Do dogs get jealous? Most dog owners would say yes, but until now, no scientist has. That changed when researchers headed down to the store and picked up a robotic dog and a plastic jack-o’-lantern, and knocked on the doors of 36 dog owners, asking for a moment of their time.
It was a fairly simple study, which is best when you’re studying dogs. Scientists from the University of California San Diego, led by psychologist Christine Harris, set up a camera, set out the two items — again, robotic dog and a plastic jack-o’-lantern — and asked each dog’s owner, in front of the dog, to interact with each.
First, the owners were asked to act like the robotic dog was a real dog — it had a robotic tail that moved, and he barked. So, the owners did their thing, with the patting and the “good boys,” and the real dogs fell for it, big time. They got pissed. According to Forbes, 78 percent of the dogs displayed pushing and touching in response to the fake dog. A third tried to muscle in on the robotic dog and steal the pets, placing their bodies between the robot dog and their owners. One quarter of them snapped at the fake dog. All of this points to the real dogs being jealous of the fake dogs.
Then the study got really fun. The owners were asked to pretend the jack-o’-lantern was a dog and play with it like a dog. But only 42 percent of the very confused dogs fell for that nonsense and pushed the Halloween basket out of the way. Reachers wanted to see how the dogs reacted to things that were clearly fake. Most just ignored it.
You might think: Hell, how do you know the real dogs thought the robot dogs were real? Well, science has you covered. Science looked closely at the behavior of the dogs interacting with the fake dogs, and 86 percent of those dogs sniffed the butt of the robot dog. You don’t sniff the butt of something you don’t think is alive, say the researchers, pounding the table.
Why do all this? Well, scientists haven’t really figured out jealously yet — they don’t know if its innate or an emotion humans learn. And they know this foray into animal emotion doesn’t prove all that much. More science is needed.
“This is a very new science. We are just developing new tools to better understand animal emotions,” Laurie Santos, director of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale University, told NPR.
However, if we take the study at face value — that dogs feel jealously and react according — she says, “either jealousy is less complicated because animals show it, or animals are more complicated than we thought.”
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