We, as humans do experience jealousy at times, but can dogs show jealousy? We can become jealous of others who are doing better than we are. Jealousy can poke its head out over a potential mate, another person’s possessions or their appearance. This feeling of being jealous is due to our complex cognition that can create envy.
What about our dogs, can they experience the feeling of being jealous? I at times, believe they can show a form of jealousy. My own experiences with dogs and many times more than one in the house I have seen what looks like jealous behavior. Have you watched your dogs push each other to be first to get their dinner or receive attention? Even if you are a one dog family, do you notice if you are busy, on the phone or not paying attention to your dog they paw at you, whine or even bark. This may not be jealousy but they want the attention they think they deserve.
There is some controversy over whether dogs can become jealous. Scientists separate emotion into two categories. Primary, which includes fear, anger, disgust, joy and surprise which are universal. The second emotion includes guilt, shame, jealousy, and envy and may require a more complex cognitive process.
In all social situations, there are inequalities and some people and dogs fair better than others when it comes to rewards. Science has shown there can be jealousy between primates. Some has said this emotion would not be likely found in dogs because it involves self-awareness at a level which has been doubted in dogs, until recently. Dogs owners often observe this emotion of jealousy quite often with their pets.
Studies have shown that dogs are very social animals. Jealousy and envy are triggered by these social interactions. Research in humans has shown the hormone oxytocin is involved in a person’s expression of love and jealousy. What about dogs? Dogs also have the hormone oxytocin, but do they show the same emotions of love and jealousy?
During an experiment at the University of Vienna, two dogs performed the same task. One dog received a reward, the other did not. The dog that was refused the treat stopped performing this task and showed signs of stress and possibly annoyed by watching the other dog in this experiment be rewarded with a treat. Not that this experiment actually proves a jealous behavior because some dogs may only perform a task because of the reward and when the reward is discontinued, so does the task. The dog who received the reward did continue to perform and never showed signs of stress or frustration.
During another test again using two dogs were asked to perform a task. Both received a food reward, however, the treats given were different. One dog was given a piece of chicken where the other was given a piece of bread. Both dogs continued to perform the task asked. This experiment, most likely means dogs are sensitive to fairness and may not be jealousy.
The tests do show dogs have cognitive skills although not to the level of humans and primates. It does show sensitivity to being fair to a pair of dogs where they are treated equally whether they received the same treat or not.
Research performed at the University of California – San Diego showed that dogs do display jealous behaviors. An experiment where an animated stuffed dog was used. This fake dog barked, whined and wagged its tail. The owners of real dogs paid more attention toward these fake dogs. The pets snapped, pushed against the stuffed dog and tried to come between it and their owner.
So, can dogs show jealousy? These studies are a step toward understanding our dog’s emotions. Do they really experience jealousy or is it just the fairness amongst them that they seek? I am looking forward to more research being done on this subject. Hopefully, in the near future, we will truly understand why our dogs react the way they do in certain circumstances. Personally, I think dogs do get jealous of each other especially when not treated fairly.