If you've ever noticed your dog get agitated when you're loving on another pet, you might have wondered if dogs get jealous. Jealousy is actually one of many emotions that canines share with humans and they feel it strongly when their owners pay undue attention to other animals or people. It can manifest with behaviors ranging from harmless whining to snapping at whomever is stealing their spotlight.
Because it's a more complicated emotion, scientists believed that jealousy was exclusive to man's highly evolved thinking process. A dog's brain processes emotions in much the same way that a human's does, though. In fact, the average dog is as intelligent as a two-year-old human; that makes them some of the smartest animals in the world.
Understanding your pet's jealousy can help the two of you grow closer. It can also make you worry but there are ways to curb a dog's less-than-ideal behaviors.
Charles Darwin, the biologist who brought us the theory of evolution, also noted that dogs were able to feel jealousy. In his 1871 book The Descent of Man, he wrote "everyone has seen how jealous a dog is of his master’s affection, if lavished on any other creature." He never attempted to scientifically prove this hypothesis, though. Instead, he left the exciting work for future scientists.
University of California San Diego psychologist Christine Harris wanted to determine scientifically whether or not dogs experience jealousy. To do so, she adapted a test used on 6-month-old babies.
The study, which was published in the Plos One journal, concluded the affirmative. Dog owners were instructed to treat both a toy dog and a jack-o-lantern as if they were real pets. The neglected and animate pets reacted far more strongly when their owners spent time with the toy dog than with the jack-o-lantern. They tried to get in between the toy dog and their owner or tried to endear themselves to their owner. 25% of the dogs even exhibited aggression toward the toy. This indicated that the dogs believed the toys to be real threats.
So far, there's no proof that any animals experience jealousy besides humans and dogs. While this could mean that humans and canines are unique in the animal kingdom, it could also mean that there is more research to be done. Dr. Christine Harris and her team suggested that jealousy affects most species that have to compete with their siblings for parental resources. It could also affect species that form bonded mating pairs. Though domestic cats do not bond with their mates, Dr. Harris is considering a study on them; they do have to vie for parental attention. The results could potentially help determine the true causes of jealousy in animals.
Imagine that you're spending the night at a significant other's place. You get up to wash your face and upon returning, find that someone's taken your spot. Your partner's dog is acting jealous because you, an interloper, have stolen the attention that would've belonged to them.
Some dogs want their owner's attention focused only on them and will express that desire by snapping or growling. They might also become unusually affectionate toward their owner to redirect the spotlight their way.