Do dogs experience jealousy? For those that have more than one dog, or have introduced baby into a dog-owning family, it seems intuitive to believe that canines can behave jealously in competition for their owner’s affection. We know based on “pack mentality” that dogs are naturally competitive with each other, since their instincts in nature are to vie for leadership, food, and mates.

Jealousy may be defined as such: “feeling a discontented and resentful longing for someone else’s possessions or accomplishments.” If such a definition may be compared to a dog’s instinctive pack behavior, it would not be too unreasonable to suppose that dogs do indeed feel jealousy or covetousness of some kind.   For these reasons, one may believe that canine jealously does exist, but not until recently have there been studies providing evidence to this claim.

The University of California in San Diego conducted a recent study, observing the behaviors of 36 dogs and how they responded to certain “jealousy” triggers.  The dogs were brought into a room with their pet parents, who completely ignored them, giving all their attention to several objects. Among these objects were a book, a jack-lantern, and an animated plush dog.  The people were instructed to read the book aloud, to play with and speak to the jack-o-lantern and the plush dog as if they were talking to a real puppy.   The live dogs in observation showed little interest when their owner was reading the book or playing with the jack o lantern. But when the live dogs noticed their pet parents giving attention to and petting the animated pet dog, they seem agitated at being disregarding favor of another “animal.”  The pet parents ignored the live dog, and pretending to play with the stuffed dog, causing over 75% of the dogs to try and wedge themselves between the owner and the fake pet.  Most dogs tried to touch the person to get their attention; and some of the dogs even growled at the stuffed animal.

The conclusions of the study seem to support that dogs also experience jealousy in a way that corresponds to the human emotion. Similar research in the past has shown studies proving that horses and dogs have are instinctive, primordial emotions without possessing the self-reflection of human complex cognition. Further studies show that dogs seem to react negatively when they are not treated fairly.  While this recent study on canine jealousy at UCSD seems to remove any doubt about whether or not dogs can be jealous, other authorities would disagree.

Debate: Jealousy or Fear?

There are those that believe such behavior exhibit in the study does not reflect a jealous tendency, but rather that of fear.  (From a philosophical perspective one might argue that jealousy itself cannot exist apart from fear, so they are not mutually exclusive –but never mind!)  The director of Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center, Laurie Santos suggested that the same dogs should be observed with the animated pet alone, and not in the presence of their pet parent.  She proposes that the dogs may have been responding protectively out of fear of the unknown moving object. Many pet owners who own multiple dogs, or have both dogs and children still hold to the belief that canine jealous does exist.   If Santos’ supposition about is incorrect, and the dogs were truly responding out of jealousy, than as she says, “either jealousy is less complicated because animals show it, or animals are more complex than we thought.”