Dogs Become Bitter When You Withhold Their Snausages

  by  |  December 8th, 2008  |  Published in All, Blog

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I always feel guilty when I come home from a friend’s house that has dogs. What starts as a happy, tail-wagging hello from my Labrador retriever, Apollo, turns to suspicion with the first sniff. If he could, I imagine Apollo would narrow his eyes at me and demand “How could you?” as if petting another dog was the greatest betrayal I could manage. Now, a new study done by researchers at the University of Vienna suggests that this guilt might not be all in my head—it’s possible that dogs really can feel envy, just not in the way I imagined.

Past experiments have shown that some species of monkeys express resentful behavior when another monkey receives a greater award for completing an identical task. They’ve been known to throw little tantrums and ignore further directions when discriminated against. (Monkeys have also been shown to have a generous side.) Now, through a series of tests and observations, Friederike Range and fellow researchers discovered that dogs can experience those same feelings of envy, though on a simpler level.

In the experiment, pairs of dogs were sat side by side, with their owners standing behind them. A researcher in front of the dogs would prompt one of them to shake (as in shake hands/paws), and then reward the dog with a piece of bread or sausage. The command was repeated with both dogs several times.

In trials where both dogs were rewarded, both dogs continued to play along and "shake." But as Range and her colleagues wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in trials where only one of the dogs would receive a food reward after shaking, the snubbed dog would eventually stop playing along and refuse to shake.

Border collies, rottweilers, mongrels, and other breeds were all used in the experiment, so the behavior observed does not appear limited to a certain type of dog. More importantly, though, the dogs didn’t care what kind of reward they were given (the researchers used sausage in some trials and plain brown bread in another), or whether or not the other dog had to perform the task. They simply cared that they were rewarded, period.

Aside from confirming that the way to a dog’s heart is through its stomach, the study suggests that dogs—and likely other cooperative species, says Range—may have more complicated emotions than was expected.

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  1. Bagus Naga says:

    December 13th, 2008 at 10:57 am (#)

    my dogs also get envious sometimes,especially my Dalmatian dogs… but unfortunately my fox terrier dog didn’t get confuse at all, they just seems to be carefree with that… and my golden retriever also get jealous when i play with other dogs.. but they just don’t get mad like the dalmatian…they just keep push their body to me as it seems saying “play with me, don’t just keep play with him.. or I’ll cry…” with a very sad face…

    the question is…. does different species dogs really have different envious scale?…

  2. alberto says:

    December 13th, 2008 at 12:15 pm (#)

    the 2nd last parragraph in the article answers your question:
    ” Border collies, rottweilers, mongrels, and other breeds were all used in the experiment, so the behavior observed does not appear limited to a certain type of dog “

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