Science Has Spoken: Dogs Really Do Feel Jealousy

This will probably come as little surprise to most dog owners: dogs feel jealousy.

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Jealousy, once considered a human trait alone, has been found to also be present in dogs. A team of researchers at the University of California conducted an experiment on dogs in their own homes to see how they responded to jealousy-inducing moments.

36 dogs were videotaped at home, with researchers observing how the dogs responded to being ignored by their owners for three different reasons.

The owners were given either a jack-o-lantern (Halloween pumpkin), a pop-up musical children’s book, or a battery-powered dog that barked and wagged its tail. Here’s how the dogs reacted:

  • Dogs were found to be twice as likely to try to push or touch their owner when they played with the fake dog.
  • One third of the dogs tried to insert themselves between the owner and the fake dog.
  • One quarter of dogs snapped at the fake dog.
  • One dog acted aggressively to both the pop-up book and the jack-o-lantern.

The results of the study show that animals other than humans also display signs of distress when a rival usurps a loved one’s attention.

There were, however, also dogs in the study who did not show jealousy. The researchers ventured that this was likely down to any of three factors:

  1. That the dog wasn’t particularly bright, and didn’t realise that there was anything to be jealous of.
  2. That the dog was especially bright, and understood that the items were inanimate.
  3. That the dog/owner bond was not particularly strong.

We already know, from numerous previous studies, that dogs have a cognitive and emotional rangeequivalent to that of a two year old human child.

Nonetheless, critics of the study argue that it is not easy to truly know whether or not animals feel emotion, due to anthropomorphism, where humans project their own traits onto animals. Despite scepticism, there are many recorded instances of animals, both domestic and in the wild, demonstrating grief following the death of a loved one. Elephants, in particular, have strong familial bonds and a demonstrable grieving process, whilst many dog owners will attest to the fact that they have seen their pet show signs of emotions once thought to be solely human.

Evolutionarily-speaking, jealousy does make some sense in the animal kingdom. Competition for a mate, or for social ranking within a pack, would mean that individual animals would have to defend their territory. The emotion of jealousy arouses those defences, thus keeping the animal’s status intact.

Considering what we know about the emotional range of dogs, that they can also recognise fairness, and now jealousy, too, there is an impact for the owners of domestic dogs.

Maintaining a fair, loving relationship with your pet that does not exclude them from the family in favour of any other member, is important. This is particularly true for families bringing a new baby into the household.

Far from treating your dog as the bottom of the familial hierarchy, as some owners claim is best, it is better to strive for equality in the household, and to treat your dog with the love and compassion you would reserve for a small child.

Love, as always, is the answer.