Who’s Smarter; A Dog or a Goat?
Many people compare goats to sheep and believe they are of the same species. Because sheep are universally thought to be unintelligent (a false notion), goats are often thought to be unintelligent as well. In reality, how smart are goats? Are they as smart as dogs?
Are goats smarter than dogs? While much more research has been conducted into the intelligence of dogs, the early studies into goat intelligence is showing us that goats can be considered just as smart as dogs. These studies have also suggested that goats are just as loving as dogs, and are equally able to form emotional bonds with humans.
After being around goats, I am able to testify that they can be just as loving and playful as dogs. They’ll come when you call them, play with toys you give them, and quickly learn how to escape their enclosure! To learn more about how goat intelligence compares to dog intelligence, read on!
How Smart are Dogs?
Before we dive into these goat studies, let’s talk briefly about how smart dogs are. Dogs have long been thought of as highly intelligent animals, and while dogs are highly trainable and perform well on cognitive tests, so do a lot of other animals. In fact, Dr. Britta Osthaus from the Canterbury Christ Church University went so far as to say that when looking at cognitive test performances, a dog’s cognition “does not look exceptional” when compared to other domesticated and wild animals.
Researchers from the University of Exeter and the Canterbury Christ Church University reviewed hundreds of scientific papers and studies on animal intelligence. What they found was that the cognitive skills usually touted as proof of the dog’s intelligence are matched by many other species as well, both domesticated and wild.
For example, two skills that are often cited as evidence of a dog’s intelligence are the ability to follow human pointing and recognize human faces. In reality however, goats (and many other animals) are just as capable of following human pointing as dogs are. And as for recognizing human faces – even sheep, with their (unfair) reputation for being unintelligent, are able to recognize different human faces as evidenced by a 2017 study on sheep recognition.
What The Research Says About Goat Intelligence
While there have not been as many studies into goat intelligence as there have been on dog intelligence, two notable studies on goats were performed by the Queen Mary University in London.
“Exclusion Performance” Research
In 2013 the Queen Mary University submitted a scientific paper regarding a study performed on both goats and sheep measuring their ability to discern whether a treat would be in one cup based on the absence of a treat in another cup. Both goats and sheep were provided with a covered cup that held a treat. Once the animals understood that the cup held a food reward, they were each provided with two covered cups – one holding a treat, and the other empty. When shown the empty cup, the goats were able to discern for themselves that there would likely be a food reward in the second cup, due to the absence of one in the first – something that the sheep were not able to discern during this study.
When dogs have been presented with similar experiments, they too are able to figure out that one container must hold a treat if the other does not. So in this test, both dogs and goats performed equally well.
“Artificial Fruit Challenge”
In 2016, these same researchers from the Queen Mary University went a step further and tested 12 goats from a local goat sanctuary in a test called the “Artificial Fruit Challenge.”
The test consists of a piece of fruit – or other food reward – inside of a box. In order to get into the box, a lever must be pushed. In order for this lever to become activated, a rope must first be pulled. Sounds tricky, right?
Of the 12, nine goats were able to perform this task and access the fruit within four tries. Of the three who did not complete the task, two of them used their horns to force open the boxes, disqualifying them. The final goat showed no improvement after 22 tries, so was written off as an anomaly (perhaps this sweet goat was head-butted one too many times as a kid).
These results show a high level of intelligence among goats, and an ability to problem solve and learn individually. Whether or not this particular test has been performed on dogs, however, is unclear – so while it is easy to see that goats are quite intelligent, how they compare to dogs in this respect is still up for debate.
One area in which the goats did not perform as well was visual learning. While the 9 goats were successfully working their way through this puzzle to access a treat, the researchers brought additional goats in to watch the experiment. Though the goats paid attention, when given the opportunity to try the puzzle, they performed no better than the 9 goats did on their first tries – accessing the fruit within 4 tries. While it is unclear whether dogs have been tested in this respect, goats do not seem to be able to learn by watching others – unlike other animals like dolphins.
Goat Intelligence: Memory
The 9 goats in the Artificial Fruit Challenge were able to run through the test several times during that first day. After that, the goats went back to the sanctuary for 10 months, happily living their lives away from the researchers or the lab. After these 10 months the goats were brought back in and asked to perform the same test. Each of the 9 goats successfully completed the puzzle in under 1 minute, without any problems. This is evidence of the excellent long-term memory that goats have.
Goat Intelligence: Emotional Bonds
There was an additional aspect to the Artificial Fruit Challenge. After the goats were allowed to successfully run through the test several times, the boxes were altered so that they were impossible to open on the last run. When the goats encountered this obstacle, each looked to their human handler for help, in the same way that a dog will look for help from a human through eye contact.
When the human handler was facing the wall instead of the goat, the goat did not look at the human long, instead turning back to the test. When the human handler was facing the goat and looking at it, the goat would hold the human’s gaze for a long period of time, seeming to ask for help with the test.
This is particularly telling, in that it shows that goats are aware of where a human’s attention is directed, and it altered its behavior based on the human’s attention. It also shows that a goat will look to a human for help when faced with a challenge, further evidencing the emotional bond that can be developed between goat and human.
Goats tend to display affection similarly to dogs, making them appear more intelligent. To learn how goats show affection, visit my article Goat Affection: 10 Clear Ways Goats Show Affection.
Domestication of Goats and Dogs
It is important to note how long both goats and dogs have been domesticated when it comes to comparing the intelligence of these species. Currently, the earliest evidence of dog and human relationships has been dated to around 14,000 years ago. Dogs are, and have long been, bred for a variety of purposes including hunting, herding and guarding livestock, protection, and companionship. Goats were close followers of the dogs – domesticated approximately 10,000 years ago. Unlike dogs, goats have not typically been raised for companionship, but instead for agricultural purposes. Regardless of the reason they are raised and bred, both dogs and goats have been living alongside humans for thousands of years.
Goats VS Dogs
It is difficult to determine which species is smarter, because so few cognitive tests have been performed on goats – and those tests do not seem to have been similarly performed on dogs. The tests that have been done on goats, however, seem to imply a level of intelligence and ability to create emotional bonds with humans that rival a dog’s.
Even with all of the tests that have been performed on dogs, we are still finding that dogs are smarter than we give them credit for. However, we can also see from multiple studies on other species, that many animals are smarter than we give them credit for. Now that the doors have been opened to studying goat intelligence, we will likely see more cognitive tests done on goats, and other animals as well. Whether that will help us accurately compare the intelligence levels of dogs and goats is unclear, however it will at least help us learn more about both of these fascinating animals.
Sheep have a reputation for not being very bright. How smart do you think a sheep is? To learn more, visit my article How Smart Are Sheep (The Answer Will Surprise You.)