Can dogs be jealous?
Many dog owners believe that their dog experiences jealousy. They may be jealous of another dog that the owner is giving attention to, jealous of the family cat, even jealous of a baby. Until now, there has been no definitive answer as to whether dogs are able to feel jealous.
Now, new research has put the jealousy question to the test. Dog owners (who stated their dogs were not likely to be aggressive in a new situation) were instructed to give attention to other objects including:
- A stuffed dog ( a realistic looking one that barked and wagged its tail)
- A jack-o-lantern
- A book
Owners played with the dog toy and the jack-o-lantern as if they were dogs, while ignoring their own dog and they read stories from the book, as if they were reading to a child. The types of behaviours the real dog displayed were recorded.
How did the dogs react?
Dogs certainly showed a difference in their behaviour, depending on whether a stuffed dog or the other objects (book, jack-o-lantern) were given attention. For example…
- One in four of the 36 dogs tested snapped aggressively at the stuffed dog, significantly more than at the other objects. (Surprising, perhaps, since owners did not think their dogs would react like this.)
- The dogs also touched and pushed their owners in the presence of the stuffed dog and often tried to get between their owner and the object.
- The dogs tended to whine more when the stuffed dog was given attention, although they didn’t bark any more than they did with the other objects. (I think Chilli dog would be prone to increased barking!!)
- Dogs gazed more at their owners and the stuffed dog when the owners were interacting with it.
And if you’re wondering if the dogs considered the stuffed toy to be a real dog, 86% of dogs sniffed the anal region of the toy!
Is this jealousy?
In the human infant situation, jealousy is apparent when there is heightened interest and attention toward the mother while she is interacting with what appears to be another infant. This, of course, is what the dogs were doing when they perceived there was another dog getting attention. So we can assume that this is jealous behaviour.
Not all dogs showed jealousy, however. Perhaps they are the ones who did not perceive the stuffed dog to be real or perhaps they are just not the jealous type. As the author of the study, Dr Christine Harris, stated… “all dogs have the neurobiological cognitive capacity for jealousy”.
Do we care?
So what, you say. Does it matter that dogs are jealous or not? Or, isn’t it obvious that dogs are jealous – why do we need to research this? It was not so long ago that we didn’t believe animals had any emotions! Now enlightened, we know that dogs can feel happiness, sadness and a whole host of other emotional states. Jealousy however has, until now, remained in the mind of the beholder.
Now that we know our dogs can be jealous, this may help explain why your dog acts aggressively to the dog who comes to talk to you in the park. Or why certain dog-to-dog behaviour problems may erupt in multi-dog households.
Is your dog jealous?
I know Chilli dog always tried to come between myself and a cat, should I choose to give Leo, Mew or Ginger (my cats) any attention. She also would rather I didn’t give any dogs in the dog park my undivided attention. Sounds like she’s jealous!
Is your dog the jealous type?