Most dog owners have seen their dog show signs of jealousy at one time or another. In fact, handlers have long used jealousy as a training tool, removing unresponsive dogs during training and allowing dogs to watch their handler work with another dog nearby.
This seems to be a great motivator for many dogs. But do dogs really feel the emotion of jealousy? Researchers have debated whether dogs can feel jealousy, as it requires complex cognition.
In a 2014 study from the University of California, San Diegos, published in PLOS ONE, researchers Caroline Prouvost and Christine Harris addressed this question. In this study, dog owners were asked to tell stories about when their dogs were “jealous.”
Most dog owners described similar jealousy traits that their dogs had exhibited in the past. When their dogs were jealous, they exhibited attention-seeking behaviors, such as pestering their owner or getting between the owner and the person who was the object of jealousy. They barked, growled, whined and sometimes became aggressive. Some dog owners have also reported that their dogs felt guilty after experiencing jealousy, although the researchers say there is no empirical data proving guilt in a dog.
According to the new study, published in PLOS ONE, Drs. Harris and Prouvost modified a test used to assess jealousy in six-month-old infants. This is the first test used in dogs to measure jealousy.
Thirty-six dogs participated in this study in three different tests. These dogs were videotaped by the researchers at their homes. They recorded the dog owners ignoring the dogs and focusing on an animated stuffed dog or a flashlight cube.
In this scenario, the dog owners had to treat the objects as if they were real dogs. They petted them and talked to them affectionately, pretending they were real dogs. The owners were then asked to read a pop-up book that played melodies to the fake dog. Then, two independent researchers evaluated the videos for various forms of aggression and other behaviors associated with jealousy.
- The 36 dogs weighed less than 35 pounds or were less than 15 inches tall. The researchers wanted small dogs in case aggression could occur after the dogs became jealous.
- All dog owners had to sign a consent form when the researchers arrived at their homes to record the tests. The researchers also asked if the dogs would behave aggressively if they became jealous, and if so, they asked the owners of the potentially aggressive dogs to remove them from the testing situation.
- There were equal numbers of male and female dogs and a variety of breeds.
None of the dog owners were aware of what was being tested and did not know the hypothesis of the experiment. Therefore, they could not influence their dogs’ reactions during the tests. All tests were videotaped.
The owner filled out a questionnaire and was free to interact between tests, so transfer effects from previous tests were limited. Each test lasted one minute.
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