- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Yes, dogs get jealous. Dog owners, and even Darwin, have observed this emotionally charged phenomenon among pooches over time. Now a University of California at San Diego study confirms that canines also are affected by the complicated, possessive scenario - the first research to do so.

“Our study suggests not only that dogs do engage in what appear to be jealous behaviors but also that they were seeking to break up the connection between the owner and a seeming rival,” says Christine Harris, a psychology professor who led the research.

“We can’t really speak to the dogs’ subjective experiences, of course, but it looks as though they were motivated to protect an important social relationship.”

Yes, the dog-owner relationship. The findings support the view that there may be a basic form of dog jealousy, which evolved to protect social bonds from interlopers. The snipping and snapping, the pushing at their owner - that’s what happens when a dog senses their beloved human showed affection to another canine or distraction.

But how do you measure dog jealousy? Since there had been no prior experiments on dog jealousy, the researchers adapted a test used with 6-month-old human infants. They observed and videotaped 36 dogs while the owners strategically ignored them in favor of a stuffed, animated dog, a jack-o-lantern pail and a book.

Don’t laugh: 78 percent of the dogs pestered the owner who was interacting with the faux dog. Comically enough, 86 percent of the dogs sniffed the fake dog’s rear end; a quarter of the dogs actually snapped at it. Meanwhile, four-out-of 10 of the pups reacted to the Halloween pail, and even fewer (22 percent) reacted to an owner who pretended to be diverted by the book.

What does it all mean? In a different realm, many cat owners attest to the fact that felines have their own sets of behaviors when envy strikes - like sitting on the newspaper preoccupying their owner, among other things.

“Many people have assumed that jealousy is a social construction of human beings - or that it’s an emotion specifically tied to sexual and romantic relationships,” says Ms. Harris. “Our results challenge these ideas, showing that animals besides ourselves display strong distress whenever a rival usurps a loved one’s affection.”

The study was published last month in PLOS ONE, an academic publication.

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