is up to 10,000 times stronger than a human's, allowing them to gather more information about others than we could ever imagine.

Related: What Smells Do Dogs Hate?

Learning and Trainability

Both dogs and rats are capable of learning. Trainability is a big deal and is one of the easiest factors to consider when gauging an animal's intelligence. Most animals can't be taught to do what dogs and rats do.

What makes the animals different is how they learn.

Dogs have a slight upper hand because they rely on social cues. They observe others to understand what they need to do. That's why training from humans is so effective.

Rats require more individual attention. Learning with others usually isn't effective because the rodents need to experiment to get things right.

Social Interactions

Finally, let's talk about social behaviors. Rats and dogs are social animals.

Rats often live in groups with dynamic social hierarchies. There are leaders, followers, workers, and more. The rodents all communicate to keep each other safe and healthy.

Dogs are also well-socialized. They love to live in packs. But dog packs can include non-canine animals, such as humans, unlike rats. Thousands of years of domestication have made forming bonds with humans second nature for dogs. They tend to be loyal to owners, show affection, and more.

Rats vs. Dogs: Which Species is the Winner?

It's impossible to say that one animal is smarter than the other. Think of this battle ending in a tie!

While rats and dogs are both smart, they're uniquely intelligent. Rats are social creatures that can solve problems through trial and error. Meanwhile, dogs are full of emotion and empathy, using observation to learn complex tasks.

There's a lot to love about both rats and dogs. They both make fantastic pets, and their intelligence can lead to years of enjoyment for you and your family.

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