Dogs and Jealousy

People who share their homes and lives with dogs are likely to have experienced their dog expressing jealousy when their human caregiver shows attention to another animal.  In fact, past surveys have shown that more than 80% of dog owners report observing jealous behaviors from their dogs — vocalizations, agitated behavior, pulling on a leash — when they give attention to other dogs. Now new research supports these observations. But even more interesting, the researchers found that dogs also exhibit jealous behaviors when they merely imagine that their owner is interacting with a potential rival, in this case, a highly realistic artificial dog.

Animal-cognition researchers studying jealousy and other secondary emotions in animals


Study overview

To test how and when dogs display jealous behavior, the researchers presented 18 dogs with situations where they could imagine a social interaction between their human companion and either a realistic fake dog or a fleece cylinder. The fake dog served as a potential rival for attention while the cylinder served as a control.

In the experiment, the dogs observed the fake-dog rival positioned next to their owner. A barrier was then placed between the dog and the potential rival obscuring them from view.

Results overview

Despite blocking the line of sight, the dogs forcefully attempted to reach their owners when they appeared to stroke the rival fake dog behind the barrier. In a repeat experiment using a fleece cylinder rather than a fake dog, the dogs pulled on the lead with far less force.

Researchers found that dogs showed three human-like signatures of jealous behavior. Jealous behavior emerged only when their owner interacted with a perceived social rival and not an inanimate object; occurred as a consequence of that interaction and not due to a potential rival’s mere presence; and emerged even for an out-of-sight interaction between their owner and a social rival.

Journal Reference:  Amalia P. M. Bastos, Patrick D. Neilands, Rebecca S. Hassall, Byung C. Lim, Alex H. Taylor. Dogs Mentally Represent Jealousy-Inducing Social Interactions. Psychological Science, 2021; 095679762097914 DOI: 10.1177/0956797620979149