Dogs Engage in Jealous Behaviours

A study concerning dogs, which I feel could equally as well be concerned with the domestic cat, indicates quite strongly that dogs can experience the emotion of jealousy.

Dog jealous behavior

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The emotion of jealousy is considered by some people to be a secondary emotion which demands more complicated thought patterns which are beyond the capability of the average dog. However, as scientists learn to understand companion animals and animals generally far better through studies, they are beginning to realise that some species of animal are capable of feeling something which is very like what we call jealousy and may indeed be exactly that.

The Test

Thirty-six dog owners were asked to ignore their dogs and focus their attention on 3 different objects namely: a stuffed toy dog, a plastic bucket and a pop-up book. The participants were asked to treat these objects as they would their dog i.e. stroke them and talking to them in dog language which is similar to baby talk.

The dogs were twice as likely to try and get the attention of their owners when they were petting the stuffed toy dog as they were when paying attention to the plastic bucket and four times as likely compared to when reading aloud from the pop-up book.

In fact it went further than that because about 33% of the dogs adopted a more aggressive approach to try and retain their relationship with their human owner by placing themselves between their owner and the plush dog toy.

This behaviour indicated to the researchers that the dogs were jealous of the plush toy interloper.


It is also being speculated that jealousy itself is not built around romantic relationships and losing a boyfriend or girlfriend but is founded upon competition between siblings for family resources; something that is hardwired into our brains.  In short jealousy is really about survival.

This would seem to make sense to me because a dog or a companion cat is dependent upon the human for everything, in short for survival and any interloper who might break that relationship jeopardises their chances of survival.  They are forced to intervene and maintain the all important relationship.

Isn’t this exactly what happens between people anyway millions of times daily? We are learning that there are great similarities between us and our companion animals. We should remember that as it may assist some people to see their “pets” as of equal value to themselves.

The study really also questions our concept of the meaning of jealousy.

Recently I wrote about cat attention seeking behavior. I concluded that is was not attention seeking per se but there was an underlying reason. I think the article should be read in the light of this one.

Note: The study took place at the University of California and is published on Plos One

14 thoughts on “Dogs Engage in Jealous Behaviours”

  1. It may be that I am wrong. But my cat and the other cats in the household, even when they are outdoors, do not exhibit that human trait. They simply want to solve the issue in their own way, and I respect that. 🙂

  2. Alot of it i believe comes from Fear and anxiety. Alot I believe how the Cat or kitten was bought up the same for Us humans.
    I know there prob people that will disagree, and that’s fine. I know myself with the Cats here, they often get jealous if one of the cats gets abit more attention and esp since the younger kitty coming into the house. Even tiger who likes to sleep in Robs room if there is another Cat in there, they get upset. Although they all get equal love.

  3. ‘. . . jealousy itself is not built around romantic relationships and losing a boyfriend and girlfriend, but founded upon competition between siblings for family resources, something that is hardwired into our brains. In short, jealousy is about survival.’

    The latter part of this sentence reflects the views of Steven Pinker.

    As for the first part, why exclude romantic relationships? The ones portrayed in novels had much to do with amassing lucre: none of the hunks adored by the plain-featured heroines of Engl. Lit. lived in shotgun shacks. Pamela’s and Shamela’s prey, Jane Austen’s heroes, Edward Rochester, Maxim de Winter lived in ancestral estates, sustained by the income from Jamaican plantations, its residue apparently persisting into the early 20th century (Maxim never worked for a living). And – Austen’s excepted – these novels all have the same theme: a wren of a girl competing against and vanquishing her bird-of-paradise rival.

    Which points to plenty of romantic competition for a good in short supply. What is the male psychology? Do not know. Not being a male, do not understand the frequent male tendency to reach beneath themselves socially, unless his choice would make a trophy wife on the strength of her looks. (Which isn’t, of course, how it happens in the novels. It’s always her ‘inner beauty’ he treasures.) The female psychology? There are more women than men. Equally dire, men drop like flies. Women outlive them by decades.

    Women compete for limited resources, but also for the equally yearned-for, dizzying joy of eclipsing their rivals, of being favored and preferred, singled out and cherished. Of being exalted, in the eyes of others, by masculine devotion.

    ‘I had already risen in importance from my lunch with him, for as we got up from the table the little maître d’hotel rushed forward to pull away my chair. He bowed and smiled – a total change from his usual attitude of indifference – picked up my handkerchief that had fallen on the floor, and “hoped Mademoiselle had enjoyed her lunch.” Even the page boy by the swing doors glanced at me with respect.’

    [Rebecca (underlined), Daphne du Maurier]

    But unless she aleady has a comfortable income, she’ll think twice before she sets her sights on a man who sells vacuum cleaners door to door. No getting around it: a ‘Manderley’ sweetens her glory in landing the bloke. Will she cleave to him even when his mansion is torched to the ground by the wife bouncing around in the attic, or an equally loony ‘Mrs. Danvers?’ Well, probably. After he’s been scarred and blinded by the fire or otherwise demolished, she’ll feel sorry enough to stick around and prop up what little is left of him.

    There’s more to this, though. When you’re feeding treats to a couple of horses, they’ll stand in front of you side by side, neither horse facing the other, but both of them glaring at each other from the corners of their billiard-ball eyes that flash rancorous sclera. Again, Pinkertonian rivalry for finite goodies.

    Beyond that, however, the scene shifts into intangibles, the withholding of which causes grievous pain. Pampered and well-fed dogs and cats (and hogs, pet rats & chickens, et al.) with no physical needs will show immense hurt if you make much of one and ignore the other, a cruel deprivation no feeling parent would think of inflicting on his glabrous, furred & feathered children.

    • Hi Sylvia. Great comment. I didn’t intend to exclude romantic relationships. What I am trying to say is that jealousy is not, at its root, to do with romantic relationships. The emotion goes deeper.

    • Daphne du Maurier. Great comment, Sylvie.
      Jane Austin and her perspective on any subject is close as I can get to perfection <3

  4. I don’t know if jealousy is what it really going on here or not. For lack of something better, that’s what I’ll call it.
    But, most of my cats want what they see another getting whether it’s a kiss, a pet, a treat, or a play time. They intrude on whatever is going on like thay don’t want to be left out.


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