Dogs can be green with envy too

When we first got our beloved Chewbacca, we had another, older dog, Molly. Molly had been the center of attention for years and years, and as soon as Chewbacca came into her life, everything changed. After all, who doesn’t immediately gravitate to a cute little eight-week-old puppy?

Over time, jealousy rotated amongst our animals, and to this day, Chewbacca is still one of the most passionately loyal dogs I have ever seen. She adores anyone and everyone, but wants to be the only source of attention.

As it turns out, Chewbacca isn’t alone in her jealousy. New research from the University of California, San Diego shows that all dogs show jealousy—or at least something like it.

The research is spearheaded by Christine Harris, a psychologist at the school. The research was spurred on by her parents’ dogs, Border collies that would fight to be petted over the other dogs.

Harris tested her theory by recording reactions dogs had to an owner playing with a realistic stuffed dog and a jack-o’-lantern and reading a children’s book.

The reactions were mixed among the three objects.

When dog owners played with and talked to the realistic stuffed dog, which was also programmed to bark and whine like a real dog, the owner’s dogs would push either their owner or the stuffed dog. Occasionally, they barked too. Most dogs also took to sniffing the rear end of the other dog, which suggests, according to Harris, that the dogs thought the stuffed toy may have been real.

Gratuitous picture of my dog when she was a puppy. #adorable

Gratuitous picture of my dog when she was a puppy. #adorable

(As a side note: I have performed such a test on Chewbacca myself before reading about Dr. Harris’ research. It’s true! Chewbacca did knock the stuffed animal, or whatever it was, away in order to be paid attention to herself.)

In comparison to the jack-o’-lantern and the children’s book, dogs paid little attention to both objects.

According to Harris, the reaction the dogs had could be seen as a “primordial” form of jealousy—simply put, the dog wants to make sure it gets the attention, not the other dog.

Other scientists are skeptical about Harris’ research. Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist who is one of many scientists publishing findings on dog’s lack of guilt—disagrees that Harris’ study showed jealousy at all.

“What can be shown is that dogs seem to want an owner’s attention when there is attention being given out,” Horowitz said in a recent New York Times article. “This study confirms that.”

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