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Jealousy in Dogs
Study shows the desire to protect social bonds between humans and canines.

Do our dogs get jealous? My pups definitely react when I pay more attention to one over the other, but is it right to call it jealousy? While scientists have long wondered whether the emotion requires complex cognition, two researchers at UC San Diego believe that dogs may exhibit a more basic form of jealousy, which evolved to protect social bonds.

For the first experiment of jealous behaviors in canines, Psychology professor Christine Harris and student Caroline Prouvost adapted a test used with 6-month old human infants. The team worked with 36 dogs in their own homes, running through different scenarios with their owner's attention--having the person show affection to a plush dog (that barked, whined, and wagged its tail), engage with a plastic pumpkin pail, and read a book that played music.

The researchers took note of aggressive, disruptive, and attention-seeking behaviors. They found that the dogs were more likely to exhibit behaviors like snapping, pushing, and getting between their owner and the other dog when the interaction was with the plush pup as opposed to the plastic pail (as high as 78 percent to 42 percent). The dogs were even less likely to exhibit the behaviors with the book reading (22 percent).

Christine believes we can label these behaviors as jealousy and that the study suggests the dogs were seeking to break up the connection between the owner and a rival to protect an important social relationship. Because the majority of research is on jealousy between human mates, this study is an interesting insight into the dynamic between siblings, friends, and even people and dogs.

Do you think that your pup exhibits jealousy?

 

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by patchattack/flickr.

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