Yes, Your Dog Really Gets Jealous. Here’s Why

They say that having a dog is better than having a partner, because your dog will never make you jealous. But according to a study conducted by the University of Auckland, you might actually be making your dog jealous! If it’s ever seemed like your dog has thrown a jealous look at you when you’re petting another pup at the dog park, it’s not in your head. Dogs can feel that their bond with you is being threatened by another dog. 

dog jealousy

Jealousy is Not Just for Humans 

For centuries, human jealousy has been experienced, studied, and been the basis of great literature. However, it’s been believed that more complex emotions like guilt, shame, or jealousy can’t be experienced by animals because they lack self-awareness. 

Anyone who’s seen their dog give them a look of shame after eating something off their owner’s plate might think otherwise. This belief flies in the teeth of what dog owners feel – and it might be a misconception. Scientists have found jealousy and envy in primates, and this recent study shows that complex emotions might show up in dogs, too.

How the Study Was Conducted 

dog jealousy

To study jealousy in dogs, researchers had 18 dogs watch their owner interact with both a realistic-looking fake dog (or “rival”), and a similarly sized cylinder, which served as the control. Then, a barrier was placed between the dog and the rival or the dog and the cylinder, blocking the owner and the object from the dog’s view. 

When the owner and the rival were out of the dog’s view, the dog would pull at their leashes strongly, almost as if the dog was imagining what was happening behind the barrier. When the owner and the control were hidden, the dogs pulled on the leashes with less force. 

What the Scientists Found 

Dog owners can form a strong emotional bond with their pet, and the study found that the emotional bond goes both ways, with the scientists confirming what dog owners already know. Dogs get jealous. The dogs studied exhibited three behaviors found in human jealousy! 

“We know this because when their owners appeared to pet a fake dog the dogs could not see behind an opaque barrier, they reacted with an approach response, which is a common jealous behavior in humans. This suggests that dogs could mentally simulate what their owners must have been doing out of their direct line of sight,” said lead author Amalia Bastos

Dogs Aren’t That Different From Babies 

dog jealousy

If you call your dog your baby, you’re not too far off. This behavior is similar to how babies and children act when they’re jealous. “Although infants and children show a range of behaviors when observing their mothers interact with another infant — including but not limited to attacking the rival, crying, seeking physical contact with the mother, throwing a tantrum, or screaming — almost all react primarily by approaching the jealousy-inducing interaction,” said Bastos. 

Dog Owners Were Right 

Dog owners have believed their dogs can get jealous for a long time. Way back in 2008, a study published in Cognition and Emotion found that 81% of dog owners believed their pets get jealous – even though there wasn’t a study backing it up at the time. Sometimes a gut feeling – especially when it comes to your pet – can be absolutely correct. 

While it’s not clear if dogs experience jealousy in the same way that humans do yet, it seems pretty safe to say that your dog loves you – otherwise they wouldn’t care so much! 

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