Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dogs Experience Jealousy

Guilt in dogs? Pride in horses?

If scientists say so, but where's the solid evidence? The Discovery news site reports new research from England that purports to have found evidence of jealousy in dogs based on 1,000 "observations" from dog owners who self-reported their observations of their canine green-eyed monsters.

Whether animals have emotions is a hotly debatable topic, and unfortunately this research doesn't add much to further the debate. It doesn't meet my criteria of solid evidence - i.e. it isn't objective. Self-report is prone to bias. People project how they would feel in any given situation to their four-legged companions. I am not knocking anthropomorphism as a technique for generating theories of animal behavior and testable hypotheses, but as science, this research appears to be weak.

I love the idea (!) and it is nice to see someone making an effort to accumulate a thousand data points of anecdotal evidence that all point in the same direction. My grandma and I are not alone in having little green-eyed monsters who flip out when they are not the ones being petted or fed a treat.

I would like to see this research replicated with objective observers in an experimental setting.
One of the first things the researchers would have to do is define what constitutes jealous behavior in dogs. Next, I'd want to know in what situations we can expect to observe jealousy.

How would you define it, Daphne? Other dog owners out there who can chime in?

That little monster on the right might be jealous of his larger and younger sister on the left, but how am I to know for sure? That hint of utter contempt on his face?!


Alasdair said...

Well, the one on the left is a big butt-in-ski. If you call his name, they both show up. I'm not sure if that is jealousy, but she tries to make sure he doesn't get anything without her knowing.

I wonder if buying one of them a brand new dog bed would help...

Holly said...

Yeah, I suppose that was the idea couched behind that anonymous comment disguised as an advertisement for Mammoth Dog Beds. Her recent behavior suggests she might use a bed, but she still spends the vast majority of her time snoozing on the cool floor. This morning at breakfast she pawed the top of his head when he refused to sit promptly. It wasn't jealousy but it sure was something. She seems to know that he holds up her breakfast whenever he stands around and is smart enough to tap his head. It is one of the coolest and funniest dog behaviors I've seen.

Rose Connors said...

I know my cats act smarter than I ever would have expected. The way they sometimes vie for my attention could be interpreted as jealousy. Shadow is smart enough to get her favorite rubber band and loop it around a fixed object, usually the piano pedals, so she can play the banjo with it. They still can't speak though.

Daphne said...

I totally believe animals experience jealousy, Stormy was my main man for a while before I started dating Rich and you should have seen his behavior when we would hug around him. He was not a happy doggie, he would whine and just about do anything in his power to divert my attention from Rich to him.

The same goes for when we are playing with the cat, Stormy will do anything to divert attention. Drop toys on you, roll over, shove his way in... if thats not jealousy than I don't know what is.

I think all animals experience emotions, just not in the same context that we humans do. A dog is "happy" when his leader is content, he doesn't know that what he is experiencing is happiness but he senses the calm that is projected by his leader and knows that means life is good. We humans have just personified their actions, to define them, even though they are based purely on instinct.