You thought that only humans had the ability to get jealous? Think again, according to a new study, even your furry friends can get possessive, for example, when it comes to the love of their master. Dogs exhibit more jealous behaviours, like snapping or pushing their owner, when their owners display affectionate behaviour towards another dog.
The study by Psychology professor Christine Harris and former honours student Caroline Prouvost at the University of California, San Diego, is the first experimental test of jealous behaviours in dogs. The findings support the view that there may be a more basic form of jealousy, which evolved to protect social bonds from interlopers.
Researchers said that dogs exhibited more jealous behaviours when the owner showed affection to another dog (actually a stuffed dog that barked, whined and wagged its tail).
“Our study suggests that dogs not only engage in what appears to be jealous behaviour, but that they also seek to break-up the connection between the owner and a seeing rival,” Harris said. “We can’t really speak to the dogs’ subjective experiences, of course, but it looks as though they were motivated to protect an important social relationship,” said Harris.
Since there had been no prior experiments on dog jealousy, the researchers adapted a test used with six-month-old human infants. They worked with 36 dogs in their own homes and videotaped the owners ignoring them in favour of a stuffed, animated dog or a jack-o-lantern pail.
In both these conditions, the owners were instructed to treat the objects as though they were real dogs — petting them, talking to them sweetly, etc. In the third scenario, the owners were asked to read aloud a pop-up book that played melodies. Two independent raters then coded the videos for a variety of aggressive, disruptive and attention-seeking behaviours.
Dogs were about twice as likely to push or touch the owner when the owner was interacting with the faux dog (78%) as when they were attending to the pail (42%). Even fewer (22%) did this in the book condition. About 30% of the dogs also tried to get between their owner and the stuffed animal.
So make sure they live well with one another.