Some dogs are always jealous
The fact that some dogs get jealous from time to time is nothing new. Our own Cleo, a female GSD, is especially jealous of some of our other dogs.
But researchers have found dogs exhibit three human-like signatures of jealous behaviour and I want to share the details with you.
Your Dog Gets Jealous Just Imagining You With Another Canine, Study Finds
By Mary Jo DiLonardo, April 13th, 2021
To the surprise of no dog owner anywhere, a new study finds that dogs get jealous.
You may know the feeling when you’re out on a walk and stop to pet another pooch. Your dog may bark or whine, or even come in between you and the offending canine.
New research published in the journal Psychological Science finds that dogs exhibit these types of jealous behaviors even when they only imagine their owner is interacting with another dog.1 In the case of this study, the perceived rival was an artificial dog.
In the past, some scientists have insisted jealousy is strictly a human trait and people are merely projecting emotions on their pets.1
“I think it is natural for dog owners to project a range of human thoughts and emotions onto their pets,” lead author Amalia Bastos, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, tells Treehugger.
Bastos cites a study published in 2008 in the journal Cognition and Emotion where 81% of dog owners said their pets get jealous. But as much as pet owners love their animals, they are sometimes wrong about them, she says.2
That same study found that 74% of dog owners reported their pets feel guilty after misbehaving.2 But several studies have found that what people see as a “guilty look” is merely dogs responding to getting in trouble from their owners, whether they actually misbehaved or not.3,4
“Anecdotes from dog owners are interesting and can inspire fascinating research into dog intelligence and behavior, but it is important that this is taken only as a starting point for rigorous science before we can make such claims,” Bastos says.
She adds: “Work on dog jealousy to date is more promising than for guilt: our study shows that dogs exhibit three signatures of human jealous behavior. However, we caution that the fact that dogs display jealous behavior does not necessarily mean that they experience jealousy as we do.”
For the study, researchers set up an experiment where 18 dogs imagined their owners interacting with either a realistic-looking stuffed dog or a similarly sized fleece-covered cylinder that looked nothing like a dog. The fake dog played the role of a potential rival while the cylinder was a control.1
First, the dogs watched the stuffed dog next to their owner. Then, a barrier was placed between the dog and the stuffed animal so they could no longer see the potential rival. The dogs pulled strongly on their leashes when their owners appeared to be petting the fake dog behind the barrier. In a second experiment, the dogs pulled on the leashes with less force when the owners appeared to be petting the fleece cylinder.1
“We developed a novel methodology whereby we could directly measure the amount of force a dog used to pull on its lead,” Bastos explains. “This provided the first easily quantifiable, objective measure of how strongly dogs attempt to approach a jealousy-inducing interaction between their owner and a social rival.”
This is called the “approach response” as the dog tries to get closer to the owner and the potential rival. It’s also how babies and kids respond when they are jealous, Bastos says.
“The approach response is a straight-forward and clean measure which happens to be the single most universal reaction to jealousy-inducing situations in human infants and children,” she says. “Although infants and children show a range of behaviors when observing their mothers interact with another infant — including but not limited to attacking the rival, crying, seeking physical contact with the mother, throwing a tantrum, or screaming — almost all react primarily by approaching the jealousy-inducing interaction.”
Researchers were able to measure the actual strength of the approach response rather than relying on inconsistent behaviors like barking, whining, growling, or attempting to bite, which would vary among dogs.1
The Canine Subjects Showcased Jealousy Signatures
The researchers found the dogs exhibited three human-like signatures of jealous behavior.1
These findings were different from earlier research because it’s the first to show dogs can mentally represent — or imagine — social interactions that they can’t directly see, Bastos says.
“We know this because when their owners appeared to pet a fake dog the dogs could not see behind an opaque barrier, they reacted with an approach response, which is a common jealous behaviour in humans. This suggests that dogs could mentally simulate what their owners must have been doing out of their direct line of sight,” she says.
It also showed that, like humans, dogs reacted more strongly when their owners interacted with a potential rival than with an inanimate object. And the reactions happened due to the interaction, and not when the owner and the rival were in the same room but not interacting.1
“Previous studies confounded jealous behavior with play, interest, or aggression because they never tested dogs’ reactions to the owner and the social rival being present in the same room but not interacting,” Bastos says.
“In our control condition, where owners petted a fleece cylinder, the fake dog was still present nearby,” she adds. “Dogs did not try to approach it as they did when they were being petted by the owner, showing that the interaction itself triggered their approach response, and therefore this is caused by jealous behaviour.”
Although this research is the first step, more research is necessary to figure out if dogs experience jealousy the same way people do.1
“There is still much work to be done to establish what dogs subjectively experience while exhibiting jealous behaviours, and this is a very difficult question to answer scientifically,” Bastos says. “We may never have an answer!”
The researchers went to some lengths to show that the dogs were able to detect real interaction with another dog rather than a fake dog. The video is very interesting and I hope you are able to watch it.