Does your dog try and get in the way when you kiss your partner or pet another animal? Are they jealous? Feeling threatened? Trying to protect you? Many dog owners agree that their pets have feelings.
Usually, dog owners can tell when their pets are happy or sad and you certainly know if they are angry with you. Since we can’t actually talk to our pets, it is impossible to understand exactly how they are feeling, but a study published this week in the scientific journal PLoS ONE has given us some insight into whether or not dogs can feel jealous.
Psychologists at the University of California in San Diego adapted a test that had been previously used on infants to see if they could find signs of dogs exhibiting jealous behavior. The study consisted of 36 dogs and the observations of their reactions to their owners ignoring them and cuddling with a plastic jack-o-lantern or an animated toy dog.
The study found that when their owners were snuggling with the stuffed dogs, over 75 percent of the dogs in the study pushed up against or touched their owners in some way. Some of the dogs tried to get between their owner and the toy and some growled at the stuffed animal.
Likewise, the dogs did seem less jealous of the jack-o-lanterns, but nearly 40 percent of them still showed aggression when their owners began talking to or cuddling them. Christine Harris, the psychologist that led the study, said:
“The fact that these dogs seemed like they were trying to draw their owners away from the stuffed animal indicates that they’re feeling something very similar to human jealousy.”
Although this is the first controlled experiment that tried to show that dogs feel jealous, it doesn’t prove anything. The problem is that the researchers did not observe how the animals initially reacted to the objects before their owners showed any attention. It could be that the dogs just didn’t like the jack-o-lantern or the stuffed animals and they were actually acting out of fear because they didn’t trust the objects.
Since jealousy is such a complex emotion, many more experiments need to be done before this theory can be proven. In humans, jealousy is a rare emotion that can bring many other feelings alongside it like anger, rejection, and sadness.
If it can be proven that dogs can feel jealousy, than either jealousy is not as complicated of an emotion as we thought or dogs are much more complicated than believe they are.
Human feelings of jealousy typically lead to speculation and assumptions. We believe that if our spouse is talking with an attractive person, then maybe they are attracted to them. That leads us to speculate that an affair may be taking place.
Is it possible that dogs have the ability to speculate that we are “cheating” on them with another animal, or in this case a jack-o-lantern? Or could it be that they just distrust other people and objects and don’t like it when we get too close to them? Researchers will be conducting more experiments in the near future to answer these and many other questions about the emotions of dogs, but in the mean time, what are your thoughts?
- Harris CR, Prouvost C. Jealousy in Dogs. PLoS ONE, (2014). 9(7): e94597 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094597