Can Dogs Be Jealous?

Can dogs be jealous? Any dog parent will swear their dog displays all kinds of human traits, including jealousy. But is that really possible? Yes, says a University of California, San Diego study. But many scientists disagree, saying that jealousy requires complex cognition.

Psychologist Christine Harris and Caroline Prouvost monitored 36 dogs and their owners in their homes. The owners were to give special attention to a stuffed dog, a Halloween bucket, and they were to read a book out loud. They were instructed to talk sweet to the toy dog, pet the dog, and treat it like it was a real dog.

Most dogs didn’t get that upset about their owners reading a book out loud, or when the owners interacted with a Halloween bucket, but many did react when they thought a stuffed dog was going to take their place. This was especially true if the toy dog barked and wagged its tail. The jealous dog seemed to want to break up whatever social bond was being created between the toy and the owner.

Some of the dogs barked and showed aggression at the toy dog, and others wanted to get in between the two. Harris and Prouvost believe that this shows the dogs were jealous and were trying to claim what was theirs. They saw the toy dogs as rivals.

Some scientists still claim that this isn’t really jealousy because dogs don’t feel emotions the same way humans do. The whole category of animal emotion is a new science, but shows some promise. Of course, we will never really know what goes on in their heads and what they really feel.

But I tested this theory out with my own dog and a stuffed, barking dog. When I set the toy down she proceeded to chew the dog’s ear off. So, was that jealousy? If you ask a dog parent, they will say that it is.