Jealousy in Dogs: This is What Goes on in the Mind of the Animals

Scientists have discovered what really goes on in dogs when their owner is paying more attention to another of their own kind than they would like.

Dogs can be jealous too. At least scientists have been able to show that they show behavior reminiscent of jealousy. But that’s not all: the researchers also investigated what happens in the dog’s brain when the owner strokes another dog. You can find out about the amazing results here.

Kind of attention is crucial

Scientists from the Psychology Faculty of the University of Vienna wanted to find out how the brain of dogs reacts when the owner strokes a stranger of their own kind. In a study, they examined twelve dogs with a so-called fMRI scanner.

The brain is observed during functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRT for short). The currently activated brain areas are made visible on a monitor. The test animals were shown videos with their owners. In the recording, they either neutrally checked the ears and claws of other dogs or spoiled them with extensive stroking.

The researchers found increased activity in the amygdala (in the middle of the brain) and insular cortex (in the middle of both hemispheres) when the owner was paying a lot of attention to another dog. When controlling ears and claws, these brain areas were much less active in the watching dogs.

Emotions are processed in the amygdala and in the insular cortex. The researchers, therefore, conclude that dogs react more jealously when the owner gives loving attention to another of their own kind. The more sensitive the contact, the more violent the dog’s jealousy seems to be.

Dogs recognize potential competitors

Dogs recognize who might be vying for their owner’s attention. This was proven by another experiment by a New Zealand research team. For their study, which was published in the journal Psychological Science, they observed the behavior of a total of 18 dogs.

They set up three groups with different scenarios:

  • The owner cuddled with a real-looking plush dog in front of his pet.
  • The owner cuddled in front of the dog with a cylindrical pillow.
  • Owner and dog were separated from each other by a thin wall. The owner pretended to play with a dog. His own pet couldn’t see him, but he could hear him.

The dogs from the first and third groups seemed to be the most jealous. They barked, whined, and tugged violently on the leash. If the owner stroked the pillow, the dog showed less jealousy. The animals thus recognized potential competitors.

Correctly interpret dog behavior

It is important that, despite the research results, one refrains from humanizing dogs. The animals clearly show behavior that we would interpret as jealousy. Nevertheless, the experts advise against completely equating “canine” jealousy with that of humans.

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