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Recently, psychologists performed a study on dog behavior and learned without a doubt that dogs do get jealous. Whether it’s jealousy as humans experience it, or an offshoot of deeply ingrained dog behavior like resource guarding or redirected excitement, dogs do feel envy.
How do you know if your dog is feeling jealous? Some of these behaviors might sound familiar:
- You greet your family member with a big hug, and you hear telltale whining as your dog insinuates himself into your hug.
- The dog on your lap growls as another dog (or family member) walks by.
- As you give one dog attention, your other dog pushes her out of the way.
Ring any bells? If you’re dealing with a jealous dog, we’ve got great tips and tricks to find some balance in your family dynamic.
Your attention, your voice, your touch are all to be prized, and it is only natural that a possessive dog would want them all for himself. – Leslie Nelson
What Causes Dog Jealousy
Dogs want their share of the attention, food, and other good things you provide—it’s only natural. But when dogs start acting jealous, and seeking your attention more aggressively, you’ll want to look at any changes to their home life.
Most of the time, dog jealousy is caused by changes like:
- New schedule
- New home and neighborhood
- New primary caregiver
- New pets in the home
- New people living in the home
- A new baby or child
How to Help Your Jealous Dog
Regular training practice
If you haven’t worked on obedience since puppy kindergarten, it might be time to dust off that treat pouch and budget a few 20-minute training sessions.
Reinforcing behaviors like “leave it” and “go to your rug/crate” will help establish your leadership and polish up the skills you’ll need to manage jealousy situations.
Remove the “reward” (hint: it might be you!)
Have you been accidentally rewarding your dog with attention when jealousy strikes? Just like human kids, the thrill of negative attention can become rewarding for your dog.
Decide which jealous behaviors to ignore, and when it might be best to simply walk out of the room.
Involve the object of jealousy in your regular training practice
If a new family member has upset the balance in your home, have them tag along on walks, meals, and playtime.
Remember the “no free lunch” rule and ensure that every treat, pet, and meal comes at the cost of some calm, obedient behavior. In no time at all, your new housemate will be just another part of the gang.
Suddenly, the only time treats appear are when the dogs are together, sitting politely or on their beds. This is a great training twofer— associating the new dog with good things and brushing up on obedience skills.
Also, take both dogs on walks together every day. Nothing gets dogs in a pack mindset like getting out in the world and peeing on stuff. Experiment with different tricks, treats, and timing. Eventually the dogs learn that calm compliance is the most rewarding behavior of all.
When Dogs Get Jealous of Babies
A great desensitizing game is to allow the dog to smell an object or piece of clothing from the offending small person, and give treats for smelling the item and remaining calm. This won’t solve the whole problem, but it is a good starting place.
Don’t leave a dog unattended around a baby or small child. Let your dog drag a leash on a flat collar instead. This way you can get control of the dog easily, and everyone can feel calm and relaxed while interacting.
For more on helping your dog adjust to a new baby, check out this in-depth article.
Territorial Behavior in Dogs
It’s normal for dogs to guard resources that matter to them, such as toys, chews, a favorite treat, or a favorite person. The problem becomes when this instinct escalates to aggressive behavior.
See more: 6 Tips for Training Your Territorial Dog
Training a territorial dog requires removing triggers where possible—such as not bringing toys to the dog park. It’s also important to establish that “the good stuff” comes from you, and when you get the desired behavior. For instance, require your dog to “sit” before you reward him by putting the leash on to take a walk, or sustain a “down” command for a few minutes before being released to eat his dinner.
For more about working with territorial dogs, see this training guide.
Taking Care of Yourself and Your Dog
When you feel like you have a serious dog behavior on your hands, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Remember you’re not alone, and you’re not the first or only person to deal with the training issue. Take a deep breath!
- Divide and conquer. If you have a lot of issues going on at once, or if your dog’s jealousy is leading to secondary bad behaviors, it’s perfectly ok to focus on just one behavior at at time.
- Manage like a pro. Remember the dog management trifecta: exercise, containment, and resource management. Daily exercise, separation when necessary with crates or baby gates, and making sure the humans in the house are always in charge of high-value resources, can mitigate most daily dog problems.
- Keep calm and carry on. By giving yourself permission to share your life with a “perfectly imperfect” dog, you’ll reduce your anxiety and stress, which in turn will lower your dog’s anxiety and stress. Dogs may not understand our every word, but they are experts in tone and facial expression.
- Don’t be afraid to call in a behavior specialist or work with a trainer if dog jealousy is an ongoing issue in your household.
- Give your dog some quality one-on-one time with a trusted pet sitter even when you can’t be around. This can be a real lifesaver during those new baby days, or after adding a new dog to your family.
- Going on walks with another dog is good social time, but sometimes, your jealous dog may need space. Give your dog the gift of individual attention by booking a dog walker just for them.
You’re still a great pet parent if you call in the extra help. In fact, recognizing you and your dog need help makes you a strong and self-aware dog parent. Go you!
Jealousy in Dogs by Christine R. Harris & Caroline Prouvost
The absence of reward induces inequity aversion in dogs by Friederike Range, Lisa Horna, Zsófia Viranyib, & Ludwig Hubera
Featured image: © Willeecole | Brussels Griffon