Why Dogs Are Better Than Cats

There are dog people and there are cat people. I definitely fall into the dog people category. I really liked Nastassja Kinski in Cat People, but other than that, the cat people are full of what I shall politely refer to as self-serving, delusional ideas. Not because they like cats, or because there is anything wrong with cats, but because they typically insist that cats are smarter than dogs. Their explanation of why cats can't do any good tricks, or be taught to behave, is that cats are independent. Now I've seen a cat which would play games with people (not just bat at yarn but actually play hide and seek). I've seen a cat which stole parts of a chicken on a countertop and then cleverly pushed the rest off of the countertop, so that the dog waiting below wouldn't bark. I've seen some very cool cats, including one belonging to an ex-girlfriend which had saucer shaped eyes and a ringed tail which made it look just like a Kliban cat. Conversely I've seen many dumb, slobbering dogs, and I've seen some vicious dogs which I would have gladly shot in the head. But in spite of the occasional anecdote, cats just aren't in the same league as dogs.

Dogs evolved from wolves, nomadic predators which live in packs and work together in order to survive. Wolves use teamwork to hunt. A wolf which can't keep up with the pack and is left behind will die. One which is rejected by the pack or chased off by the dominant male - the alpha wolf - will have a significantly harder time surviving. Wolves share the duties of rearing their young. There is a social hierarchy, and the acceptance of a wolf in the pack, and consequently, its chances of survival, depends on its ability to properly interact within this hierarchy. Because of this, wolves have a highly evolved ability to understand expressions and postures. It's important to be able to perceive what kind of mood the alpha wolf is in. Most breeds of dogs don't look much like wolves, yet genetically they are very similar, and they have retained these social skills. The reason dogs have such a close bond with humans is that both evolved with the same kind of social hierarchy. In addition, they have adapted to living with human beings over the last few ten thousand years. Dogs are able to perceive emotions and moods in humans, and to engage in teamwork with them, just as with members of a pack. It has been a successful survival strategy. One might go so far as to call the relationship a symbiosis. Guard dogs and working dogs have helped humans survive.

What did a cat ever do for anyone except insolently get up on the dinner table where it is not supposed to be, or bring home a half-chewed dead bird or mouse as a souvenir?

Let's take a brief, comparative look at the abilities and achievements of the human species versus dogs, cats, and other animals. In particular, let's look for something that humans can do, but which no other species has done, or at least which humans did first. Humans can fly in cleverly constructed machines, but birds could fly long before we could. (We saw this and emulated them.) Humans can explore the oceans, but our distant mammalian relatives the whales have been diving down to eat giant squids in the deepest ocean trenches since long before we invented submarines or bathyspheres. Electric eels used electricity long before we did. The bioluminescence of fireflies was our inspiration for glow sticks. Spitting fish brought down flying insects long before we invented anti-aircraft weapons. Dinosaurs ruled the earth for over 200 million years, compared to the mere 50 thousand years modern humans have been around. Will our species survive a fraction of the length of time that the dinosaurs did? You name the accomplishment, probably some other species did it before us, in some form or another. How about spaceflight? Of all the accomplishments the human species can take pride in, perhaps space exploration is the one which most sets us apart from other animal species. Human beings were the first to venture beyond the bounds of atmosphere and gravity into space, right? Wrong! It was a dog named Laika. Ha ha ha ha hah! Humans weren't even the second or third species into space. We were beaten out by mice, rats, and guinea pigs (as well as some plants). Finally there was a Russian. Americans were additionally preceded by a monkey. So think about that. A dog was first into outer space. Nowhere on the list: cats.*

*To be fair, when you consider how hard it is to get a cat into one of those wicker boxes to take it to the vet, you can imagine why no engineers were stupid enough to try to cram one into a space capsule.