published Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Kennedy: When jealousy strikes our pets

Our family dog, a spaniel-poodle mix named Boise, is a jealous boy.

Any time I hug one of my two sons, ages 7 and 12, Boise stands to the side and yaps. And he continues yapping until he either gets some attention or gags up a pile of mush. Then he looks at me dolefully as if to say, "See what you made me do?"

If I still don't break the hug, he nudges me with his cold, wet nose. If another moment passes, he hops up on his back legs -- as if they were two pogo sticks -- and pants the doggy equivalent of: "Here I am! Here I am! A little furry ball of love. Get you some!"

At last I gather him up and smother him with hugs, at which point his body twists and turns excitedly like an alligator out of water.

If jealousy, easily one of the most troublesome human emotions, is obvious in our four-legged friends, it must be an evolutionary thing.

Some great thinkers believe that sibling jealousy among human children is related to competition for parental resources. This would explain why the backseat of our Toyota is often the scene of mixed-martial arts smackdowns between our two boys, who are sometimes unable to come to terms with their conflicting feelings on, say, Steak 'n Shake vis-a-vis Taco Bell. I could write a paper on the violent tendencies of young American males when confronted with, for instance, sharing the package's last Sour Skittle.

I myself battle jealousy. For example, I am prone to coveting my neighbor's automobiles -- especially Teslas. I'm sure if the Old Testament were written today, God would weigh in on this. I have even lusted in my heart over a Jaguar F-Type. Please pray for me lest I wind up spending eternity disassembling old Yugos in the devil's chop shop.

But back to today's topic. Being a non-cat household, I don't know if felines act jealous. It seems to me that jealousy is impossible without at least a measure of low self-esteem. My observation is that cats see themselves as borderline supreme beings. "Jealous of what?" I can hear a cat saying. "Of a hairless human child? Please."

I read in The New York Times last week that a researcher has published a scholarly article on jealousy among dogs. Validating what dog owners have long suspected, Christine R. Harris, publishing in PLOS One, an open-access resource of the Public Library of Science, writes that many dogs exhibited jealous behaviors when their owners cuddled authentic-looking stuffed animals. Furthermore, some of the dogs even smelled the stuffed animals' hind parts, proving a theory that I have long espoused: Dogs are not Einsteins. I originally came to this conclusion when I noticed our dog Boise trying to have relations with a throw pillow.

Thankfully, Dr. Harris, of the University of California, San Diego, also noted in her research that the test dogs did not seem as jealous when their owners played with, say, a children's book or a jack-o'-lantern.

Consequently, I have high hopes that, come late October, Boise will not attempt to get busy with a pumpkin.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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LibDem said...

We solved our dog's jealousy problems by getting rid of our kids. It was an easy choice.

August 25, 2014 at 2:56 p.m.
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