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Study shows dogs may feel jealousy like people

link Sharna Johnson

Local columnist

It goes without saying that bringing a new critter into the house just might set things on end for a bit.

For that matter, bringing a new critter around at all, even if only for a short time, is likely to cause distress and bad behavior.

Usurpers, simply put, run the risk of waking the infamous green-eyed monster that rests deep within the otherwise-sweet family pooch.

And that green-eyed monster can transform even the most docile of fur rugs into an unpleasant thing to behold.

It makes sense, after all, there is a limited food supply, doled out in rations once or twice a day, there are only so many soft, choice sleeping spots in the house, and when it comes to toys, quantity is irrelevant — they are already claimed.

By Sharna Johnson

Local columnist

Add to all that the fact that any attention the people give is perpetually doomed to fall short, it is clear, there simply isn’t enough to share.

Frankly, the idea of dividing up the plush resources with another pup is an awful lot to ask, even of the most tolerant and levelheaded pooch.

Most anyone who has pets has, at some point, experienced the challenges that come with introducing a new animal to the household.

Growling, fighting, dirty looks, tense posture, hiding of toys, quickly inhaled chow, feigned depression with sad eyes, hiding under the bed — you name it, they do it.

It’s not even species specific, with kittens and tiny, swaddled humans capable of causing the same ire in the family dog.

Yet, despite a plethora of anecdotal evidence, jealousy remains a proprietary human emotion from the clinical perspective.

San Diego psychology professor Christine Harris conducted a study published in July, which looked at jealousy in dogs. Harris’ theory was based on the belief that rather than an elevated or sophisticated emotion only experienced by humans with complex issues of self esteem and perceptions, jealousy might actually be far more basic.

In the study, the owners of 36 dogs ignored their pets, instead, giving their attention to three different objects — a stuffed dog, a pail and a children’s book.

Assessing the behavior of the animals, researchers documented that 25 percent of the dogs snapped either while or after their owners interacted with the stuffed dog and an overwhelming majority showed further signs of attention seeking behavior, such as whining, pushing at their owner and the stuffed dog or trying to get between them.

By contrast, the dogs showed little or no attention to their owners and ignored the book and pail during those respective portions of the experiment.

What researchers concluded was that the dogs did indeed experience jealousy when they thought another dog was obtaining the attention and affection of their owners.

Harris speculated the evolved and complex social bonds dogs have formed with humans may have given them a greater capacity for jealousy, but she also said it’s possible that jealousy is a far more “primordial” emotion than previously given credit for.

Possibly something which evolves out of sibling relationships, or one that goes along with forming social bonds, the capacity for jealousy is a basic emotion Harris said may be shared by humans and animals alike.

An opportunistic creature, quick to shove to the front of the line for treats and loving, anyone with a dog can attest that as a general rule, they don’t like to share.

Whether it’s true, clinical jealousy or a matter of protecting resources, one thing is certain, we are the dog toy of choice — research not required.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: