Dogs get jealous, researchers find

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(PIX11) -- Is your pooch possessive? Apparently it's natural -- and primordial.

A new study out of the University of California finds that dogs can act jealous.

Pets became aggressive and pushy when their owners showered affection on what appeared to be another dog, researchers found. (The target of that envy was a stuffed dog that barked, whined and wagged its tail.)

The pups snapped, jumped, pawed and pushed either their owner or their perceived rival to try to shift the attention back to them, researchers found.

The findings support the existence of a basic form of jealousy that evolved to protect social bonds.

“We can’t really speak to the dogs’ subjective experiences, of course, but it looks as though they were motivated to protect an important social relationship,” UC San Diego psychology profession Christine Harris said.

Harris and a former honors student Caroline Prouvost recently published their findings in PLOS ONE.

Because this test is the first of its kind, researchers turned to a test typically used on 6-month-old human infants.

Thirty-six dogs were tested and videotaped in their homes, their owners ignoring them in favor of a stuffed, animated dog or a jack-o-lantern pail that they treated the way they would a real dog.

In a third scenario, the owners read aloud a pop-up book that played melodies.

The dogs’ behaviors were then analyzed for signs of aggression or attention-seeking.

Turns out, the pups were about twice as likely to push or touch their owner when the owner was interacting with the faux dog (78 percent) as when the owner was interacting with the pail (42 percent).

Just 22 percent of dogs did this when the owners were reading aloud. That means they were more likely to try to intervene when their owners were interacting with an object they believed to be another animal.

Researchers pointed to the jealousy as the third leading cause of non-accidental homicide as reason to study the emotion.

“Many people have assumed that jealousy is a social construction of human beings — or that it's an emotion specifically tied to sexual and romantic relationships,” Harris said. “Our results challenge these ideas, showing that animals besides ourselves display strong distress whenever a rival usurps a loved one's affection.”

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