How Smart Are Goats, Really?

How Smart Are Goats, Really?
How Smart Are Goats, Really?

Take a look at caprine cleverness

Sure, goats are notorious for eating things they shouldn’t, but they’re actually smarter than you might think. Studies have shown them to be skilled at problem solving, and they’re said to be as clever as dogs. So let’s shine a spotlight on goat IQ and see just how smart these curious caprines can be.

As smart as dogs?

While canine intelligence varies widely from breed to breed and even among individual dogs, it’s well accepted that dogs are extremely intelligent with the capability to learn dozens or hundreds or words. Goats have excelled and exceeded expectations in intelligence tests, but without a specific study designed to conduct and compare cognitive testing on goats and dogs, it’s difficult to say definitively that goats are as smart as dogs.

However, studies have shown that goats have problem solving skills, an affinity for puzzles, and can understand some gestures, like pointing. The Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in the U.K. has played a big part in researching goat intelligence.

A memory like an elephant’s?

Elephants may still have the upper hand when it comes to long-term memory, but one goat intelligence study showed that some goats could remember a tricky skill nearly a year after learning it.

When faced with a puzzle offering food as a prize, goats that learned how to win the puzzle could also successfully recall the process 10 months later—pretty smart! (Notably, goats that watched the solution ahead of time didn’t seem to translate what they’d seen into skill, they still had to figure out the puzzle for themselves.) It seems goats need to be fairly hands- (hooves?) on when it comes to learning new skills.

As empathetic as dolphins?

Goats are quick to learn routines, keenly observant, and highly attuned to the dynamic of their herd. One study showed that goats can recognize varying types of emotions in the voices of their herdmates, which will come as no surprise to anyone who’s spent time around goats: if one sounds upset vocally, everybody gets upset. Excited vocalizations produce a chorus of cheers.

Another study showed that goats can differentiate between emotions on a human’s face (and they prefer happy faces, by the way).

As agile as cheetahs?

So maybe you’re thinking, “It’s all well and good for domesticated goats to learn to solve puzzles for treats, but what about undomesticated goats?” Actually, goats seem pretty smart in their natural surroundings, too.

As prey animals, they’re naturally attuned to the environment around them, always on the lookout for predators. When it’s time to make an escape (or maybe when it's just time for some fun), they can also nimbly leap from rock to rock and make a quick exit.

Part of the reason for both of these abilities lies in the structure of the caprine eyes. With each eye able to function independently of the other and featuring rectangular pupils, goats can build up a massive 320° view of their surroundings. But the eyes can also focus together for 60° of binocular vision in the front—giving them depth perception needed for those quick and clever getaways. Good depth perception also matters for goats that climb trees.

Around the farm

Animals like chimpanzees, African grey parrots, and elephants are generally considered to possess superior intelligence, but you don’t have to be around a goat for long before you realize that you’re dealing with a highly intelligent individual.

Maybe your goat help you file your tax return (besides, goats like to see you smiling, remember?), but he can certainly let you know the next time his friends are ready for dinner and you’re 3.5 minutes late.

About the author

Samantha Johnson is a writer, farm girl, and the author of more than a dozen books on rural living. She lives on a farm in northern Wisconsin with a colorful herd of Welsh Mountain Ponies, a bossy Welsh Corgi, and a wide assortment of tomato plants. View her portfolio at

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