Every pet owner believes their beloved friend is smarter than any others. While it’s difficult to accurately measure the intelligence of animals, there has been a lot of research done on the subject. One thing rabbit owners know in their hearts is that their rabbits are smarter than dogs, but is it true? I did the research and I have an answer for you.
So, are rabbits smarter than dogs? There are different types of intelligence and different levels, too. Rabbits and dogs have different types of intelligence. Generally speaking, dogs are smarter than rabbits when it comes to traditionally “dog” behaviors such as learning complicated commands, while rabbits can be smarter than dogs when it comes to rabbit behaviors.
Intelligence is hard to measure because it varies from species to species. That makes comparisons across species difficult, if not impossible. You would not call a fish dumb because it can’t climb a tree, as the adage goes. But there are some ways that rabbits are smarter than dogs (and vice versa). These strengths and weaknesses all combine to give a pretty good overview of the intelligence of rabbits.
How Do You Know How Smart Your Rabbit Is?
Rabbits don’t take IQ tests, so it might seem hard to tell just how smart your rabbit is. If you compare rabbits to dogs, you might even say that rabbits aren’t as smart. But it’s not quite that easy. It’s not a cut and dry kind of situation.
Intelligence comes in many forms, even in humans. It’s not always about doing well in math or being able to read fast, though these are two measurable ways to explore human intelligence. For rabbits, it’s much more complicated; to understand rabbit intelligence we have to adjust how we humans view it.
Rabbits show their intelligence in subtle ways. Some are comparable to dogs while others are way different. But just because your rabbit is showing her intelligence differently than a dog, it doesn’t mean she’s not smart in her own way.
Here’s what I mean.
Social Intelligence in Rabbits
Rabbits may be the underdog when comparing their intelligence to that of dogs, but it doesn’t mean they’re not smart pets. One sign of intelligence is the ability to develop complex social bonds.
Bunnies do bond with their humans, not just other rabbits, which is an indication of social intelligence. They can connect with and interact with people on deep levels that go beyond the reliance for food and shelter, much like dogs do.
How do we know?
- Rabbits can recognize their owners. They will perk up and become visibly happy when their owners walk into the room. This can be tested by seeing how they respond to a stranger compared to their owner.
- Bunnies can tell when you’re sad. As with most mammals, rabbits are able to sense and understand the emotions of their human companions. Many sensitive bunnies will climb into their owner’s lap to try to comfort them. They respond to your anger and other strong emotions, too.
- Rabbits can show their own emotions and feelings in such a way that humans can understand them. Without social intelligence, rabbits wouldn’t even bother trying to express themselves like this because they wouldn’t care what their humans think.
As you can see, these are all behaviors that dogs display, too. That means rabbits and dogs both have social intelligence.
Rabbits can understand human language, which is pretty impressive for an animal. Certainly, dogs and rabbits can’t speak to us in human language so we can’t ask them questions to see just how smart they are, but they don’t need to speak.
When an animal is intelligent, they learn to respond to commands or even short phrases. It’s no secret that rabbits can learn their names—that’s human language, not rabbit-speak. Rabbits can learn and respond to human commands to do tricks or to behave in a certain way.
Dogs also learn tricks, and they tend to excel at it when compared to rabbits. Canines are capable of learning complex commands and responding appropriately to short phrases. While their understanding of human language might surpass that of rabbits, bunnies are still smart enough to learn many more tricks than other pets like hamsters or even most cats.
I’m not going to say that rabbits can tell time from a clock, but they do seem to have a grasp of the basics of time. Some of this is instinct—they’re crepuscular prey animals who are active at dawn and dusk for safety reasons—but that doesn’t explain how they can memorize a human’s daily routine.
If you always come home at 5 p.m., for example, but are late one day, your rabbit will notice. Even if it’s not feeding time when you get home, your rabbit will notice you’re not home on time. They may not understand the concept of 5:30 or know what an hour means, but they know that you’ve been gone much longer than normal.
Dogs are the same, which shows that rabbits and dogs have similar intelligence when it comes to understanding time.
A Sense of Fairness
While not seen across all rabbit species or every individual rabbit, many rabbits seem to understand fairness. This is easily proven in households with multiple rabbits, perhaps even multiple pets.
If you give one rabbit a treat and some attention, but ignore the other, the one that was ignored will become upset. They may begin to make noise, knock over their food dish, or stomp their feet to get your attention.
This isn’t the behavior of a naughty rabbit or a bored one. This is a set of behaviors in response to an unfair situation. The ignored rabbit wants some treats and cuddles, too.
But there’s more here than just a sense of fairness.
Communicating Without Words
In that example scenario above, the rabbit is communicating with you. Yes, they’re communicating displeasure, but it’s still being done in a way you can understand. They’re also eliciting a desired response from you, which is a big sign of intelligence!
If they make enough noise, you’ll likely come to see what’s going on. That’s not an instinct; that’s intelligence. They’ve learned that you will come to see what’s going on or to calm them down if they make enough noise or cause enough trouble.
Without intelligence, a rabbit wouldn’t even bother behaving as described above. Remember, as prey animals, they feel safest when the big scary creatures don’t pay attention to them. By calling your attention to their presence, they’re showing the intelligence to tell danger from safety, too.
Rabbits understand that their humans are safe. They won’t generally respond the same way when strangers are around because they don’t know how that person will react. Instead, bunnies tend to go quiet and still when a stranger is in the room.
Personality Shows Intelligence
If you look outside and watch birds or observe ants running along the ground, you don’t get a sense of individuality. Personality—individual behaviors, likes and dislikes, and responses to situations—shows a level of intelligence that non-mammals don’t often show.
Of course, there are exceptions to this, but in general, mammals are more likely to show personality traits that humans can recognize and understand. Like dogs, individual rabbits have their own wants, needs, and ideas. Some are calm and love to cuddle. Some bunnies would prefer to run around, jump, and play. Some rabbits are easy going while some seem to be cranky in the mornings.
It’s these personality traits that show us how intelligent rabbits can be. Without intelligence, all rabbits would behave exactly the same at all times.
Rabbits Are Impressive Engineers
Some may argue that this next point is more about instinct than intelligence, but I disagree. Any rabbit can dig a simple hole; dogs can, too. But one thing dogs can’t do is build elaborate, stable, functional burrows and tunnels.
In the wild, rabbits use deep tree roots and bushes to stabilize their warrens and tunnels. They build with purpose, not just practice mindless digging. They carefully select locations and build a home that will last.
How do we know this?
Simple! If they dug haphazardly, their tunnels wouldn’t last long and would collapse. But rabbit holes and tunnels don’t often collapse under normal usage. They were built with stability and safety in mind—that takes brains! I’ve never seen a dog build a complicated tunnel system, have you?
Intelligence isn’t always easy to measure. It becomes especially difficult when you try to compare two completely different animals. Dogs and rabbits are both intelligent in their own ways, but they also share some of the same kinds of intelligence. That said, we also have to look at the individuals involved and not just “dogs” and “rabbits” as a whole.
At the end of the day, it matters very little which animal is conventionally smarter. What matters most is that you provide your bunny with a healthy, enriched environment so she can show you her own unique personality. When you give a bunny what they crave and what they need, they can learn and grow emotionally and in intelligence.
Are rabbits as smart as dogs? In some ways, yes. In other ways, no. Dogs understand more words and phrases than rabbits do, making them easier to train. However, rabbits have their own type of intelligence that can’t really be compared to other species.
Are rabbits easier than dogs? That depends on your definition of “easier”. They do not require the same kind of attention or work, but they do have specific needs that dogs do not. If you prefer cleaning a cage over taking an animal for a walk, then rabbits are easier than dogs. If you prefer an animal that can learn many complicated tricks, then dogs are easier than rabbits.
Are rabbits like dogs? No, rabbits are like rabbits. It’s not fair to compare different species. It’s better to say that rabbits and dogs share some behaviors. They can both learn commands, recognize their owners, and show affection. But the similarities end there.