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Can Dogs Really Be Jealous? (Let’s Look At The Facts)

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Do dogs ever feel jealous?

According to some new research by scientists, they do.

On the face of it, a lot of people would agree. But before you spring forth with your tales of dogs ‘acting jealous’, please – hear me out.

Personally, I don’t believe they do and I’ll explain more about that in a moment. But first let us look at the new research done in the name of science.

The experiment consisted of taking pairs of dogs and getting them to present a paw for a reward. On giving this “handshake” the dogs received a piece of food.

One of the dogs was then asked to shake hands, but received no food. The other dog continued to get the food when it was asked to perform the task.

The dog without the reward quickly stopped doing the task, and showed signs of annoyance or stress when its partner was rewarded.

To make sure that the experiment was really showing the interaction between the dogs rather than just the frustration of not being rewarded, a similar experiment was conducted where the dogs performed the task without the partner. Here they continued to present the paw for much longer.

Dr Frederike Range from the department of neurobiology and cognition research at the University of Vienna, says this shows that it was the presence of the rewarded partner which was the greater influence on their behaviour.

“The only difference is one gets food and the other doesn’t, they are responding to being unequally rewarded.” she said.

The researchers say this kind of behaviour, where one animal gets frustrated with what is happening with another, has only been observed in primates before.

Studies with various types of monkeys and chimpanzees show they react not only to seeing their partners receiving rewards when they are not, but also to the type of reward.

The dog study also looked at whether the type of reward made a difference. Dogs were given either bread or sausage, but seemed to react equally to either. Dr Range says this may be because they have been trained.

“It’s through the fact they have to work for the reward, this confers it with a higher value,” she said.

Source Here

Let’s take a look at this in smaller chunks.

The dog without the reward quickly stopped doing the task, and showed signs of annoyance or stress when its partner was rewarded.

Well of course. Surely we wouldn’t expect anything different here? The dog wants the food and it sees the other dog with the food and it gravitates toward the treat. This is quite logical, nothing ground breaking yet.

To make sure that the experiment was really showing the interaction between the dogs rather than just the frustration of not being rewarded, a similar experiment was conducted where the dogs performed the task without the partner. Here they continued to present the paw for much longer.

Yes, again this surely to be expected? Here we have a dog with no distraction, no food or other dog in the equation and it makes logical sense that most dogs will perform differently in a situation where no distraction – of any kind – is present. This, again, does not prove jealousy as we understand it.

Dr Frederike Range from the department of neurobiology and cognition research at the University of Vienna, says this shows that it was the presence of the rewarded partner which was the greater influence on their behaviour.

Now we’re veering in to some strange territory. Let us imagine this experiment but with some different parameters.

We work with just one dog, no other dog in the area.

The dog gives its paw. Then a person will come in to the room and puts some food on the floor near to where the other dog would have been positioned positioned.

Would the dog now be less interested in giving paw and more interested in food?

In my opinion, yes. Most likely.

Now repeat the same scenario but don’t have anyone put food down.

It’s my supposition that the dog would hold paw for longer.

No other dog present, no jealousy – merely distraction causing reaction.

The dog study also looked at whether the type of reward made a difference. Dogs were given either bread or sausage, but seemed to react equally to either. Dr Range says this may be because they have been trained.

Dogs like different foods. And scientists didn’t know this?

Take my own dog Mia. She loathes banana. My other dog, Chloe, on the other hand loves fruit. So if I’m eating a banana Mia will sit for a while, realise what I’ve got and then go and lie down. Chloe will stay sitting next to me, watching until I’ve finished. I’m not a scientist but I do know this – it’s……wait for it………

……because Chloe likes banana and Mia doesn’t!

Given that Mia is by far the greedier of my two dogs it proves that dogs clearly have different tastes the same as we do, this is – I would guess – pretty universal. Maybe your dog loves a type of food that my dogs don’t. Maybe your dogs go mad for aniseed whereas my dogs love cheese. Just a sec, wait. Not a good comparison – aniseed and cheese are pretty much universal ‘must eats’ on the canine menu (if your dog likes neither, please let me know – in the name of science).

So, if I set out to train Mia with bananas as my choice of reward for her, I’d achieve less impressive results – quite simply because Mia doesn’t like banana. She places a higher value on food that she likes, similarly toys and similarly different ways of being touched – Mia doesn’t like to be stroked on the head, Chloe will take a good head stroking for several hours. So we’ve still not established jealousy in canines with this research based on the report as presented on the BBC site.

Studies with various types of monkeys and chimpanzees show they react not only to seeing their partners receiving rewards when they are not, but also to the type of reward.

OK. Well I’m not a scientist but I do know that monkeys and chimps are NOT dogs. They can and indeed probably do have emotions much more closely aligned to the emotion we recognise in ourselves as jealousy, similarly they have different social structures and are NOT dogs. So the relevance of this is no more apt than saying: “Well humans have jealousy, why can’t dogs?”

Why do I not believe dogs share the emotion we recognise in ourselves as jealousy?

If we think about what jealousy is, if we are logical about what we know about this emotion it is incredibly complex and based on a whole level of social elements.

There are humans who feel jealousy based on widely different factors – is that an innate personality trait in them or is it nurtured? – we don’t really know.

We have humans within the autistic spectrum who simply do not and can not feel jealous and others within that same spectrum who can be wildly jealous. It’s true that even scientists themselves still haven’t universally agreed a definition for what jealously is! That’s how complex this particular emotion is. What does it take to be jealous? It takes two people very, very different reasons to be jealous, even people within the same family who share almost identical genetics. Yet put two people in a room and mimic the ‘paw test’ and we’d never get close to seeing universal results proving jealous responses in people – we’re too different and jealousy is an emotion that does not run through us all in an identical fashion. So why should it in dogs?

I absolutely do not doubt for a single, solitary second that they display behaviour which is very easy for us to compare with the emotion of jealousy that we recognise in ourselves. It could be displayed in acts of resource guarding, it could be manifested by dogs who are particularly greedy, territorial, pack motivated, rank motivated – but jealousy it is not. It is quite possible that I want to get my bosses’ job and sit in his chair, in his office and take home his salary but I am not motivated even in the slightest by jealousy, I simply want to do better for myself. Dogs the same. So a dog going to another dog getting rewarded is absolutely not proof positive – in my view – that we’ve cracked the canine jealousy code, we haven’t even cracked ours yet – and we can SPEAK!

Anthropomorphism is rife. Most of the time it’s harmless but sometimes it’s nothing more than us finding another way to say: “I don’t understand my dog but I’ll bracket a particular behaviour by benchmarking it against my own”. This is, plainly, crazy. And it can lead to problems.

It will be better for dogs and better for us if we make an effort to better understand them. But always, always, always start that voyage of discovery with one overriding caveat: Dogs are no more human than we are Zebra. They are dogs. They ARE unique and we love them for it. They are masters at making us think what they want us to think. Their understanding of human body language is an art we’re not even close to mastering. Take this example:

Person comes home. Dog has wrecked the post (again). There it is, all laid out scattered over the floor.

Owner opens the door.

“Huuuuhhh!!!! What have you done???”

“Oh, look at him. Look at that face. Look how guilty he looks.”

(wait for it)

“He know what he’s done!”

Sound familiar?

Of course he doesn’t ‘know what he’s done’ and he absolutely may ‘look guilty’ but that aint’ guilt he’s showing, that’s him spotting body language and going to fear/survival mode. He’s pretty much saying: “If you want me to look guilty, if that’s the pigeon-hole you want to put me in right now, so long as it means I don’t come to any harm, I’ll do a better guilty repertoire than Laurence Olivier if it makes you happy babe!”

And make us happy it most certainly does. We might feel guilt if we do something that causes someone else to feel bad, but that’s because we have an understanding of how our actions can have a future negative effect on the mood of our human counterparts. Our dog, however, he was just bored and he wanted something to do. Then we come home and we’re – clearly – pretty mad at him. He’s not feeling guilty, he’s feeling plain old scared.

But it makes us happy to think he thinks like us. To quote the chairman of the Kennel Club: “I don’t need no scientists telling me….” that dogs do not, in fact, think like us. They think, surprisingly, like dogs. That’s what makes em’ great!

So,that’s quite enough about what I think, what do YOU think?

Can dogs really experience the emotion us humans refer to as jealousy?

Add your thoughts using the comment form below. I look forward to reading them!

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  1. My little Yorkie, Eliot, gets jealous everytime a child sits on my lap. He tries to scratch them away and wont stop til they do. When the child moves away he sits directly on my lap so no-one can sit on me again.

  2. Taffy doesn’t care for Dogs. She will quickly inspect/smell them but they are Not allowed the same privilege. If I speak to another dog while holding Taffy and then speak to her she will turn her face as far away from my gaze as possible and refuses to look me in the eyes until I apologize for talking to the other dog. This is only one of many consistant behaviors she has exhibited since approx. her 1st birthday. Taffy is very well trained by me and our depth of interaction or mutual understanding surprises many. I’ve enjoyed watching many famous dogs over the years, like Skidboot and many others, and I know that repetition in our everyday life reflects in the actions and behavior of our pets. How can you not believe that a dog could learn about jealousy and other normal human traits simply by observing us because you know that they watch every move of every muscle that we make and that’s how they know exactly how we feel at any given time and why they can anticipate our actions. As a disabled person I get to spend much more time with Taffy than I ever could have in my working days so I feel like I have an unfair advantage over most pet owners who go to work every day and that’s another reason I feel so strongly about this subject, There is simply No way for a scientific experiment to assimilate a learned Human behavior in a Dog. That takes a much more personal bond to create and is not as simple as learning to shake or speak? It really depends on the stimuli and the well rounded or happy lifestyle our pets grow up in. If you don’t believe me just ask Taffy!
    If You Only Knew What Your Dog Could Do!
    Sadly most of us never get to see their full potential because we are too busy and that really is A Crying Shame.
    Thanks: Robert & Taffy

  3. trixie my puppy is jealous even at such a young age if my nephew comes with his puppy ,who happens to be trixies sister when i go to pick my nephews dog up trixi comes over and trys to get on my knee also so yes dogs do get jealous.

  4. yes i do think dogs do get jealous our cassie is a daddys girl and if she is up beside him on the couch @ anyone goes near him for a cuddle she nudges her way in between them she is terrible and if he shows any affection to our other dog or cats they get nudged out the road as well

  5. Mitch can get jealous, if my hubby and I decide to have a cuddle on the sofa Mitch always tries to join us, he gets jealous and starts whingeing when he discovers there isn’t enough room for him. He is great with other animals, he will play with anything that has fur or feathers and also tries to play with fish in the neighbours pond. He is great with children, loves playing ball and is very gentle, but he hates it when I cuddle up to hubby or give a friend a cuddle.

  6. Well I have Jude (rotty), Bird (GS) and Libby (whippet) and I would say the only time they get jealous is over their weekly treat and in fact I believe it’s possessiveness not jealousy. Meal times – not bothered, walk times – not bothered, cuddling times – mostly not bothered although Bird is a recent rescue and rather insecure. What does bother them – BONES – you got a bone, I want it, I know I’ve got one but I want yours too………….. anyone with children knows this scenario. End of the day as long as each and every one of your pets receives equal time and effort from you then ‘job’s an good un’.

  7. I think dogs can become jealous but not necessarily over food. For example when we take my dog over to my nans, who has a puppy, he would get frustrated because the puppy would get more attention than he would. But I definitely believe they can feel and express the emotion of jealousy and also a number of other human emotions. I believe that all animals feel emotion in some way or another but not necessarily in the same way that people experience the same emotions.

  8. What do you have to say?

    Of course dogsget jealous, I got 2 German Shepherds dogs, who are 5 years old they are brother and sister from the same litter, we got them since they wee a month old.
    Tammy gets very jealous of Toby if he gets more attention than her, My husband seems to like Toby more thanTammy for some reason he says is because Tammy always pushes Toby away so she can get all the attention. But i have notice that if my husband pays more attention to Toby and send Tammy away while Toby gets the fuss she is always waiting for him in the hall, and waits for Toby as soon my husband finishes fussing Toby he send him away and what happends she grabs Toby by the neck , sometimes is a gentle grab but in other occasion she pulls his hairs. (Poor Toby he is ever so gentle) When i fuss both together at the same time there is no arguments between then two. as i threat both the same i love them so much.

  9. I would say that Mischa is a VERY jealous dog. We are at present staying with my son who has Mischa’s brother, Bailey. If I or my husband show any attention to Bailey, Mischa attacks him. Similarly, when Bailey has a ball, Mischa does everything in her power to take it from him and she will then sit with it between her paws, goading him to try and take it back. We gave them both a chewy bone yesterday and Mischa dropped hers and took Bailey’s off him then went back to her own and sat with them both between her paws.

  10. Well we have a 6month old Staffordshire Bull terrier bitch (Tia) and all i can say is that whenever my husband is giving either one, or both of our children who are 3yrs and 6yrs, a cuddle on his lap, Tia wimpers and tries to jump up as well and push the children off. Whenever we go to my sister-in-laws house, who has a fourch terrier (westie x yorkie) called Yogi, Tia tries to be the centre of attention getting the strokes from all humans in her company. She’s not aggressive if you pay her no attention but she does let you know that she’s not happy by making this wimpery,whining sort of noise and wagging her tail like mad. Now i would say this is like a jealousy type of behaviour but thats because i am human and don’t speak Dog, maybe there’s another explanation for this….who knows.

  11. You know, I wrote a comprehensive answer to this and then had the system say my e-mail was rejected. I’d make this second reply simple: the “scientists” cited are quite worrisome. I don’t know who does a behavioral study about food rewards and calls it a jealousy study. The non-professionals who answered the question here have all hit the question on the nose by giving examples of jealousy over AFFECTION. And, by definition, that’s what jealousy most acutely is: the perception that someone is taking affection you think should be yours. We see it in dogs all the time. What bozo needed to do a study? And then tried to do it with food? Wow.

  12. My opinion is that it’s all about wanting to be part of a pack. The best pack too. Best pack = better food/protection etc. = higher survival rate.

    Dog’s know when they’re onto a good thing. so if they are in a good ‘pack’ in a home environment, they will always be fighting to keep there place. In terms of attention seeking, being ignored instinctively means vulnerability to pack animals. Alone, they have no food, no protection. So when they see others receiving attention, they want to make sure they are not forgotten and will still receive the benefits of the pack. Dog’s don’t live with or help stranger’s as a natural trait.

    Food is the signifier of the leader. Dog’s will fight over food, even if they don’t want it, in the sheer fact to make a point. As for doing tricks for food next to the other dog etc. all I can say about that is BENEFIT, a word I use a lot when talking about the relationship dog’s have with humans. A dog will only do something when it seem’s to be of benefit to themselves. Even if they don’t receive a treat for a trick, there reward is knowing they get to stay in the pack with you, get dinner every night, somewhere dry to sleep, and stay alive and healthy!

    and I can’t believe they compared dogs to chimps lol. where did that come from??

  13. i have been reading your article and all the posts that people have put up and to be honest these “So called scientists” should find a new job….
    I have a bull mastif and he is called lewis, and he gets jelous.. NOT over food.. but over affection. If you are showing another dog, or even another person affection that he is not getting then he will try to push them out of the way until he has your undivided attention.
    Lewis being a bigger dog has always had the ability to push smaller dogs out of they way.. all because they are getting something that he wants… Your love.
    With the whole guilty part., that i do not believe.. Lewis know when he has done wrong, for example:- When he has chewed my favourite cardigan up, i come home and he is already hiding… Its not that he is feeling guilty at all it the fact that i am alpha in my house and he knows that he has done wrong. But i will say that looking at lewis i do see alot of human tendancies in him… Compasion, empathy, with adults and children. etc. but this could be from all the training that he has had or this could just be inside him. who is to tell? But hey i know my dog.. You know yours.. Scientist only know what they think is best!!! or do they?

  14. yes i feel dogs feel emense jealousy as i just experienced it just the other week when my 7 month old nephew came to visit and i have a 4 month old labador Blake. I was nursing baby Noah when Blake was annoyed that i was paying more attentio to the baby rather than him,he came over and tried to sit on top of me even though the bay was still on my knee he whinned and you could see he was jealous,so in the end i give in and passed the child back to his mum and nursed Blake instead.

  15. I believe that dogs DO get jealous. I studied jealousy in dogs as my third year research project as a psychology student in 2006, so the study of jealousy in canines is NOT new!!! My research findings were presented at an international level and were later published. My work involved studying different behaviours in context and included video clips and interviews with 40 dog owners.
    If anybody would like any further details please feel free to contact me via this forum.

  16. my dogs act in a way that make’s me think they do experiance from this emotion. when im feeding them treats one after another and i miss one out the other’s actions changed in a way that makes me think they do.

  17. I have read your article and i find it very intresting. I have a 9 year old Lab called Ingrid, Ingrid is a retired guide dog so she has been trained to highest of standerds. Ingrid shows some jealousy but not over her food or if my partner and myself are sharing a cuddle, ingrid gets jealous over her favourite toy a solid red ball, not only does she not like any other dog to play with it but she also becomes possesive over it. I belive not only dogs can feel emotion but all animals can.

  18. We have three dogs, a Brindle Pit Bull mix, named Hardy, a deaf American Bulldog/Pit bull, named Pinky and a Labrador Retriever pup named Baba Looey. If you are in a room, any room and you pet or scratch one dog, the other two will quickly realize that someone is getting attention and they aren’t. So they come over and butt in to be petted and or scratched. Actual pushing blocking and shoving goes on to get their turn at attention. Another example is Pinky. If any dog other than one of his “brothers’ sits on my lap and I pay too much attention to it, he will get down right nasty and bite the offender and try to get it off of my lap. None of this has anything to do with “rewards”. It’s all about attention and who’s getting it. I firmly believe dogs have feelings and emotions. I agree that some people make the mistake of thinking that dogs think like humans…and therefore get upset when they do something totally doggy like attack and kill that baby raccoon in the backyard. A dog may not think like a human but make no mistake a dog can think. ;o)

  19. Dogs definitely feel jealous at times. If any other dogs visit while our dog is here,he watches them very carefully,dislikes it if they get more attention than him.

  20. Yes, I do believe that dogs feel some type of emotional jealousy. Having worked with animals for 25+ years and having pets of my own I have seen this behaviour many times. My 2 dogs have very different tastes and if I’m eating something that one likes then he or she will stay right by me hoping for a piece while the other one will just go lie down somewhere. But, if I start to pet one dog and show affection then the other one is right in there trying to push his way in. I have seen this happen with the boarding dogs at the vet clinic I work at where the dogs are allowed to be free with us while we are there. If myself or another staff member start to show affection to 1 dog then the whole gang is pushing and shoving to get in on the petting and there is no food involed. So,yes I do believe that dogs feel some type of emotion very similar to what we as humans call jealousy.

  21. Humans feel jealous when someone has got something they want, whether it’s status, power, attention, possessions, achievement etc. I doubt if there is such a thing as human emotion, except possibly idealised romantic love. Our emotions are our animal side. Where we differ from other species is the way we use our brains, our capacity for abstract thought, our outstanding technical ability and capacity for innovation, and our monumental and self-destructive stupidity.

  22. I totally agree with Ryan, jealousy is a human trait and does not manifest itself in dogs. I would add to his comments on the experiment that if the dogs have been fed does the lure of food diminish and therefore disprove the findings of the good doctor. For those who doubt this, look at any dog class. If a dog is hungry it will work for food reward however, if dog is not hungry you will often find the dog will not work. In other words if both dogs are hungry are they not showing a desire to survive by sourcing food and they will display behaviour they believe will achieve that objective. Ryan is also correct when he states that believing this is jealousy is harmless, except if you want to correct or change this behaviour in a dog, you first have to identify the stimulus and the reward the dog is reacting to because it is the manipulation of the stimulus or reward which will correct or change it. So if you mis identify the cause you will not be able to correct the behaviour.

  23. I believe dogs have and show emotion. they do show sadness, they also no when their owners are ill and try to comfort them, I know this from personal experience. I have a pack of four dogs and if I show a brother more affection than the other brother , up goes the hackles and it could cause a full blown fight if I am not on my toes and read the body language quick enough. Sometimes it is just a show of dominance, such as my boy dogs will not allow their sister on the fron porch, so now in retatiation , she will not allow them on the back porch. they both have their territories. Yet when I am outside working horses they will lay in a triangle with their backs turned outward in a very protective mode. they were not trained to do this, but I am their pack leader who is to be protected. If I get hurt , they are the first to come and try to get me back on my feet. They do show emotion and I believe jealousy is a part of it..

  24. Trouble is my 1st rescue dog Feb.14 will be 13 years i have had him, he is not a jealous dog. He was a dump out and he has accepted every dog i have brought home. He is the one thats takes care of all the others….washing their face, getting fleas off,ect…. but i do have some that are jealous of my attention, i do my best to give each one their own attention daily. My german shepherd on the other hand can not rest due to following me everywhere i go…and i mean everywhere, i have 7 dogs and 3 cats and they pretty much all get alone with each other

  25. Observant owners and behaviourists have observed that many (but not all) dogs have an acute sense of “fair” and that they are perfectly capable of expressing dissatisfaction when, as in the example above, the other dog gets a reward or attention while they do not. As you wrote, jealousy is a complex emotion that’s hard to define and even harder to quantify, but at it’s core it could be articulated as an acute sensation of, “not fair!” If you agree with this primary definition of jealousy – then, I argue, some dogs do indeed feel – and express, jealousy.

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