Do Dogs Feel Jealousy?

We all get jealous at some point or another. It's a perfectly normal human emotion. But have you ever noticed that your dog is often the jealous type? Many pet parents have.

Jealous dog wants tennis ball
credit: InBtwntheBlinks/iStock/GettyImages

No, really: he whines when you look at another dog, demands all your attention and belly rubs, and gets green with envy at the dog park (so embarrassing). It's not a great look, even on a cute, fluffy ball of love and zoomies. But how is that even possible? Are dogs capable of jealousy? Do dogs get jealous?

What is jealousy?

According to Psychology Today, jealousy is a very complex emotion that encompasses a wide array of feelings ranging from fear of abandonment to envy, anger, or even humiliation. Jealousy is even often thought by psychologists as an emotion that preserves valued social bonds and important relationships. While jealousy is a common emotion experienced among humans, the question still remains: do dogs experience jealousy?

Do dogs feel jealousy?

Yes, dogs get jealous. Although it may not be the same version of jealousy that humans experience, dogs do in fact experience jealousy. So if your pooch appears to be jealous, approach him with some sensitivity and compassion: dogs have feelings too!

French bulldog looking to the camera
credit: Jobrestful/iStock/GettyImages

Is dog jealousy like human jealousy?

Not exactly. Dogs may experience jealousy, but canine jealousy is not nearly as complex as the jealousy that a human may experience. Frederike Range at the University of Vienna determined in a study that while dogs are sensitive to fairness and being rewarded for the same action (everyone gets a treat!), they do not pay attention to equity (whether the rewards are equal). In other words, Fido may not notice (or get jealous) if you give Fluffy more treats then him. He just wants part of the action too!

So yes, dogs do experience jealousy, but a dog's understanding of jealousy is not quite as nuanced as human jealousy.

Primary vs. secondary emotions

According to AKC, scientists like to separate emotions into two categories: primary and secondary emotions. Primary emotions are the ones that are generally considered to be universal (anger, joy, fear, disgust, and surprise) and maybe even featured characters in family-friendly movies, while secondary emotions, such as guilt, shame, envy and jealousy may require more complex cognitive function and processing.

Because secondary emotions involve a sense of self-awareness, it was not a wide held belief that dogs get jealous (except maybe among dog owners who could attest otherwise). However, more recently, studies suggest that dogs do in fact experience jealousy, which opens up a whole new world of possibility in terms of the emotional capabilities of our beloved canine companions.

Dogs are keen social observers

According to a study done on 36 dogs at the University of California, San Diego, when dog owners displayed affectionate behaviors towards a fake dog, as well as a picture book, and a plastic jack-o'-lantern, their dogs displayed jealous behaviors: dogs snapped, got between their owner and object, pushed and touched their owner and the object) when their owner was giving the toy dog signs of attention that they recognized.

In other words, it may not be as complex as a human's understanding of jealousy, but the emotion is there. According to CNN, the study suggests that dogs experience jealousy triggered by social interaction and not by their owners ignoring them for an inanimate object.

Senior man with dog and cat
credit: Jevtic/iStock/GettyImages

Is my dog jealous of my new boyfriend?

Yes, it's very possible! Your dog may be jealous of your new beau. But your dog's jealousy could be a sign of resource guarding.

Psychology professor, author, dog trainer, and behavioral specialist, Deborah Jones explains in an article published by the Association of Animal Behavioral Professionals that "when that resource is a person and the experience is connected with competition for that person, we tend to label it as jealousy."

It's actually kind of sweet. Your trusty doggo sees your new boyfriend as a threat to her most valuable resource: YOU! Think of it this way. From your dog's point of view, you are her caretaker, her food giver, potty-breaker, belly-rubber, best friend, and most valuable resource. Why wouldn't your doggo be jealous?

So take it slow and introduce man's best friend and your new man slowly, but surely (and safely). Most importantly, have some empathy for your new pet. She is guarding her most precious resource, after all!

Conclusion

To answer the question, yes, dogs get jealous. While dogs may not get jealous in the same way as their human companions (as the emotion is less complex in dogs than in humans), dogs do pay attention to their surroundings and experience jealousy in their own way, especially when it involves social interactions, resource guarding, and cases of equity. So next time your dog acts out in jealousy (maybe he takes over your lap in a rage, or kisses your face in a fury), get compassionate: your puppy is only human!