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Jealousy proven to exist in dogs for the first time

This image depicts emotion researcher Christine Harris, professor of psychology at UC San Diego, with Samwise, one of three border collies to inspire the study on dog jealousy.
Credit: Photo by Steve Harris. Usage Restrictions: Only with this study and with credit.

Dogs exhibit behavior that is comparable to jealousy in humans but the behavior does not have any sexual context. Professor Christine Harris and Caroline Prouvost of the University of California at San Diego are the first to prove that dogs display behavior that is similar to jealousy as demonstrated by humans that are six months old. The research was published in the July 23, 2014, issue of the journal Public Library of Science.

The researchers tested the behavior of 36 different dogs in response to their owner’s interaction with a toy that looked like another dog, a book, and a jack-o'-lantern. Eighty-six percent of the dogs attempted to push their owner away from the stuffed animal but not the inanimate objects. Forty-one percent of the dogs snapped at their owner or the stuffed dog. The behaviors did not depend on the breed of dog.

The study indicates that a rudimentary form of jealousy existed in at least one group of social animals other than humans. The behavior is considered to be an attempt to secure resources. In this case the resource is the attention and possibly the affection of the dog’s owner. There is no sexual basis for the behavior in dogs that would correspond to jealousy in the context of a human sexual or romantic relationship.

The researchers suggest that jealousy evolved to improve social structure in dogs and in humans. Competition for parental attention or owner attention could have been the impetus that produced the rudiments of jealousy. The research indicates a positive aspect of jealousy as seen in young humans and dogs for the first time.

Dogs have a long history of association with man. The oldest known domesticated dog that has ever been found was 33,000 years old. Over the long history of companionship with dogs the genes of dogs and humans could have merged. Transposons or “jumping genes” have been shown to be transferred between plant and animal species in ancient and modern times.

One of the common interactions between dogs and humans is licking by dogs. Genetic material from humans could have been acquired by dogs through the licking of skin. The genes that produce jealousy or the rudiments of jealousy could have been transferred to dogs by man.