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.
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.
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