First things first! Lassie’s party was a joy. Many of her friends came to talk, eat and belly rub, and Lassie proclaimed it good. Very good indeed. Lassie reveled in the attention, Willie got tons of petting too and we all ate ourselves silly. Only downside is that I forgot to take photos (camera out and at the ready on the counter…) of Lassie and all her friends. Big disappointment, I have a photo of my first Border collie Drift, at his 15th birthday party, and it means a lot to me to have it. He died 2 months later and I think that’s part of what motivated me to have this one, and I’m so glad I did. However, I fully intend and expect to have a rip roaring 16th birthday party for Lassie next year, so I’ll just get a photo next year.
Here’s a picture after the party of Lassie delving into the box of yummy dog food brought by her dear friend Rick and his GSD Ava.
You’ve probably heard about the research from Austria that suggests that dogs have a concept of fairness and/or jealousy. By the time you read this I’ll have probably talked about it on The Diane Rehm Show, but it deserves some attention (and some critical thinking on our parts.) Basically, the researchers taught dogs to ‘give paw’ for a treat, then sat them down side by side and rewarded one dog for a correct performance but not the other. The unrewarded dog’s responsiveness degraded quickly, and he or she stopped performing as taught. This would be meaningless; you’d expect a dog to stop responding if the reinforcement dropped out completely, however, the performance dropped FASTER if the non-reinforced dog saw the OTHER dog getting reinforced for the same behavior. That’s the kicker (though is left out of several of the news posts….).
So here’s a chance to engage our critical thinking. Some news posts call this evidence of jealousy. Others say it proves that dogs have a sense of fairness. Question one: are those the same? If not, then which does the study support?
I’ll weigh in with my own opinions later this week. (And my apologies for being slow to comment on the comments. I read them all with tremendous interest, but fighting the Virus Wars last week got me way behind….)
This finding kind of makes sense to me in my own world. I have to mixed breeds (GSD-??? male and a husky-beagle-BC female), and I foster for the local GSD. Both of my dogs have CGCs and I try to engage them and teach them as much as I can via classes and random stuff I think of. I brought home a foster about two weeks ago, and while my female was off her game before that due to a move and some emotional upheavel, I’ve noticed lately that she’s been especially off lately.
She’s stopped doing the basics like sitting on command. I now wonder if it’s partly because I’m focusing on the foster’s basic behavior (and rewarding him for these without rewarding my guys in the same way, but often rewarding for more high level stuff). The funny thing is that while she won’t do that, she’s up for advanced stuff like off leash heeling and recalls, even without treats. I’m thinking the solution is more individual work and another class or two to keep me on task with her.
However, I _do_ believe after 10 fosters and my two dogs, that dogs are fully capable of jealousy just as we are. The ” *$#^& looks” are enough to make me believe it so. But, thinking about specific behavior and watching their frustration levels and reactions to other dogs being rewarded, it’s must true.
On the question of whether fairness and jealousy are the same concept I would like to point out that the versions of this story that I read that were written for American audiences keyed the word as “fairness” and the ones for European audiences keyed the word as “jealousy”. It might be that there is some difference in how the words are interpretted on different sides of the pond.
That said, in my American mind jealousy has to do with a perceived loss of interaction or affection, while fairness has to do with the inequality of reward. In this instance, and at least at first glance, the dogs seem to be refusing to work because of the inequality in earnings/rewards rather than protesting that the other dog was receiving more attention, but that’s where this study becomes very tricky…
There were two possible rewards: brown bread and sausage, but the dogs (unlike primates in an earlier study) didn’t care if their reward of brown bread was less appealing than the other dog’s reward of sausage as long as they received some reward they continued to work. When the other dog was given a reward and they were given *nothing* then they stopped working, and according to the author of one of the articles, even refused to look at the testor. That sounds like a spurned lover to me. As if they used the treat to gauge the approval of the testor more than as a valuable commodity in its own right.
Can you post the title/author/publisher, etc.. of this current research? I’m interested in reading it myself because I agree that news organizations often slant an article so that it is misconceiving.
Kaiser Soze says
Fascinating. I would like to take a look at the research papers, too, if someone can find a link.
BTW, loved to hear you on Diane Rehm’s show.
At first I thought that maybe we were interpreting their reactions as a familiar human emotion that we could relate to, like fairness, but it seems like that we might be missing something. It sounds to me like the dog is aware that reinforcements are available and not getting any is an indication that what he’s doing is not working so frustration is natural (it always worked before that when she said “sit” and I did, I got reinforced). I think it makes sense that behavior would change (not erode) faster if it’s clear to the dog that what he’s doing isn’t working and what they’ve done is make it really clear to the dog that the cue has changed meaning. I’m reluctant to make it a fairness/jealousy issue.
This reminds me of a training session I was doing with someone with a clicker and treats. I was shaping the Bernese Mtn dog to go to a mat and was diligently and frequently clicking and reinforcing and the dog slowed down the offering of behaviors because we weren’t praising her. Since she had only recently (a week before when I started working with them)started receiving food instead of just treats, she seemed uncomfortable with the lack of praise even though the food was being given. Interesting, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it so I just added a little “good girl” when I gave the reinforcement and things went along faster. Would love to hear your thoughts on it.
My inclination is to say that the study may have been measuring something else other than the dog’s attitude in response to the other dog being rewarded.
First of all, interpreting the unrewarded dog’s behavior as either a response to perceived unfairness or jealousy suggests that the dog somehow thinks it’s “punishing” the handler by not behaving. This seems unlikely to me.
My inclination (without having given it much thought at all) is to think that the the unrewarded dog may be confused as to what the desired behavior was and so gave up. This would make sense *if* dog’s learn something from watching other dogs. So, if Abby responds in way X and is rewarded but Buddy responds in the way that Buddy thinks is exactly X and doesn’t get rewarded, then it’d make sense that Buddy would view this as a puzzle — Abby’s behavior led to positive consequence but my behavior didn’t, therefore my behavior and Abby’s behavior must be different. I’d get frustrated and quit pretty quickly under these circumstances as well. And I’d quit more quickly under these circumstances than I would if I were along and just couldn’t figure out what the correct behavior was to get the desired consequence. I think that trial and error would keep me going longer than trial, error *and* evidence that I can’t possibly figure out what on earth Abby is doing that I’m not.
Even if we don’t attribute to Buddy all this problem solving ability (which I admit I’ve worded as fairly sophisticated) the behavior of degraded response seems just as easily attributed to frustration as it is to either jealousy or fairness. Frustration is a far less sophisticated emotion than either jealousy or fairness (which I believe are fundamentally different from one another) and, thus, in the spirit of assuming the least complicated explanation as necessary to explain an event, I’m going to side with frustration.
This *isn’t* to say that I don’t think that dog’s don’t experience emotions of jealousy or don’t have a concept of fairness (though this seems a bigger stretch than jealousy). I’m just not convinced that this particular experiment proves either the emotion or the concept.
For those who haven’t seen it yet, there’s a short video clip of a BC and his partner from one of the study’s trials here:
I tend to agree with Dee above that fairness refers more to a tangible reward and jealousy to something intangible. As far as I can tell from reading an abstract of the study, though, the researchers stuck with the phrase “inequality aversion” and the more loaded words like fairness, jealousy and envy were all added by the media.
When I had two dogs I used a version of this study while training. I’d sit next to my oldster and slip him morsels from treat pouch while the youngster was practicing her tricks. In effect the old dog was getting rewards for doing nothing while the young one might have to do five or six tricks for each miserly cheerio. LOL By our human standards that was certainly be unfair but instead of going on strike like any sensible person would, my young dog would work even harder. So yes, I do think dogs pay very close attention to what’s happening with other animals around them and will change their behavior because of it but their definition of “fair” is very different than ours.
Happy 15th Birthday to beautiful Lassie!
In my observations of my own dogs, I am certain I have witnessed my dogs displaying jealously, but I’m not so sure about fairness. And I have to agree with Dee’s interpetation that jealousy has to do with a perceived loss of interaction or affection, while fairness has to do with the inequality of reward.
So back to your question…Fairness and Jealously are NOT the same, but which does this study support? Well, I have to admit I am not entirely sure, but as Jennifer mentioned in her post, I think frustration could be as reasonable an explaination as any other emotion. I have seen my own dog ‘shut down’ when he doesn’t understand, i.e. – receive a click-and-treat. I have to believe that this could have occurred during this study also.
Plus, where the dogs trained side-by-side to begin with? Maybe this had an impact on the outcome of the study. If the dogs where trained separately, then suddenly introduced and ‘trained’ together this could have caused some issues. In my modest home observations, I have seen reliable behaviors break-down with the introduction of another dog. I think it has more to do with distraction than jealously or fairness.
I think that fairness and jealousy are two separate concepts and depending on the dog, what incites jealousy will vary. I believe that the dog in the study saw what in his mind was not fair and was discouraged from trying. I thought that this article which I also recently read about dogs learning from other dogs shows that they are able to interpret events in a human-like way.
Mary Lou says
I found it interesting that the monkeys differentiated between ‘good treats’ and ‘not so good treats’, whereas the dogs did not. However, my dogs will definitely work harder for ‘good treats’ than kibble:-) I’ve definitely observed jealousy in dogs (particularly in my Banshee, who has an extremely expressive face and can give the ‘evil eye’ better than any dog or person I’ve ever met (with the exception of my dear departed Mama). Fairness? I dont know that I’ve ever seen dogs react to ‘equality issues’. I’m just a pet guardian though, (with 4 canine and 1 feline companions at present) not a trainer or expert of any kind.
In my experience with a pair of dogs I had years ago, not only can dogs be jealous but other dogs can use the jealousy to their advantage. My female dog was “bitchy” when both got treats, saving hers to taunt the male with once he’d finished his. He quickly learned that her jealousy worked to his advantage. He would finish his treat and when she started her “I’ve got a treat and you don’t” routine, he’d come over to me to get petted, keeping his eye on her. Very quickly, she’d leave her treat to come get her share of the petting. He’d race to her treat and make it his own. I loved both dogs beyond all reason but I have to say she was not the smartest in this respect because the ploy worked almost every time for many years. And I felt a little used by him but had to admire his smarts.