Dogs are devoted companions who offer unwavering loyalty to their humans, and even new research exposed the full extent of their green-eyed inner monster.
Anecdotal evidence from owners is now backed by scientists who have found that these companion animals get jealous when their human strokes another dog.
But the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, has also found that dogs can get jealous just by imagining that their owner is petting another dog, even when they can’t see the interaction.
“The research supported what many dog owners strongly believe: Dogs exhibit jealous behavior when their human companion interacts with a potential rival” explained study lead author Amalia Bastos of the University of Auckland, adding: ” We wanted to study this behavior further to determine if dogs could, like humans, mentally imagine a situation that provoked jealousy. “
Scientists are interested in studying jealousy in animals because it is related to a degree of self-awareness, which is a complex cognitive trait not seen in all species.
As part of a study, 18 dogs and their owners were recruited and brought into a room. In that room, there was a cylinder of fleece -fiber- or a very realistic artificial dog.
The animals, still on their leashes, saw their owners pet the fake dog, and then a screen was placed between the pet and the person so that the dog could not see the rival or its owner.
The researchers looked at canine behavior at this point and saw the pets tugging hard on the leash and expressing telltale signs of jealousy, such as growling and appearing agitated.
This, the researchers say, means that although the dogs could not see their human pouring love and attention on a rival, they had the mental capacity to imagine it and, as a result, became jealous..
For the fiber-lined cylinder, the dogs were much less jealous, indicating that their jealousy is reserved only for things they consider a threat.
“These results support the claims that dogs display jealous behavior,” Bastos analyzed.
They also provide the first evidence that dogs can mentally enact jealousy-inducing social interactions.
“Previous studies confused jealous behavior with play, interest or aggression because they never tested the reactions of dogs to the owner and the social rival who are present in the same room but do not interact.”
He added: “There is still much work to be done to establish the extent of similarities between the minds of humans and other animals, especially in terms of understanding the nature of emotional experiences of non-human animals.”
It’s too early to tell if dogs experience jealousy as we do, but it is now clear that they react to situations that induce jealousy, even if they happen out of sight.