Are parrots smarter than dogs

Are Parrots Smarter Than Dogs? (With Infographic)

Parrot loyalists and furry friend lovers like to believe that their pet is the smartest. And while parrots and dogs showcase their cognitive abilities in different ways, it often becomes a matter of great debate when it comes to who’s smarter.

Animal intelligence cannot be measured by a single parameter or test. That is why we are going to compare parrots and dogs in different areas of intelligence and evaluate their performance.

Parrots Vs Dogs: How Do They Compare In Intelligence?

We are going to compare the intelligence of dogs and parrots based on 8 common measures of intelligence: Cortical neurons, self-awareness test, memory, trainability, communication abilities, vocabulary, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence.

Neurons In The Cerebral Cortex

The cerebral cortex is responsible for performing the high-level functions in the brain including memory, critical thinking, problem solving, etc. 

The number of neurons in the cerebral cortex of an organism does not have a direct correlation with the level of intelligence but it defines their biological capabilities. 

Dogs have between 429 to 623 million cortical neurons. (Source: Frontiers) This is one of the factors that makes dogs as smart as they are. 

Parrots on the other hand have from 227 million to 3.14 billion neurons. These are the total number of neurons present in their forebrain, which is the largest region in the brain, comprising the cerebral cortex. 

Given the size of avian brains and the neurons they pack, the cortical neurons in parrots are higher than in dogs. 

According to PNAS, parrot and avian brains have more cognitive power per unit mass in comparison to mammalian brains. In addition to that 

A dog’s brain is about the size of a lemon or tangerine whereas a parrot’s brain size is comparable to that of a walnut. Yet, parrots have a greater number of neurons than dogs.

Another reason why parrot brains might be more advanced is due to their unique circuitry. 

A study by Scientific Reports discovered that parrots have a special part in their brain called the medial spiriform nucleus, or SpM. This is unique to birds and isn’t found in mammals. Interestingly, it seems to perform a similar function of passing neural messages between the cortex and the cerebellum. 

Self Awareness 

The self-awareness test in animals is often associated with the mirror self-recognition test. This test is designed to assess whether an animal has the ability to recognize itself in a mirror, suggesting a level of self-awareness. 

The mirror test involves placing a mark on the individual animal at a location that can only be seen in a reflection. If the animal recognizes itself in the mirror, it may engage in self-directed behaviors, and try to inspect the mark on its body. 

Unfortunately, both parrots and dogs fail the mirror self-recognition test. But this is not a tie here. Interestingly, there is a difference in how each animal reacts to its mirror image.

Parrots tend to socialize with the mirror image and make attempts at befriending this other bird. They make vocalizations and offer regurgitated food as they would to a mate. If they are left alone with the mirror, they can bond very deeply with the mirror, which can be psychologically damaging. 

On the other hand, dogs may treat their mirror selves as friends or foes, but they are not as fascinated by it as parrots are. 

Dogs figure out that playing around in front of mirrors doesn’t lead to anything. Over time, mirrors become boring to them, and they stop paying attention to their reflections. 

This behavior is a simple but useful form of learning called habituation. Habituation is when an animal learns not to react to something that previously had their attention. (Source: Scientific American)

So even though both parrots and dogs lack self-awareness, dogs are winners in this round because they are able to recognize that reflections do not have consequences in the real world and choose to ignore them. 


Broadly, there are two types of memory: short-term memory and long-term memory. Short-term memory is the ability to hold a small amount of information and retrieve it in a short interval.

It is fairly easy to measure compared to other types of memory. Parrots have a short-term memory of about 12–15 seconds. Whereas dogs have an average short-term memory span of around 27 seconds. (Source: SnootyPets) Clearly, dogs have a better short-term memory than parrots. 

Now, coming to long-term memory, things get a bit complex. We know that both dogs and parrots are able to remember past events. But there is no clear way to measure how long they can keep something in their memory. It is also hard to tell how well and detailed their episodic memory is since they cannot speak like us. 


Dogs are often considered more trainable than parrots, especially in tasks that are related to obedience and following commands. This is because dogs have been selectively bred for these roles, which gives them a strong desire to work alongside humans. 

Parrots are exotic animals that have inherently wild traits even if they are captive-bred. However, when trained from a young age, parrots and dogs learn at a very quick pace. 

Parrots can perform a range of complex tasks and have many innate abilities as well. They can be trained to wave, play dead, jump hoops and so much more.

But dogs are not too far behind in this area either as they can be trained for many practical as well as recreational functions. 

Dogs intelligently carry out tasks like search and rescue, guarding, and explosives or drug detection with the use of their senses. As house pets, they can perform fun tricks like rolling over, spinning, shaking paws, and bowing.

Communication Abilities 

The way parrots and dogs communicate is quite similar. Parrots use vocalizations and body language to communicate, as do dogs. 

People who have had their pet for some amount of time are able to understand what their companion is trying to say because they get accustomed to their nonverbal cues. 

They are also able to communicate effectively in their own groups using different vocalizations. Parrots have a repertoire of 39 vocalization types that they use to send messages to their flock. (Source: Nature Journal

In comparison, dogs only have about ten classes of vocalizations. (Source: Science Direct) That being said, they are both excellent at communicating with their respective groups and their human owners. 


We know that our pets talk to us, but the extent of their vocabulary explains how much they understand our language. Animals do not understand the human language but they can learn to associate specific sounds or gestures with certain meanings. 

An average trained dog can learn around 165 words while the smartest dogs can have a vocabulary of more than 250 words. (Source)

While parrots are able to speak a lot of words, they do not always understand them or know what they mean. Many parrot species have a vocabulary of 200-300, but they don’t necessarily know the meanings of those words. 

In truth, parrots have a smaller vocabulary of words that they can understand. According to the National Audubon Society, Alex the African grey parrot had a vocabulary of 150 words and could put them into categories. Alex was one of Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s parrots and also one of the most intelligent species of parrots. 

Problem-Solving Skills

The intellect to solve novel problems is present in parrots as well as dogs and it has been proven by numerous studies. However, parrots are considered to have better problem-solving abilities due to their foraging nature in the wild. Dogs are less persistent at solving a novel situation and often turn to their human companion for help.  

In the wild, parrots routinely have to forage for food, escape predators, and find a safe shelter, and those skills stay with them even in captivity. This is not the case with dogs who are more dependent on humans from the start. 

In a study published by Discover Magazine, Shelter dogs, and wolves were presented with a simple puzzle box for a treat. Each animal had two tries: once alone in a room, and once with a person watching but not helping. Wolves were much more persistent. 

Dogs, however, didn’t stick with it and asked for help sooner. When a person was around, dogs spent more time looking at the person and less time on the puzzle, resulting in only about a 10 percent success rate.

Emotional Intelligence

Both dogs and parrots have a great degree of social cognition and emotional intelligence. They can know when you’re sad, hurt, or feeling lonely. They will be there by your side and help you get through it in their own ways. 

Dogs are known to snuggle up to their owners to provide comfort. However, parrots are not too cuddly in that way. A parrot may walk up to their sad owner and sit with them solemnly. 

Parrots and dogs also experience a variety of emotions of their own, including, excitement, fear, anger, and even grief. 


Parrots are generally smarter than dogs and perform better at various intelligence tests. African greys parrots in particular are widely recognized for their high intelligence, which is often likened to the cognitive level of a 5-year-old child.

While parrots showcase remarkable cognitive skills, dogs outperform them in various tasks. This is because each species has its own unique skill set and different types of intelligence.

Dorson Joseph
Dorson Joseph

I'm Dorson, a bird enthusiast who's had a lifelong fascination for the avian world. I am a parent to my beloved Senegal parrot and budgie, which has deepened my love for avian creatures and taught me a lot over the years. I co-run a bird store and care center with my friends, where we work with experienced professionals to care for our flock. Now, I find great joy in sharing my knowledge with others, hoping to assist fellow bird keepers and enthusiasts in understanding birds and helping them live happy lives.

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