Everyone with more than one dog probably knows this already. Dogs, like people, get jealous. I have two border collies and can attest to this. Petting one causes the other one to flip and come running at me to get petted.
These latest findings come courtesy of the first experimental test of jealousy in dogs. Researchers found that man’s best friend nipped even at stuffed dogs when their owner showed the fake pooch attention.
The test on the dogs supports the view that jealousy is a primordial emotion seen in a host of other animals, not just humans.
Christine Harris, an emotion researcher at the University of California, San Diego explained why understanding jealousy is important. “Jealousy is the third-leading cause of non-accidental homicide across cultures,” Harris said. I don’t think my border collies plan on taking me out in my sleep.
Harris talked about seeing canine jealousy first hand. “I was visiting my parents, who have three border collies, and I was petting two of them, and they both wanted to knock my hands off the other dog so that I was petting them with both my hands, not just one,” Harris said. “They wanted exclusive attention. That got me to thinking about jealousy in dogs.”
My two border collies are the exact same way. Pet one and you will pet the other one, whether you like it or not.
How did the test work? Researchers took 36 dogs in their owner’s home and videotaped the dogs as their owners ignored them for three different items. A stuffed animated dog that barked and wagged its tail, a jack-o’-lantern and a pop-up children’s book that played melodies. You can guess which one the dogs flipped out over.
The dogs were twice as likely to push or touch their owner when the owner was playing with the fake dog over the other two items. One-third of the dogs tried to nudge their way between the owner and the fake dog. A quarter of them snapped at the fake dog and one dog didn’t like the jack-o’-lantern and book as it snapped at those objects.
“These weren’t just aggressive acts they carried out. They tried positive things like being more affectionate to regain their loved one’s attention, to try and gain their relationship back,” Harris said.
“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 in a statement. “Our results challenge these ideas, showing that animals besides ourselves display strong distress whenever a rival usurps a loved one’s affection.”
What about the dogs that didn’t show jealousy? “It’s possible these are not very bright dogs, who didn’t even realize these items were something to be jealous over, or maybe they were very bright dogs who were not fooled by these inanimate objects. Another possibility is that the bond may not have been very strong with the owner.”
It could also be the type of dog you have. Border collies are known to need a lot of attention if you have them as pets.
Harris and her team published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.
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