Do Our Dogs Get Jealous? Yes, they do!
27 July, 2014
We know that our dogs love attention from their pet parents and all kinds of affection. And if you spend time with one dog and not another member of your pet family, the other ‘member’ will want your affection and love as well. But, do our dogs get jealous of this affection? Apparently, they do.
Dogs do get jealous
Christine Harris, a psychologist at the University of California at San Diego, was playing with her parents’ border collies when she got the idea to study jealousy in dogs. Adapting a jealousy study used on 6-month-old human babies, Harris and colleague Caroline Prouvost set up experiments with 36 dogs in their homes.
The team videotaped the dogs’ reactions while their owners ignored them and instead paid attention to a stuffed animal (a realistic-looking dog that whined, barked, and wagged its tail), a jack-o-lantern pail, and a pop-up book that they read aloud.
The resulting behaviors suggest the dogs assessed each “rival” and decided whether it warranted action. If it did, they did their best to break the bond that left them out, according to the new study published July 23 in the journal PLOS ONE.
A variation of 36 dogs were observed for the study.
More specifically, of the 36 dogs observed—a varied lot including a Boston terrier, Yorkshire terriers, Chihuahuas, a pug, and mutts—78 percent would push or touch the owner when that person was petting and sweet-talking the fake dog; 42 percent were upset over attention toward the pumpkin pail, and just 22 percent were bothered when the book was the focus.
Nearly a third of the dogs tried to place their bodies between the owner and the stuffed dog, and 25 percent snapped at the toy. (Only one dog snapped at the pail and book.) And 86 percent of the dogs sniffed the stuffed animal’s rear end as they would a real dog. It appeared, the scientists say, that the dogs saw the doglike interloper as a true threat.
“These behaviors would seem to be motivated from a jealous emotional state”—though of course, she pointed out, the findings don’t speak to the subjective state of the dog’s mind.
Dogs probably don’t get jealous for too long
“Humans and dogs are different in a number of ways,” Harris said. “For example, I would doubt that the dog ruminates on the transgression after the fact, whereas humans do. Humans also ask themselves all kinds of questions about the meaning of an infidelity (am I boring? unlovable?) and about the relationship (will this be the end of my relationship?). These types of thoughts are obviously going to impact the experience and feelings of jealousy.”
Instead, what she imagines is shared across both species “is the urge to stop the interaction, to engage in behaviors that reestablish the loved one’s attention. The appraisal that a loved one is interacting with a rival seems sufficient to motivate this state.”
The findings “are another step in dispelling myths about what dogs supposedly cannot do,” said Marc Bekoff, a fellow at the Animal Behavior Society and an expert in dog behavior. There are compelling reasons based on solid evolutionary theory that even complex emotions like envy and guilt aren’t exclusive to human beings, said Bekoff, who wasn’t involved in the study.
It’s perhaps not surprising that in the study of human infants this dog study emulated, the babies, like the dogs, were much more likely to exhibit jealous behaviors when their mothers were attending to a realistic doll than when reading a book—a nonsocial activity.
The real outcome of this study is that jealousy is not just for humans
Not only does the study show more broadly that jealousy is not a human construct, it also suggests the emotion does not have to be based on sexual rivalry—which is the way people often think about it.
Dogs seem like the perfect species in which to look for something like envy: They are cognitively sophisticated, form bonds with humans and with each other, and will try to manipulate the way we give them attention (as the collies did). But what about other animals?
The official studies still need to be done, but Bekoff said to expect a lot more evidence showing how sophisticated the emotional lives of nonhuman creatures can be.
This is just opening the door on what could potentially be more studies on other animals and shows how dogs are emotional with feelings. As for our cats, well, they might feel jealousy as well, but they are a little more solitary and less emotional than dogs. More studies and time will tell.