Dogs show signs of jealousy and will even compete with rivals for the attention of their owners, a new US study has revealed.

Researchers at the University of California – San Diego (UCSD) – carried out the study on 36 dogs in their own homes.

Christine Harris, professor of psychology at UCSD led the study that focused on owner behaviour and the reaction of the dog.

Owners were required to ignore their pet and focus their attention on either a stuffed, animated dog that barked, whined and wagged its tail or a jack-o-lantern pail. Owners were then asked to treat objects as if it were a dog.

In a second test, owners were asked to read a melodic pop-up book aloud, while, again, ignoring their dogs.

Tests were filmed and monitored by independent raters, who used the footage to assess any aggressive, disruptive or attention-seeking behaviour exhibited by the canines.

Researchers found 78% of the dogs pushed or touched the owner when their attention was focused on the stuffed dog. Just 42% demonstrated similar behaviour when the same attention was given to the pail. Around 30% attempted to push themselves between their owner and the stuffed dog, while 25% snapped at the toy.

Only 22% of dogs reacted when the owners read the book aloud.

Based on the levels of aggression shown toward the stuffed dog, Prof Harris and assistant Caroline Prouvost believed the animals thought the fake dogs were real, adding that 86% of dogs even sniffed the fake dogs’ rear ends either during or after the tests.

Prof Harris said: “Our study suggests not only that dogs do engage in what appear to be jealous behaviours, but also that they were seeking to break up the connection between the owner and a seeming rival.

“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.”

Findings were published in full in the journal PLOS One.

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