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Are Horses Smarter Than Dogs? Animal Intelligence Explained

Written by: Oliver Jones

Last Updated on May 27, 2024 by Dogster Team

dog with horse at ranch, Red border collie dog and horse together at sunset in summer

Are Horses Smarter Than Dogs? Animal Intelligence Explained

Though humans are currently considered to be the pinnacle of intelligence in the animal kingdom on Earth, we’ve routinely been surprised to find out just how intelligent some of the creatures we share this planet with have turned out to be. Animals are capable of some incredible feats; even the ones that we keep as domesticated pets, partners, and workers.

Dogs and horses are two of our closest allies in the animal world. Both have been domesticated for many centuries. Similarly, both have been used for pleasure as well as work, proving time and again that they’re incredibly competent and capable creatures.

But which species is smarter? Can canines outsmart equine intelligence or do horses have more smarts than dogs can hope to match? The short answer is that both animals are smart, but we don’t currently have a way to tell which is smarter.

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How Smart Are Horses?

Many horse lovers believe their horses are some of the smartest creatures around. They’re definitely clever, but what can horses do?

For starters, they can be trained to let us ride them. Many can even learn tricks like hugging, bowing, or shaking hands. They can learn complex dressage routines and be taught to run and jump through obstacle courses.

Horses can also communicate in a way. If taught a signal for yes and no, horses can give their opinions on certain matters. In a study, 23 horses were able to give an answer about whether they wanted to wear a rug or not.1 This led to horses requesting a rug in cold and wet weather and denying one in warm weather, showing they really understood the concept of yes and no.

Horses have been trained for use in sports, but they’ve also been trained for use in war. Warzones are incredibly hectic, and horses have been trained to disregard the insanity of battle and still follow orders. These horses were even able to attack, as well as perform complex maneuvers in formation.

Horse Stallion Mare
Image by: Ralph, Pixabay

How Smart Are Dogs?

Dogs have been employed by military and police organizations the world over. They’ve been used to locate all sorts of things from humans that are being trafficked to drugs and explosives. Service dogs can lead the blind through busy cities or provide therapy for those in need.

We’ve used dogs to find and rescue people that were lost in avalanches. Dogs have even been known to sniff out cancer in their owners! And more than once, dogs have been documented finding help when their owner was in a desperate situation.

american eskimo dog
Image by: KA_Richer5171321, Shutterstock

How Can We Compare Their Intelligence?

We can all agree that both dogs and horses are highly intelligent creatures. After all, there are good reasons that they’ve maintained a position as our partners, pets, and friends over many centuries. But if we want to determine which species is smarter, how are we supposed to compare them?

The truth is that comparing horses and dogs is an even more ridiculous comparison than apples to oranges. If we want to compare human intelligence, we’ve designed complex tests that can do so. But there’s no IQ test for animals.

We also have to consider just how different dogs and horses are from a biological standpoint. Dogs are predators. They’ve developed the intelligence necessary for a predator to outsmart their prey.

On the other hand, horses are prey creatures. They have different faculties, such as an incredibly wide field of view and the ability to team up with other horses to defeat danger, such as predators. They live in tight-knit social communities that give them the strong emotional and social intelligence that dogs lack.

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Final Thoughts

Determining whether dogs or horses are the smarter species is a novel concept, but it’s not really practical. Both of them are highly intelligent creatures with different sets of faculties that work out to different manners of intelligence. We’ve kept both close throughout the centuries because they are so smart, and our bonds have continued to grow closer.

Horses and dogs alike have learned tricks like coming when called or shaking hands. They’ve both become close companions to some people, cementing their place in human culture. Neither species is smarter though, because they’re each smart in different ways.

Featured Image Credit: Ksenia Raykova, Shutterstock

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