Do Dogs Compare Themselves To Other Dogs?

A human who is perfectly happy can become miserable when they compare themselves to another human.

Does it happen to dogs? Do they compare themselves to other dogs?

Hound Mix and Golden Retriever

I’m glad they didn’t decide to keep you and make me the foster pup because you’re a better bike dog, Cherie.

Watching Dogs Swim

I’d love for Honey to enjoy swimming.

But if it’s not her favorite activity, I’d at least like her to swim well and develop some endurance in the water.

Honey the golden retriever asks why Mike doesn't swim.

Why don’t you bug him about now swimming. He’s not even wet?

If Honey ever goes overboard from the boat, I don’t want her to panic.

Since she was a puppy, we thought she’d pick up swimming from watching other dogs do it.

Nope. It has taken human intervention to get my girl swimming.

But lately, as she has started swimming more, I’ve noticed something. Honey looks more intently at a ball thrown to another dog in the water.

Black lab at the Chesapeake bay with two tennis balls in his mouth.

Whoa, he has two tennis balls. Where did he get two?

It’s almost as if she’s saying to herself, “I’ve swam out to balls. I wonder if I could get his ball too?”

And I wonder if she compares herself to that swimming dog and wishes she could do it as well.

Watching People With Boats

Boat shopping has caused me to meet more wealthy people than I would normally know.

Boats are an expensive hobby.

And the owners of the sailboats we’ve looked at own houses (in some cases, two houses) in addition to owning sailboats (and in some cases, two or three boats).

I am not rich.

I could never afford to own a house and a boat (unless, maybe, it was a radio controlled model).

For us, selling our house and replacing it with a boat is a cost-saving way to travel and have adventures.

I know that in comparison to most Americans with my education and skills, I’m relatively poor. But I’ve always felt satisfied with my life.

I also know that I have immense wealth compared to most people in the world. I certainly have everything I need and a little bit more.

I turn on a tap to get clean water. I have expensive toys, like computers. I have electricity when I want it.

But rubbing elbows with wealthier people about my age and with similar backgrounds, I feel dissatisfaction creeping in.

Like “wouldn’t it be nice if I could have kept my house to return to someday?” And “gee, I wish I could buy what I’d like for the boat without scrambling or shopping in thrift stores.”

I’m starting to feel like Honey looking out at that ball and wondering if I could swim out to it if I just tried harder.

Dogs And Fair Play

Scientists have done studies that find that when dogs see another dog getting rewarded for a behavior when they are not, they stop doing that behavior.

Apparently, dogs, like humans, recognize when things aren’t fair.

I wonder if this means they are actually capable of comparing themselves to other dogs on a simple level?

Honey the golden retriever has sand on her face.

You assume I’m thinking deep thoughts. But I’m really trying not to move because I have sand all over my mouth.

Is Honey seeing that dog swimming out to a ball as getting a reward she is not? And will it change her behavior?

In other words, does my dog Honey compare herself to other dogs? Or is that too advanced for a dog brain?

And if she could compare herself to other dogs, is that helpful? Or harmful?

Count Your Blessings

When dogs do feel things like jealousy (and I definitely believe they do), they don’t have higher reasoning to know what to do with it.

But we do.

I don’t go out of my way to feel bad that I can’t set sail from the dock in front of my house like that dude whose boat I was considering buying. Hints of dissatisfaction creep in anyway.

But I’m not a dog. And if I start feeling bad that I’ve worked at low wages for nonprofits my entire life or that my retirement fund couldn’t buy a car much less help me live without working, I need to shift my mental gears.

No, I’m not going to walk out the door and apply for a job at Bank of America. I think it would kill me.

It’s time to hang out with new people. People who are rich without lots of possessions.

And maybe I should be spending a lot more time with my dog than with snooty yachties who have more money than they have sense.

After all, there are worse folks to compare myself to than my happy pup.

Your Turn: Do you think dogs compare themselves to other dogs? Do you compare yourself to other people?

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. I definitely believe dogs compare what the other dogs are getting. In Jimmy’s case, he’s unfortunately willing to pick a fight over it.

    I live in a very intense “keeping up with the Jones'” area. The county I live in is the richest county (or at least it has been in very recent years) in the entire country, even beating out movie star enclave-laden areas! The kids in this area get a BMW when they get their driver’s licenses. It’s designer lablels everywhere, houses are HUGE, fancy cars….but I bet those people all carry a lot of debt as well. It’s hard not to compare onesself to that but I don’t miss the worries that come from it. We are debt free and strive to stay that way!

    • Don’t you think Jimmy’s “you ain’t got nothing on me” attitude is part of why he’s so good in agility?

      As for humans, I doubt the comparisons make us better. If you can keep your head while people all around you are chasing signs of wealth, you’re doing pretty well. But I’m surprised how hard it is even for a non-conforming hippie-type like me. :)

  2. I think it’s human nature to compare yourself to other humans…I’m not so sure about dogs. My two that I have now don’t pay much attention to other dogs at all, so I’m trying to remember from the past…Sally used to get jealous if we pet Tino, but I’m not sure if that’s really comparing -we always tried to be fair in the doling out of pets and treats.

    • Some scientific studies show that dogs and some primates exhibit what the testers believe is a sense of fairness.

      Dogs may not have the advanced thinking to do actual comparisons. But they sure do keep and eye out on desirable things being handed out to others.

  3. I don’t believe dogs make judgments, they accept people and circumstances; how else would some of the abused ones continue to stay with the abuser? They seem content with whatever life hands them, be it one or ten treats. The reaction is always the same-gratitude. Oh sure, they’d love the next one, but I doubt they think they’ll be better for it. :)

    • Hmmm, now you’ll have me pondering. Dogs do accept things. But it’s also true that humans also stay with abusers. And we have higher reasoning that helps us to “supposedly” know better.

      I keep finding that dogs are more like us than I realized. Now I’m wondering how much more we’re like dogs than we think.

  4. If dogs do compare themselves, I would like Delilah to read the memo. There are many things I do believe she has picked up from watching Sampson, but waiting quietly or sitting when food is around is not one of them!

  5. We do compare each other at least at home with who gets what to make sure we all are treated evenly. Sometimes I appear to be looking down at other dogs, Mom says I have an ego, but I don’t buy it!

  6. I think most humans compare themselves and measure themselves on things like appearance, wealth, work success etc. Social media is gamified and we all compare followers, likes and comments if we are trying to make a difference, make friends or make money.
    Kilo the Pug sizes up any dogs we pass but he sees himself as a big tough dog, his vision is a little skewed. He seems to love being an only dog and reacts badly to most other dogs he meets.

    • On walks, we see lots of small dogs who react strongly to Honey.

      I usually try to give them a wide berth or walk in the opposite direction to make things easier on their people. But now I’m wondering if we’re reinforcing the barking and lunging. After all, if Kilo reacts and we walk away, he’s being reinforced.

      If you, as a person with a reactive small dog, have a suggestion for the best way for us to respond to such things on a walk, please let me know.

      • I am still pretty stressed with Kilo and progress has been slow. I may be doing it all wrong but unless we are practising desensitizing him in a controlled way (which we do with trainers and friends), it is better for you or me to walk away. I really appreciate it when people don’t judge, they just keep a safe distance. One trainer said to me “distance is your friend”. I have found parallel walking with dogs across the street allows him to gradually calm down

        • Thanks for confirming that walking away is helpful. We’ll continue to try to stay out of the way of people working with reactive pups.

          After all, we’ve been there too. It’s hard work.

  7. Oh, well, people definitely do it. It’s shown in frequent wage studies and so on.
    I think my dogs do it too, especially at something like agility watching the other dogs go round.
    i think they do it to people too. For example, if my OH and I cuddle without Ludo he will want to het in there and get some attention too. I’m sure he thinks he’s missing out.

    • We took Honey to agility matches when we were socializing her as a puppy. She was a very intent watcher.

      Perhaps I should have taken advantage and gotten her working on it right away.

      BTW it’s a good sign if your OH has a sense of humor about Ludo wanting to get in the middle of cuddle time.

  8. Hi Y’all!

    When we are young we learn from our litter mates and elders. Since I’m an only, I don’t really compare or think the same way you humans do. When I’m with other dogs, it’s just havin’ fun in the moment. I never wonder about their life style.

    Y’all come on by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

    • When we were fostering, some of the smarter puppies learned by imitating Honey. And Honey even did better in our bike cart training after her foster sister tried it first.

      So you’re right there’s probably not much thinking going on. But maybe part of having fun in the moment is trying to do the same fun things a dog sees another one doing.

  9. Interesting ideas to ponder as far as dogs are concerned. Ideas I’ve never spent much time, if any, contemplating. I know Shadow and Ducky get jealous of the attention we give to one of them – or Callie – when they aren’t getting any at the same time. They make it quite obvious. Callie? No, when she wants attention she’ll ask for it; but she’s happy with a scratch here and a rub there and will walk away when she’s gotten enough to make her happy. So I always give her attention when she asks for it. And extra when she doesn’t.

    As for me? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned not to compare myself to others so much. Yes, I’d like to have a slightly larger house on a much quieter street; but at least I HAVE a house with the bonus of a nice size yard for my dogs to play in. And no subdivision rules limiting me to one dog of a certain size or breed. I have what I need and can even buy things I want at times, so that’s fine. I have a good life. And we never know what goes on behind the closed doors of that big house up on the hill. The grass is always greener deal, ya know?

    • Some people are probably more naturally predisposed to compare themselves. I don’t usually think of it as an issue for me. I’m kinda an oddball. That’s why I was surprised to find myself thinking about comparisons so much while boat shopping.

      Sounds like Callie is the centered girl we all should aspire to be. :)

  10. I don’t think they feel jealousy. I think they see something and think “I want that too”. With dogs it’s “hey, she’s getting attention so I should be getting attention too”.

    • I often think that when people say their dogs are jealous they’re making a wild interpretation. But I’m not certain dogs don’t feel jealous.

      But you’re definitely right that they notice when someone else is getting something they want. They’re smart that way. 😛

  11. This a really good question about dogs–they certainly do get jealous of each other, so why not compare themselves in terms of abilities?

    I know what you mean about wealth–people think about it more in this area than in other places I have lived, and there is more wealth in general (compared to Portland or Santa Fe, for example). As a result, I notice myself worrying about it way more than I ever have and having stupid ideas that I have never had before, like wouldn’t it be great if I worked at a full-time desk job making 6 figures, so I make pots of money and have no time to enjoy it?

    Great that you’re working on keeping the right perspective, even when it’s challenging! Spending more time with the dogs is an antidote to stupid thoughts involving wealth–they don’t care about it, why should we?

    • Glad to know that even someone I see as centered as you can occasionally get sucked into the freaky comparison thing.

      I feel like we have a lot to learn about what dogs think. I’m waiting for the scientist to find a way to study dogs’ reactions to other dogs’ activities. Perhaps it will happen in some of those MRI studies.

  12. I don’t think our resident pups Missy & Buzz really compare themselves to one another, but our girl Missy has a tendency of getting a little jealous when she seems my husband or myself petting another dog ( we have been working on that with her).
    I do believe that us humans constantly compare themselves to one another ~ it must be embedded in our genes 😉 Perspective does really matter, and as you pointed out very well, we should all consider ourselves lucky to have access to clean, running water, a fridge, and enough food to eat. There are so many people on this Earth who live in poverty, so we should all step back from time to time and re-evaluate our perspective when we fret over “first-world-problems” such as not being able to afford the more luxurious car or lakefront property.

    • Wouldn’t you love to know exactly what’s going through Missy’s mind when you’re petting another dog? And does she also react strongly if you come home with another dog’s scent on your clothes?

      I’m suspecting there must be some kind of evolutionary advantage to people who learned to compare themselves. That’s why it sticks around as a character trait.

      But it’s pretty worthless (and upsetting) in a setting where everyone has many times more than they need.

      I wonder what it would take for us to evolve into ever-increasing empathy for everyone who has less?

  13. Only when it comes to attention or maybe food:-)

  14. I’m not to concerned with the “why” I’m just grateful that they “don’t” seem to care. I love the simplistic life choices that dogs have adopted. We humans always complicate life.

  15. I do watch other dogs. My bipeds say I have a very disapproving expression when I see dogs doing things I’ve been taught not to do – such as jumping up people.

  16. I often wonder what Blueberry is thinking when she sees another dog and it happens to be off leash. Does she ever wish that were her circumstance? I tell her to look all she wants, there’s no way I’m letting her off-leash. A) It’s against 99% of all park rules in Arizona and B) I’d probably never see her again if she saw a jackrabbit, regular rabbit, or coyote.

    I don’t compare myself like I used to. I’ve got Jesus and He is all I need. Even if I were to lose everything else – He isn’t going to disappear. I see people with a lot of stuff – but they aren’t very happy. I mean, they are happy for a moment when they get that new “toy” or go on yet another vacation to try and buy that happy feeling – but then the newness wears off and again, they start seeking for something else to fill the void in their life. Not that I think wealth in and of itself is bad – it’s not money that is bad, just the unhealthy regard some people give it. I just like the simple life and am pretty content with wherever I am financially. Sometimes less really is more!