Animal Intelligence: who is the smartest?

The world is full of animals, with many being more like humans than others. But, does this likeness mean they’re smarter than others? Here, alongside Cliverton Insurance, who offer specialist insurance for dog trainers, we look at the most intelligent animals, how they compare to humans and how we can train them.


The closest animal to the human, a chimp has at least 98% of the same genomes as us. Crazy, right? Research has found that, like us, chimps have distinct personalities. They are also able to feel empathy, regret, friendship and self-awareness. In certain tasks, chimps have even outperformed humankind and primatologist Frans de Waal claims that chimpanzees are able to carry out almost all tasks that were previously considered a distinctively human trait.


Known as man’s best friend, it has been suggested that a dog’s intelligence is on par with a two-year-old human. While different breeds show different levels of intelligence, with the likes of a border collie at the top of the spectrum, there is said to be three types of dog intelligence: instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience.

Studies have found that canines can learn up to 250 words and have the ability to count up to five. They are also able to deliberately deceive other dogs and humans during play time to get rewards.


Research has proven that dolphins are more like us than we may have previously thought. Lori Marino, an expert on cetacean neuroanatomy, believes that they are in fact the second smartest creature on earth, only behind humans. Play is often said to be one of the greatest shows of intelligence and dolphins are certainly up there with the most playful of animals.

They have a bigger brain than humans and a greater brain-to-body-weight ration than great apes. This helps them to be effective in problem-solving and self-awareness, while also showing many other traits that you usually associate with human intelligence.


In the bird world, crows, along with ravens, are thought to be the most intelligent. Research has changed the opinion of birds, with their intelligence likened to that of a seven-year-old child. Previously, with their nut-sized brain, they have been dismissed as ‘simpletons’, but studies have found that they actually have more neurons in their brains than mammals.

Crows have also been found to have an uncanny memory for human faces and can remember if a certain person poses a threat. 


Often thought of as a dirty animal, the pig couldn’t be farther from it. It’s actually one of the cleanest domestic animals — even more so than dogs or cats. The reason they roll around in the mud is to keep cool since they don’t have any sweat glands. And they can also hold a solid claim of being up there with the smartest of all mammals.

IQ tests have suggested that they are as smart as chimps and dogs and have an excellent long-term memory, which makes them whizzes at memory tests and mazes. They have also proven that they can use a joystick to move a cursor on-screen and use a mirror to find hidden food. 


The structure of an elephant’s brain — like humans, apes and some species of dolphin — is one of the reasons they are recognised as one of the most intelligent creatures on earth. They show a range of emotions, such as playfulness, grief — including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — and joy and can learn new behaviours, such as using tools. On occasion, they have been witnessed to use tools to perform a task they usually couldn’t, including digging holes for drinking water and scratching their backs with a stick.


Perhaps the ant isn’t an animal you’d expect to see on this list. However, they are the ultimate team player. They also show great individual intelligence and can easily navigate long distances and remember the routes they take. While human-established agriculture is often raved about, it was in fact termites and then ants who first developed agriculture.

Of course, many mammals will feel aggrieved that they haven’t made the list — if internet lists were available to them! But, the debate will forever be open as to exactly which animal in our kingdom is indeed the smartest.