University of Auckland: Dogs do get jealous – new study

Science and technology, Doctoral, Faculty of Science

A new study provides evidence that dogs exhibit jealous behaviour and have the ability to imagine their owner petting another dog even when they can’t see what’s going on.


Researchers from left Associate Professor Alex Taylor, Rebecca Hassall, Amalia Bastos, Patrick Neilands
Dog owners have long claimed their dogs show jealous behaviours when their owner gives attention to another dog, ranging from vocalisations, agitated behaviour or pulling on a leash. Now a study from the University of Auckland, published in Psychological Science, supports the claim.

“Our research supports what many dog owners firmly believe — dogs exhibit jealous behaviour when their human companion interacts with a potential rival,” says lead author Amalia Bastos from the University’s School of Psychology.

“We wanted to study this behaviour more fully to determine if dogs could, like humans, mentally represent a situation that evoked jealousy.”

Dogs appear to be one of the few species that might display jealous behaviours in ways similar to a human child showing jealousy when their mother gives affection to another child. In humans, jealousy is closely linked with self-awareness, one reason animal-cognition researchers are so interested in studying jealousy and other secondary emotions in animals.

To test how and when dogs display jealous behaviour, researchers presented 18 dogs with situations where they could see the owner interacting with a realistic fake dog and to situations where they couldn’t see the same interaction because it was hidden behind a screen.

The dogs also had to respond to a social interaction between their human companion and a fleece cylinder. The fake dog served as a potential rival for attention while the cylinder served as a control.

In the experiment, the dogs observed the fake-dog rival positioned next to their owner. Then a barrier was placed between the dog and the potential rival obscuring it from view. Despite blocking the line of sight, the dogs forcefully attempted to reach their owners when they appeared to stroke the rival fake dog behind the barrier whether they could see what was happening or not.

In a repeat experiment using a fleece cylinder rather than a fake dog, the dogs pulled on the lead with far less force.

The dogs pulled with equivalent amounts of force when the rival fake dog was hidden and in the final trial where the owner was petting a fake rival in an interaction that was fully visible. This suggests the dogs’ reaction was triggered by the interaction itself rather than just trying to look around the barrier.


Ms Bastos and colleagues found that dogs showed three human-like signatures of jealous behaviour during the trials: jealous behaviour emerged only when their owner interacted with a perceived social rival and not an inanimate object; occurred as a consequence of that interaction and not due to a potential rival’s mere presence; and emerged even in an out-of-sight interaction between the owner and a social rival.

“These results support claims that dogs display jealous behaviour and they also provide the first evidence that dogs can mentally represent jealousy-inducing social interactions,” says Ms Bastos.

“There is still plenty of work to do to establish the extent of the similarities between the minds of humans and other animals, especially in terms of understanding the nature of nonhuman animals’ emotional experiences.

“It is too early to say whether dogs experience jealousy as we do, but it is now clear that they react to jealousy-inducing situations, even if these occur out-of-sight.”

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