dog jealousy
July 24, 2014

Jealousy Is Not Just A Human Emotion, Dogs Feel It Too

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

As pet owners, we tend to believe our pets have emotions such as love, loyalty and grief. But what about jealousy? Charles Darwin believed they could feel jealousy. On the other hand, emotion researchers have hotly debated whether or not jealousy requires complex cognition, which animals supposedly do not have. Other scientists consider jealousy a social construct, not fundamental or hard-wired like fear and anger — meaning that if we, as humans, "invented" jealousy, there's no way animals can feel it. A new study from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) reveals that dogs, at least, do show signs of feeling jealousy.

The findings, published in PLOS ONE, represent the first experimental test of jealous behavior in dogs and support the theory that there may be a more basic form of jealousy that developed to protect social bonds.

According to USA Today's Traci Watson, the study didn't actually start with dogs. UCSD psychology professor Christine Harris was researching human jealousy, until she encountered it in her parent's three young border collies. Their behavior led her to wonder about jealousy in creatures other than humans. As she reached down to pet two of the collies at once, she noticed it made the dogs unhappy. "One would take its head and literally push the other's head out of the way so both my hands were on him and the other one would do the same thing. And I thought, 'This really does look like jealousy.'"

Harris worked with Caroline Prouvost to recruit 36 college students with small dogs, adapting methods used to test 6-month-old human children. The tests were performed in the dogs own homes and videotaped for analysis by two independent raters who coded the videos for a variety of aggressive, disruptive and attention-seeking behaviors. During the tests, the owners were asked to ignore their dog and focus their attention on three different objects: a children's book, a plastic jack-o-lantern pail, and a toy dog that barked, whined and wagged its tail when a button near its head was pushed. Rachel Feltman of the Washington Post reports that the owners were asked to read the book aloud, and interact with both the pail and the toy dog by petting and talking to them as if they were their own pets.

The researchers found that the dogs hardly reacted to the book at all. The pail received some attention, but the toy dog was treated aggressively by the real dogs. The researchers found that about 22 percent of the dogs pushed or touched the owner during the book phase, 42 percent during the pail phase, and 78 percent during the toy dog phase. Approximately 30 percent of the dogs attempted to get between the toy dog and their owners, while another 25 percent snapped at the "other" dog.

Citing the fact that 86 percent of the animals tried to sniff the toy dog's rear end before or after the experiments, the researchers believe that the animals accepted the toy as a real dog.

According to Harris, the majority of research on jealousy concerns human mates. A great deal of jealousy, however, exists between siblings, friends and even close co-workers. Human babies show signs of jealousy as well, suggesting that the emotion may have evolved with siblings competing for parental resources.

Jealousy, as an emotion, has far-reaching psychological and social consequences, such as being the third leading cause of non-accidental homicide. This makes understanding the emotion important for researchers.

“Many people have assumed that jealousy is a social construction of human beings – or that it's an emotion specifically tied to sexual and romantic relationships,” Harris said. “Our results challenge these ideas, showing that animals besides ourselves display strong distress whenever a rival usurps a loved one's affection.”

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