Dogs Demand Fair Play, or They Won't Play at All

By Eliza Strickland | December 8, 2008 1:53 pm

jealous dogDogs have a sense of fairness, and get jealous and upset when several dogs perform a trick but only one is rewarded, a new study has found. “They are clearly unhappy with the unfair situation”, says [lead researcher Friederike] Range. She also suspects that this sensitivity might stretch beyond food to things like praise and attention. “It might explain why some dogs react with ‘new baby envy’ when their owners have a child”, she says [New Scientist].

While some owners may say that they’ve known about the deep emotional lives of their dogs for ages, the new experiments mark the first time a complicated emotion like jealousy has been observed in dogs in a controlled laboratory setting. “We are learning that dogs, horses, and perhaps many other species are far more emotionally complex than we ever realized,” [says] Paul Morris, a psychologist at the University of Portsmouth who studies animal emotions…. “They can suffer simple forms of many emotions we once thought only primates could experience” [Times Online].

In the new study of about 30 dogs, which will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tomorrow, researchers placed two dogs side by side and then had them alternate performing a trick in which each placed its paw in a researcher’s hand. The two dogs happily complied when both received a treat for a successful trick, as well as when neither were rewarded. But when only one dog got a sausage snack, the other refused to continue the game, and often even refused to look at the researcher. The disgruntled pups also showed symptoms of stress, like scratching and licking themselves.

Says Range: “Animals react to inequity…. To avoid stress, we should try to avoid treating them differently.” … Range said she wasn’t surprised at the dogs reaction, since wolves are known to cooperate with one another and appear to be sensitive to each other. Modern dogs are descended from wolves [AP]. Range next plans to conduct similar experiments on wolves to see if they get jealous, too.

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Image: Friederike Range

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain
  • Larian LeQuella

    I am still amazed at how egocentric humans are in dealing with the vast array of species on this planet. Even simple observation by non-scientists show incredibly complex behaviours and thought processes by animals, yet we still somehow think of them as “unworthy” life forms. The common evolutionary train of higher order mammals has led to many behaviors that were once thought to be the exclusive domain of humans. I hope this is the start of the end of human-centric thoughts. We’re really not all that special, get used to it, live with it, and move on!


  • nick

    Androcentrism will exist as long as we keep calling things ‘unnatural’ and considering ourselves separate from nature.

    At least science is finally learning that it’s easier to just copy solutions nature has been designing for the last nigh-14 billion years than to try to dream up novel solutions to problems.

  • hanky

    Reminds me of the time my dog cried for an hour when she didnt get any pizza after a pizza delivery man knocked on my door by mistake.

  • Mus

    The one thing I didn’t like about this article was this bit: ““They can suffer simple forms of many emotions we once thought only primates could experience””

    Now, how in the world do they determine that an animal’s emotions are any more or less complex than any other’s? What does it even MEAN to say that X’s jealousy is simpler than Y’s jealousy? I for one think they’re simply just parroting the nonsense they’ve heard elsewhere… which I CAN say is much simpler than actually thinking about it.

  • Tommy

    I couldn’t agree more with the comments before me. It’s easy to see that, what science calls lower life forms, experience many emotions such as happiness, sadness, excitement etc. Why should we think this would be any different? Hopefully “discoveries” like this will revolutionize the way animals are treated. Especially when it comes to experiments that often result in the death of the animal…

  • TONY

    gr8 resrch bro

  • Third Eye

    I wonder if that is an innate instinct in every mammal, mh…

  • Prem Das

    Its a distinct possibility that to be a scientist, one has to be an idiot savant. How else are these people so clueless about anything outside of their field.


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