I'm sure you've suspected at some point that your dog gets possessive of you when you turn your attentions toward another animal. I know that, sometimes, when my poodle-retriever mix Annie sees me stroking any one of her three kitty siblings, she runs in and bulldozes her way to the front of the affection line. "Oh, there's no need to get jealous," is my usual (intuitive) response. However, animal experts are always quick to say, "Not so fast! You can't project your human emotions onto another species. Just because it looks like jealousy to you, doesn't mean that your dog is actually experiencing "jealousy" the way we humans define it. So, am I truly just imagining things, or could my intuitions be supported by any scientific evidence? I checked and, sure enough, a study was indeed conducted on this very topic. As it turns out, the results are none too surprising.
In 2013, emotion researcher Dr. Christine Harris of University of California, San Diego published the results of a study that entailed having dogs witness their owners lavishing attention on three very different types of objects: a life-like mechanical toy dog, a Halloween jack-o-lantern pail, and a pop-up book. The goal was to see whether the dogs reacted differently depending on the particular object of attention. Sure enough, a significant difference was observed between their reactions towards the life-like toy dog (that barked and wagged its tail) and the other two, not-at-all-doglike pail and pop-up book. As Harris predicted, the vast majority of the dogs did not take too kindly to the mechanical canine. 72% of the dogs in the study exhibited "jealous" behaviors when their owners fawned over the toy dog, including snapping and pushing the toy as well as touching their owner. In fact, one out of four showed outright aggression (snapping) at the faux canine. Less than half (42%) expressed "jealousy" when their owners petted the pail (just one dog in the study snapped at it), and only 22% of the dogs appeared negatively affected by the attention shown to the pop-up book.
According to Harris, since humans and dogs evolved together with dogs becoming increasingly dependent on their human benefactors for food, shelter, and companionship. For this reason, dogs may have evolved jealous instincts should another dog try to steal their human's attentions and, therefore, threaten their precious supply of resources. "I think that it helps support the idea that we are not the only species that are wired to protect our bonded relationships from rivals," said Harris.
It's also important to note that this study only examined whether dogs would become jealous of other dogs, and not of any other living creatures (cats, rabbits, etc.). Still, this is compelling stuff, and it definitely lends some support to our intuitions. However, more research will be needed before we can conclude with some certainty that dogs really do fall under the sway of the green-eyed monster.
By Maya. M