Cats Vs. Dogs – Who’s Liked More?

A recent Associated Press poll reveals that more people like dogs than like cats.  In a survey of just under 2000 people, 59% of who were pet owners (mostly of dogs or cats) 74% said they liked dogs “a lot” but only 41% said the same thing about cats.  Only 2% said they disliked dogs “a lot”, but 15% feel that way about cats.

The people surveyed explained their opinions with comments such as dogs are more loyal, cats only care about themselves, dogs want to please their owners, and cats are “1,000 times” smarter than dogs.

What might be some reasons for this difference between our perceptions of dogs versus cats?  There are many possibilities. 

Looking at the domestication history of the two species, the latest thinking is that dogs were for the most part wanted for companionship (less likely as a cooperative hunting partner as had been previously thought).  After an initial stage of being a religious symbol and appreciated for their predatory behaviors that kept rodents out of food stores, cats went through a dark period of being associated with witches and witchcraft that has, unfortunately, never completely left them. 

Second, there is no doubt that the social organization and communicative behaviors of dogs are much more similar to ours than are those of cats.  We can more easily relate to the appeasement/submissive behaviors of dogs for example (even though we sometimes mistakenly assign “guilt” and other human motivations to them) and the more family like structure of a group of wolves than we can the more solitary life of many cats. 

These differences in social structure lead us to believe, as reflected in the comment from a poll participant that dogs are “eager to please”.  This is a misleading conclusion.  More accurately, dogs are more likely to be motivated by social rewards and punishers.  As a general rule, dogs will respond more to petting and verbal praise; angry voices and threatening gestures than do cats.  But even this generalization may not bear up under scrutiny.  Consider the breeds with reputations for being aloof – such as Basenjis and Akitas, and compare that with many orange tabby male cats, who also have reputations for being extremely sociable – our late, great Buffett being one. 

And when it comes to “intelligence”, or the question of who is smarter, it all depends on the methods used to measure it.  So it’s hard to make a claim for the superiority of cat versus dog or vice versa.  

Cat lovers shouldn’t be too discouraged.  The survey also found that 60% of adult said they liked both cats and dogs.  What’s unfortunate about this survey is that the data from non-pet owners weren’t reported separately. 

Want to know more about the details and results of this survey and see the results from more pet owner surveys about pet safety, pets in families and more?  Then become a member of our Behavior Education Network ( which makes scientific education about pet behavior quickly and easily accessible to both pet professionals and pet lovers. 

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