Thought you were the only one in your household who experienced the green-eyed monster from time to time? Then think again. According to the latest reports, your dog might be just as susceptible to the odd bout of jealousy as you. Anyone who’s welcomed a dog into the family will know that forlorn look they give when you pay attention to someone or something that’s not them, but the full extent of the jealousy they’re capable of might come as something of a surprise. In a study performed by a team of researchers headed up by Professor Harris and Professor Prouvost at UC San Diego, the very real realities of canine jealousy were put under the microscope… and the findings are illuminating.
As part of the study, 36 dogs were pulled in to participate. To make sure their behavior wasn’t affected by the stress or novelty of a new environment, all parts of the social experiment were completed in the dog’s own homes. Each pet parent was equipped with the basic tools of the task (a camera, a book, a stuffed toy dog, and a Jack-o-lantern), and the instruction to film a 1-minute segment to show how their dog reacted when they lavished the objects with attention, but ignored the dog completely. After deciding which of the objects gained the most attention from their pooch, the object was placed on the floor to see how the dog greeted their rival.
The Stuffed Dog Experiment
The stuffed dogs used in the experiment were as close to life as possible, capable of barking, whining, and generally behaving like a pup. Pet parents were invited to play with the toy for 8 seconds, while ignoring their real dog in the process.
The Jack-O-Lantern Experiment
After completing the stuffed dog part of the experiment, attention was turned to a Jack o lantern. Again, the participating dog owners were asked to play and interact with the Jack o lantern in the same way they would normally behave with their dog, while relegating their pooch to the sidelines in the process.
During the final test, pet owners were asked to read aloud from a pop-out children’s book in much the same way they would if reading to a child. Funny voices were allowed; paying attention to the pooch was strictly forbidden.
Once all the tests had been completed, the researchers got down to the task of drawing up the conclusions. And the conclusion in this case? That dogs are as prone to jealousy as we are. During the experiments, dogs were shown to display all the classic behaviors we’d associate with the green-eyed monster (snapping, touching their owner to try and re-claim their attentions, and pushing at their rival). The behaviors increased significantly around the stuffed toy, and declined around the book and Jack o lantern, suggesting that the real dogs had identified the stuffed dog as the biggest threat to their owner’s affections. In some cases, the dogs were even seen to sniff at the stuffed toys behinds – a classic example of, quite literally, sniffing out the competition.
“Many people have assumed that jealousy is a social construction of human beings – or that it’s an emotion specifically tied to romantic relationships. Our results challenge these ideas, showing that animals besides ourselves display strong distress whenever a rival usurps a loved one’s affection,” Professor Harris noted at the end of the study, and indeed, if her conclusions stand up, it seems we may need to start paying more attention to the inner life of our pets than we’d previously thought.
How to Recognize a Jealous Dog
So, if Professor Harris et al are right, and your pooch is just as capable of feeling jealous as you are, is there anything you can do to help lessen the effects? First up, it’s important to recognize exactly how jealousy is exhibited in canines (after all, recognizing the problem is the first step in tackling it). If you notice your pup displaying any of the below behaviors, it could well be the green-eyed monster is biting hard:
- Uncharacteristic aggression
- Aggression towards other pets as soon as you enter the room
- Going to the bathroom indoors
- No respect for your personal space (nudging, crowding you, pawing at you for attention)
- A lack of interest in activities they usually enjoy
- Pushy behavior (e.g. stopping you moving around or pushing their way into situations)
- Withdrawing from a room
- Doing a trick (a sure-fire way of grabbing your attention)
Tips to Stop Jealous Behavior
So, if your pet is feeling jealous, what exactly do you do? Fortunately, there’s a wealth of things you can try, starting with some of Dr. Scarlett Magda, founding president of New York City-based Veterinarians International, handy tips at Petmd:
- If you live in a multi-pet household, be careful to lavish an equal amount of attention on all your pets.
- Feed pets separately to avoid any food-related sources of conflict.
- Although it can be tempting to reciprocate your dog’s warm welcome when you come home, start ignoring them. This will help put the dampener on some of their emotional excitement and stop any aggression.
- Keep a journal to record instances of aggression or otherwise unwanted behavior to help you understand what triggers their jealousy.
- Train dogs to see their crate as a relaxing escape when they need some time alone.
- Make sure that if you buy a toy for one of your dogs, you buy the exact same toy for the other. The same applies to bedding and special treats.
- Don’t spend time petting one dog in front of another – be sure to give both the same amount of attention at the same time.
- Reinforce good behavior wherever possible. Caught your pooches licking each other’s ears, playing well together, or otherwise being sweet? Encourage them to keep it up by praising them or treating them to a tasty tidbit.