Do dogs get jealous? It’s pretty likely they do

Close up of jealous Boxer dog faceDo dogs get jealous? Do you think your dog gets jealous? Have you ever wondered why dogs get jealous? The question is, do dogs really feel jealousy, at least in the way humans do? Researchers have mixed opinions.

Many dog owners believe their dog does indeed feel jealousy and I think many of us have seen this for ourselves. For example, playing with one dog and not the other. This can cause what might be perceived as jealousy because one dog may try to get between you and the dog getting the attention. Or take the new baby in the house example. Your dog has received loads of attention but now this new creature has arrived and is getting all of it. Perhaps in this case, your dog tries different tactics to get you to notice him.

Do dogs get jealous in the same way humans do?

Scientists like to separate emotions into 2 categories: primary and secondary. They consider primary emotions like fear, anger, disgust, joy and surprise universal. They say secondary emotions like jealousy, envy, guilt and shame, require a more complex cognitive process. Until recently, we thought that dogs didn’t have this level of cognition.

Herding dog with glasses on and booksStudies into dog jealousy

At the University of Vienna, researchers wanted to see if dogs became jealous when one dog performed a task and was rewarded and another performed the same task and wasn’t rewarded. Both of them learned the trick “shake.” The researchers then placed the dogs next to each other. They gave the shake command and when both dogs performed the task, only one received a reward.

Researchers expected that the dog without the reward would loose interest in complying with the command and that is exactly what happened. Not only did the dog stop obeying, he showed signs of stress and annoyance when he watched the other dog get the reward.

As stated before, not every researcher is on the same page about dog jealousy. In the case above, some would say that it means the dog who was not rewarded stopped obeying only because all unrewarded behaviors eventually tend to disappear due to the process learning called “extinction.”

However, when a follow-up experiment was conducted where dogs performed tasks without another one present and received no rewards, the dog continued to comply with the command for a much longer time and didn’t show the same signs of frustration and annoyance.

What about equal rewards? Well, in this case, at least according to the experiment, dogs don’t keep score quite the same as humans. With us, even if you and I are receiving a reward for the same task, we’re very vigilant about who gets the best reward. But dogs appear to be different. That is, as long as we reward both dogs, the degree of the reward doesn’t seem to matter. So, if dog A gets a piece of hamburger and dog B just gets a standard dog treat, it’s no big deal.

In another study, dog owners who stated that their dogs were not likely to be aggressive in a new situation, were instructed to give attention to various objects. These included a realistic-looking stuffed dog that barked and wagged its tail, a jack-o-lantern and a book.

The dog owners played with the stuffed dog and the jack-o-lantern and read from a book. They did this while ignoring their dog. Researchers recorded the behaviors of the real dog and here’s what they found.

The dogs showed differences in behavior depending on the object. One in four of the 36 dogs snapped aggressively at the stuffed dog more than at the other objects.

The dogs also touched, pushed and often tried to get between the stuffed dogs and their owners.

They tended to whine more when their owners gave the stuffed dog attention.

They gazed more at their owners and the stuffed dog when their owners were interacting with it.

And maybe the dogs even thought the stuffed one was real as 86% of them sniffed at its anal region.

Brain imaging to determine jealousy

Dr Gregory Berns with Dog and MRI

Dr. Gregory Berns

Dr Gregory Berns of Emory University and his research team have published many papers detailing what dog’s brains are doing through MRI scans. Their findings are published in his book, What It’s Like To Be A Dog And Other Adventures In Animal Neuroscience.

Christine Harris and Caroline Prouvost of the University of California in San Diego published a study entitled Jealousy In Dogs. This showed that dogs do indeed experience jealousy similar to that of humans.

Dr. Peter Cook has followed up on the research done by Harris and Prouvost in a study called, Jealousy In Dogs? Evidence From Brain Scanning. Dr. Cook and his team studied 13 dogs who voluntarily took part in this research.

Through scanning dog brains, the researchers looked at activity in the dog’s amygdala using aggression as a measure of jealousy. It showed that more aggressive dogs had more amygdala activity when watching a caregiver give food to a fake dog. It took into account that aggression may not be the only measure of jealousy. However, measuring aggression was a good place to start.

Dealing with jealous behaviors

You can’t just sit your pooch down and give him the reasons he shouldn’t be jealous. Thus, actions speak louder than words. Remember, dogs will continue to display bad behavior if there is no correction from their human companion.

A jealous dog sees other people and pets as competition. To change that, you need to show your dog that the person or animal they’re directing their envy to is a trigger for good things. For example, only play their favorite game when the other person or pet is present. If your spouse comes and sits next to you on the couch, quickly give him a treat before he has a chance to act jealous (the dog that is).

If they’re jealous of another dog, take them on walks only when they’re together and be consistent with this. As a result, your dog may come to associate other people with fun and treats and not jealousy

Teaching your dog that they don’t need to be jealous will take some time so consistency with positive reinforcement is the key.

Conclusion

Do dogs get jealous? While there’s no absolutely conclusive proof that dogs feel jealousy in the same way humans do, it’s pretty obvious that they have an emotional response when they feel someone is encroaching on their territory. I certainly think this is jealousy and most of you reading this probably think the same.

We love comments so be sure to leave yours below. Does your dog get jealous? Let us know about your experiences!

4 comments on “Do dogs get jealous? It’s pretty likely they do

  1. Buffy

    Yes I believe they do get jealous. My husband’s dog hated that he gave other dogs attention. She would get in between them, and even snap at the other dog. We told her “no” whenever she did that, she would stop, but then give her “her daddy” those sad puppy dog eyes. Great post by the way!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      Hi Buffy:

      Thanks for your comments!

      The thing about dog jealousy, that I believe differs from that of humans, is that a human might pretend they’re not jealous when they really are. A dog on the other hand, is always honest and straight-forward with everything he does.

      Reply
  2. Karen

    Fantastic article – and to support the theory that dogs do indeed get jealous, I only need to look at how my two dogs behave together. If one is getting more attention, the other will push himself between the person and his canine pal in an effort to get the same amount of pats and fuss. Dogs can become extremely attached to their human… and very anxious when they are separated as well. Thanks so much for sharing. Cheers, Karen

    Reply
    1. Christopher Mitchell Post author

      Hi Karen:

      Some researchers say “Is it really jealousy like humans feel?” I say “Yes!” I mean, what else would you call it when one of your dogs is vying for your attention?

      I don’t think dogs and other animals are really that different from we humans!

      Reply

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