Researchers at Oregon State University have concluded that the 30,000 year domestication of the dog has resulted in man’s best friend being unable to think for himself. The domestic dog has become a lazy thinker and in short, stupid. Or to be fair less resourceful and intelligent as the grey wolf, the domestic dog’s wild ancestor.
The domestic cat is less domesticated than the dog. Domestication started around 10,000 years ago. This is one reason why the cat is more independent than the dog. There have been many articles about cats not caring about their owners indicating independence and a lack of domestication.
Dogs tend to do better than cats in human-engineered intelligence tests but perhaps this is because the tests are inadvertently biased towards dogs. Human made test are more likely to suit a dog than a cat. That’s my theory.
The point is: if the evolution of the domestic dog includes becoming more stupid, will the cat evolve in the same way over the forthcoming 20,000 years? It seems likely.
Domestication does have a huge impact on the evolution of the animal. For dogs it appears that humans have conditioned them to not think for themselves. It is said that this a reason why dogs get into jams such as accidentally trapping their heads in railings.
The way that domestication conditions cats and dogs can be noted in the difference between wild cat hybrids and domestic cats, for instance. It said that the F1 Savannah cat, a serval/savannah cat hybrid, is notably sharper and more intelligent than the typical domestic cat indicating that wild cat species are more intelligent and better problem solvers. They have to be to survive. The same goes for the common Bengal cat which although is typically an F5 (fifth generation) is more demanding and outwardly sharper than the doggie and other purebreds. Helmi Flick lived with an F1 Chausie (a jungle cat/domestic cat hybrid). It was almost impossible to live with this fine cat because of the demands she made in trying to satisfy her desire to be stimulated: an expression of intelligence. F1 wild cat hybrids have an urge to problem solve. Non-wildcat hybrids don’t have this to the same extent indicating that domestication has already dumbed down the cat.
“To a lesser degree, the same is true of high generation Savannahs and Chausies. My husband, Ken, and I were owned by an F1 Chausie. That means our Chausie’s father was an African Jungle Cat. I’ve never been loved so fiercely by any animal but he was jealous of my time……[I] was able to devote a large part of my day playing with him, exercising him, grooming him, photographing him ……..and cooking chicken for him….”
The researchers refer to the dumbing down as: “conditioned inhibition of independent problem-solving behaviour when confronted with a novel task”.
What this is saying is that the act of being domesticated is a barrier to the animal in exercising his problem solving abilities. He does not have to use his brain to solve problems. He turns to his ‘master’ for the answer.
It isn’t solely about a change in intelligence. The appearance of cats and dogs has evolved tremendously. We see this in the huge range of shapes and sizes in dogs through selective breeding and to a much lesser extent in cats but their coat types are far more variable than the standard tabby coat of their wild cat ancestor.
We could expect, therefore, to see the domestic cat not only evolve over the next 20,000 years into becoming more stupid but also more in keeping with human preferences: a live version of a cute plush toy without claws and teeth.