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Do Dogs Get Jealous? New Study Says Yes

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Just like how an older sibling might act out when a new baby joins the family, a new study from PLOS ONE suggests dogs get jealous when they perceive there is a rival for their owners' attention.

To test this, UC San Diego psychology professor Christine Harris and former honors student Caroline Prouvost adapted a test usually applied to 6-month-old human babies. 36 dogs and their owners participated. Each pair was videotaped at home as the owner ignored the dog in favor of three different stand-ins: An animated stuffed dog that barked and wagged its tail; a jack-o-lantern; and a children's book with pop-ups and sounds. In the case of the toy dog and the jack-o-lantern, owners—who were not informed ahead of time of the hypothesis—were instructed to treat the object as if it were a real dog. The book served as a control; owners read aloud as if to a child.

The "other dog." Photo by Caroline Prouvost.

From there, two independent raters watched the videos and coded them for a variety of aggressive, disruptive, and attention-seeking behaviors that would indicate jealousy. What they found was that most of dogs exhibited some signs of jealousy—primarily pushing or touching the owner or object but also snapping at the toy—when their owner interacted with the fake dog. The jack-o-lantern was perceived as less of a threat and the book least of all. Harris also noted that 86 percent of dogs sniffed the toy dog's rear end at some point, indicating that they believed it to be a real dog.

The study predicts that the jealous behavior would be even more pronounced in situations where the rival for the owners' attention was a real dog that responded to the attention. "Our study suggests not only that dogs do engage in what appear to be jealous behaviors but also that they were seeking to break up the connection between the owner and a seeming rival," Harris said. "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."

The implication of jealousy in dogs may mean that, contrary to some writing on the subject, it is not necessarily a social construct unique to romantic relationships. "Our results challenge these ideas, showing that animals besides ourselves display strong distress whenever a rival usurps a loved one's affection," Harris said.

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Pigeons Are Secretly Brilliant Birds That Understand Space and Time, Study Finds
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Of all the birds in the world, the pigeon draws the most ire. Despite their reputation as brainless “rats with wings,” though, they’re actually pretty brilliant (and beautiful) animals. A new study adds more evidence that the family of birds known as pigeons are some of the smartest birds around, as Quartz alerts us.

In addition to being able to distinguish English vocabulary from nonsense words, spot cancer, and tell a Monet from a Picasso, pigeons can understand abstract concepts like space and time, according to the new study published in Current Biology. Their brains just do it in a slightly different way than humans’ do.

Researchers at the University of Iowa set up an experiment where they showed pigeons a computer screen featuring a static horizontal line. The birds were supposed to evaluate the length of the line (either 6 centimeters or 24 centimeters) or the amount of time they saw it (either 2 or 8 seconds). The birds perceived "the longer lines to have longer duration, and lines longer in duration to also be longer in length," according to a press release. This suggests that the concepts are processed in the same region of the brain—as they are in the brains of humans and other primates.

But that abstract thinking doesn’t occur in the same way in bird brains as it does in ours. In humans, perceiving space and time is linked to a region of the brain called the parietal cortex, which the pigeon brains lack entirely. So their brains have to have some other way of processing the concepts.

The study didn’t determine how, exactly, pigeons achieve this cognitive feat, but it’s clear that some other aspect of the central nervous system must be controlling it. That also opens up the possibility that other non-mammal animals can perceive space and time, too, expanding how we think of other animals’ cognitive capabilities.

[h/t Quartz]

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The Queen's Racing Pigeons Are in Danger, Due to an Increase in Peregrine Falcons
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Queen Elizabeth is famous for her love of corgis and horses, but her pet pigeons don't get as much press. The monarch owns nearly 200 racing pigeons, which she houses in a luxury loft at her country estate, Sandringham House, in Norfolk, England. But thanks to a recent boom in the region’s peregrine falcon population, the Queen’s swift birds may no longer be able to safely soar around the countryside, according to The Telegraph.

Once endangered, recent conservation efforts have boosted the peregrine falcon’s numbers. In certain parts of England, like Norfolk and the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, the creatures can even find shelter inside boxes installed at local churches and cathedrals, which are designed to protect potential eggs.

There’s just one problem: Peregrine falcons are birds of prey, and local pigeon racers claim these nesting nooks are located along racing routes. Due to this unfortunate coincidence, some pigeons are failing to return to their owners.

Pigeon racing enthusiasts are upset, but Richard Salt of Salisbury Cathedral says it's simply a case of nature taking its course. "It's all just part of the natural process,” Salt told The Telegraph. "The peregrines came here on their own account—we didn't put a sign out saying 'room for peregrines to let.' Obviously we feel quite sorry for the pigeons, but the peregrines would be there anyway."

In the meantime, the Queen might want to keep a close eye on her birds (or hire someone who will), or consider taking advantage of Sandringham House's vast open spaces for a little indoor fly-time.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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