Dogs get jealous if their owners show interest in another dog (or even in a fake one), as confirmed by a new U.S. study. This finding obviously won’t surprise dog owners, who most likely have already noticed jealous behaviors in their pets. In any case, the study shows that the feeling of jealousy has deep evolutionary roots and is not an exceptional “privilege” of humans.
Researchers, led by Christine Harris, professor of psychology from the University of California at San Diego, conducted an experiment which involved 36 dogs and their owners. All dogs were relatively small – weighing less than 35 pounds and shorter than 15 inches.
This was a restriction introduced by the researchers for safety reasons, as small dogs would be easier to control in case of excessive jealousy displayed during the experiment.
The dog owners had to interact with different objects, including a realistic stuffed dog, a Halloween candy pail and a book, without paying attention to their pets. The dogs seemed indifferent when their owners were reading a book or interacting with the pail. But when it came to playing with the stuffed dog, the real dogs’ behavior changed dramatically: they did whatever they could to distract their owners’ attention from the “competitive” object, such as barking, wagging their tail, getting between the owner and the fake dog, etc. 42% of the dogs even tried to bite the stuffed dog, which was barking and wagging its tail at the touch of a button.
“We can’t really speak to the dog’s subjective experiences, of course, but it looks as though they were motivated to protect an important social relationship,” said Harris.
According to the researchers, it is probably a simple and very familiar to humans form of jealousy that stems from the lack of attention and affection because of the presence of a “rival”.
Harris thinks that it is a primary form of jealousy, similar to the one that babies show, who, as shown by another study, get jealous when their mom turns her attention to a lifelike doll.
Jealousy is a feeling that has evolutionary roots and is probably a kind of survival mechanism. The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE.
However, not all scientists are convinced that what dogs feel is actually human-like jealousy. Some argue that jealousy is not a simple but a complex emotion, which requires awareness of self and others and, therefore, is not possible for a dog.
However, others argue that jealousy is not the only emotion that appears to be simple and innate, as other studies have shown, our four-legged friends can experience human-like feelings such as guilt.
While we are only highlighting the findings of these studies, all sentient life forms are self aware to varying degrees. They have consciousness. The unconditional love our four-legged friends give is indisputable, and this study is a reminder that our species is not alone in experiencing these social emotions.