Often do I hear people speaking of how the domestic house cats are more friendly, less ferocious, less savage-like, and smarter and/or than their distinct but equivalent feline-species friends, like lions, tigers, jaguars, panthers, leopards, cheetahs, etc. Is this provably true in any form or way?

Are domesticated animals really "smarter" or less ferocious, or are some simply, but assumption of lessened threat potential, more so inclined to deem the house cat/dog as less ferocious simply because it's not such a big threat? Look at it this way:

Typical house cat; domesticated and homegrown-type. This little beast here is "very cute" because he/she is small and barely 9 lbs. When playing, he/she isn't directly threatening to many human's safety, and many people are not afraid of cats; however, is he/she really smarter because he/she is safer and less dangerous to us humans only?

Somewhat "typical" tiger. This beast, however, is hundreds of pounds heavier and many feet longer. Is it considered more savage-like because it can seriously harm and possibly kill humans by playing a little rough, which is like how a 9 lb. house cat would play equivalently, but would give you some light scratches at worst.

I've also heard arguments about "friendliness" of felines, usually claiming that house cats are friendlier due to evolution and nurturing/upbringing; lions/tigers, on the other hand, are claimed to be naturally unfriendly and have "more wild" in the, and incapable of being as "friendly" or "trustworthy" as a house cat. Point is, I'm probably not the only person who's heard this. Also, consider other animals, like dogs.

Dogs come from the grey wolf, to put it simply. Compare both a typical house dog and a wild grey wolf, and it's pretty obvious that many would assume the house dog is safer, friendlier, and less harmful, despite the fact that some domesticated dog breeds can pack a greater bite than the wild grey wolf.

Comparing the house dog's behavior to the wild grey wolf is also not a good measure of "friendliness", as compare a savage Homo sapiens from an uncivilized territory to a common city person, and you'd think the same thing: that the savage human is "less intelligent" and the city person is more so.

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    $\begingroup$ Not sure what are you asking exactly, but the term "more evolved" makes no sense in evolutionary biology. All extant species are equally evolved. $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ Generally, "more evolved" would be synonymous with "more intelligent" to those not so familiar with the evolutionary process, as some people might think that evolving means growing better, smarter, or more "advanced" (comparing to modern humans as a reference), such as in fictional Pokemon series. $\endgroup$
    – user11653
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure as to what you are asking, but during breeding of domesticated animals, ferocious and dangerous specimens were probably less likely to be used to make a next generation (of cats, dogs etc). Hence, timidness was a favorable characteristic I think. The tiger you are depicting is not domesticated like the dog for example. Way more controlled-bred generations of puppies have preceded a present-day dachshund than captive tiger-kittens have preceded this tiger on the picture. Hence, the timidness factor is way more pronounced in truly domesticated animals. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 11:28
  • $\begingroup$ I am not sure about this but I guess aggression is inversely correlated with intelligence. $\endgroup$
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ And as @MarchHo said there is no term called more evolved. I replaced the term with more intelligent to that your question remains on topic. $\endgroup$
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 5:03

3 Answers 3


Domestication has little, if anything, to do with intelligence. From biologist Jared Diamond, the 6 criteria for domestication are as follows:

  1. Flexible diet – Creatures that are willing to consume a wide variety of food sources and can live off less cumulative food from the food pyramid (such as corn or wheat), particularly food that is not utilized by humans (such as grass and forage) are less expensive to keep in captivity. Carnivores by definition feed primarily or only on flesh, which requires the expenditure of many animals, though they may exploit sources of meat not utilized by humans, such as scraps and vermin.
  2. Reasonably fast growth rate – Fast maturity rate compared to the human life span allows breeding intervention and makes the animal useful within an acceptable duration of caretaking. Some large animals require many years before they reach a useful size.
  3. Ability to be bred in captivity – Creatures that are reluctant to breed when kept in captivity do not produce useful offspring, and instead are limited to capture in their wild state. Creatures such as the panda, antelope and giant forest hog are territorial when breeding and cannot be maintained in crowded enclosures in captivity.
  4. Pleasant disposition – Large creatures that are aggressive toward humans are dangerous to keep in captivity. The African buffalo has an unpredictable nature and is highly dangerous to humans; similarly, although the American bison is raised in enclosed ranges in the Western United States, it is much too dangerous to be regarded as truly domesticated. Although similar to the domesticated pig in many ways, Africa's warthog and bushpig are also dangerous in captivity.
  5. Temperament which makes it unlikely to panic – A creature with a nervous disposition is difficult to keep in captivity as it may attempt to flee whenever startled. The gazelle is very flighty and it has a powerful leap that allows it to escape an enclosed pen. Some animals, such as the domestic sheep, still have a strong tendency to panic when their flight zone is encroached upon. However, most sheep also show a flocking instinct, whereby they stay close together when pressed. Livestock with such an instinct may be herded by people and dogs.
  6. Modifiable social hierarchy – Social creatures whose herds occupy overlapping ranges and recognize a hierarchy of dominance can be raised to recognize a human as the pack leader.

From his Pulitzer prize-winning book.

We (as a species) domesticated animals (and plants) by selecting traits we sought, and then breeding to keep alive/emphasize these traits. In hunting animals (retrievers, for example), intelligence may be one of those traits. Others might include obedience, speed, agility, even dark-colored coats for camouflage.

It's not really correct to say "more evolved" as @MarchHo explains in his comment. Rather, you might say "more docile", or "less aggressive".

Keep in mind that less aggressive, domesticated animals are not necessarily more intelligent than their wild counterparts.

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    $\begingroup$ After working with goats I suspect that intelligence was actively selected against. $\endgroup$
    – user137
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ @user137 interesting point, I hadn't thought of that $\endgroup$
    – Luigi
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 2:26
  • $\begingroup$ Please read my comment to March Ho's; it has quotes for a reason. $\endgroup$
    – user11653
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 2:51
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    $\begingroup$ @TinselDancer that's exactly why I emphasized the way I did, to show people who don't know otherwise that greater intelligence ≠ more evolved ≠ more advanced $\endgroup$
    – Luigi
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 2:57

It's not entirely clear what you're asking. If you're asking whether domestic animals are more friendly to humans than wild animals, the answer is generally yes. However, this does not make them "more evolved". Domestic and wild animals are ultimately derived from a shared common ancestor, so they have been evolving for an equal period of time. In general, domesticated animals have been selectively bred for traits that make them useful or appealing to humans, so it is to be expected that they possess more of these traits than their wild relatives.

An interesting detail is that, in addition to behavioral traits like increased tameness, many domestic animals tend to display certain physical traits such as floppy ears, shorter faces, and coloration differences, which were not present in their wild ancestors. A recent article has proposed that these traits are the result of mild developmental defects which have been selected for by the process of domestication. A long-running experiment on domesticating silver foxes has lent some evidence to this idea.

By the way, comparing cats to tigers is not really a meaningful comparison. The closest wild relative to the housecat is the wildcat, Felis silvestris, which looks like this: Wildcat, Felis silvestris

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting thoughts. Inbred albino rats (e.g. Wistar rats) are considered to be timid, while the pigmented rats (e.g., Long-Evans) are more aggressive. The latter are not (or less) inbred, and can be considered to be less domesticated, I guess $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 11:31

"More intelligent" as more capable of learning

Domesticated varieties of animals generally aren't "smarter" as per objective measurements of brain power, however, I'd argue that they would feel smarter for us because they have different patterns of learning.

For most living beings, there is a general shift of the "explore vs exploit" behavior balance as the individual ages - juvenile individuals observe and absorb new behaviors, often by imitating their parents and siblings, while adult individuals tend to lock in the behaviors they already have instead of exploring new options.

Humans differ from other animals in that this "juvenile" behavior lasts much longer, and the same applies for many domesticated animals - a mid-age dog in many behavioral aspects is more similar to a wolf cub than a wolf of the same age. Such an animal would be more capable and willing to learn new patterns of interaction and tricks than a similar wild animal, and thus feel "more intelligent" to a human observer - while it's an entirely different difference.

Also, as far as I understand, this doesn't neccessarily apply to all domesticated animals which we raise for food and resources, but to 'companion' animals like cats, dogs and horses.

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    $\begingroup$ Please provide some references $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ It could be original research, @Jay. $\endgroup$
    – user11653
    Commented Dec 26, 2014 at 6:32
  • $\begingroup$ May be, but what if it were not ? Its our right to ask references, if you have any doubts about your rights you can always feel free to use the helpcentre $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 7:01

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