Pet Talk: Dogs and the ‘Green-Eyed Monster’

Do dogs really get jealous?

Anyone who owns a dog will tell you it’s true, especially households with more than one canine. You can’t seem to pet one dog without another trying to force his way in for a pat. What about when your significant other gives you a hug? Is Fido there trying to nudge his way in between the two of you trying to get some of the attention?

Charles Darwin wrote about canine jealousy in 1871 saying, “Everyone has seen how jealous a dog is of his master’s affection, if lavished on any other creature. This shows that animals not only love, but have desire to be loved.”

Dog owners have been quick to offer personal experiences of their dogs’ jealousy ever since, but there has never been scientific proof that dogs gets jealous until possibly now.

Jealousy is described as a complex emotion. It is typically aroused when a person perceives a threat to a valued relationship from a third party, who is seen as a rival, seeking attention from their loved one.

A study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE has brought us a bit closer to proving dogs do get jealous. Psychologists from the University of California adapted an experiment that has shown human infants demonstrated jealousy by fussing when their mothers played with a realistic looking doll. In the adapted version, dog owners played with a stuffed dog.

To see if dogs exhibited jealous behavior, 36 owners petted and cooed over a stuffed dog that barked, whined and wagged its tail when a button on top of its head was pressed, all the while ignoring their own dog. Then they were asked to display the same affection toward a jack-o-lantern pail (like the ones you fill candy with on Halloween).

Thirdly, the owners read aloud from a musical pop-up book.

The study found that 78 percent of the canines nudged or pushed their owner’s arm away from the toy dog when the owner was petting it.

They were more aggressive, raised their tail up, tried to push their way in between the stuffed dog and their owner, and barked. When the same attention was given to the jack-o-lantern, the dogs didn’t care as much.

The dogs were unfazed by their owner reading a book out loud and just strolled off. A musical book was used to see if maybe the dogs were just reacting to the sounds the toy dog was making.

The canines seemed more distressed when their owners were paying attention to the stuffed dog than either of the other two objects.  

The scientist presumed the dogs thought of the stuffed dog as a rival. This helps support the idea that humans are not the only species wired to protect our bonded relationship from rivals.

As much as we would love to know what dogs are thinking or feeling, this study can’t tell us that. From a scientific perspective all we know is that they often engage in behaviors that we associate with jealousy.

Maybe jealousy is less complicated because canines show it, or canines are more complicated than we thought.

Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].


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