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Takira Koonce '21 (left) and Alyssa Habschmidt '22 introduce a real dog, Roxanne (right), to see if Roxanne expresses jealousy.

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Senior Research Project Asks: Do Dogs Get Jealous?

Takira Koonce '21 (left) and Alyssa Habschmidt '22 introduce a real dog, Roxanne (right), to see if Roxanne expresses jealousy.

Takira Koonce hopes to become a veterinarian one day, so when she started planning her senior research project in biology, she saw an opportunity to get to understand her future patients a little better. Her study aimed to identify behavioral cues that indicate when or if dogs experience that most human of emotions, jealousy.

Koonce asked dog owners to bring their dogs to a SMC classroom where she had posed a realistic-looking fake dog. She then had the canine test subject's "favored" owner—the person with whom the dog was most strongly bonded—ignore their dog both while paying attention to the fake dog and, later, remaining in the same space as the fake dog but ignoring it. The owners were asked to "play" with the fake dog, pet it, or even talk to it, while Koonce observed their own dog's response. 

"We measured jealousy by going back and watching the recordings and scoring the important behaviors such as nudging, pawing, or vocalizing," said Koonce. "It was extremely interesting—there was a lot of personality and difficulties dealing with dogs. I had plenty of fun though. I think it was a great experiment."

Koonce originally believed that if dogs observed their owners interacting with the fake dog—or even just spending time in the same space—the dogs would try to intervene or direct their owners' attention back to them. "That assumption only changed slightly because the dogs' reactions/behaviors greatly varied depending on the relationship they and their owners had. Some dogs simply did not care."

The study attracted around 25 owners and dogs, including Knox students, staff, and faculty members. Professor of Biology Jennifer Templeton and her students, including Alyssa Habschmidt ’22, assisted Koonce with the experiment. 

"I found out about this study through my Animal Behavior class, and it was very fun to spend time with and meet the dogs!" said Habschmidt. "I got to help score the dogs’ behavior and witness each trial. Later, I was able to watch other videos of the trials I wasn’t present for."

Koonce added that she hoped Knox would offer more dog-oriented opportunities on campus for aspiring veterinarians. 

Learn more about research and other opportunities for biology students at Knox.

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Printed on Sunday, June 13, 2021