- Dogs display jealousy towards other pets and people — Since your dog relies on you for food and emotional support, they may act jealous towards another animal or human that they perceive could jeopardize their relationship with you.
- Some common signs of jealousy include aggressive behavior — In addition to whining, barking, and bumping their owners for attention, dogs may also snap at or attack the newcomer.
- Positive reinforcement training can curb jealous behaviors — Ignoring your dog’s attempts to steal your attention while rewarding their good behavior helps them adapt faster.
Dog owners have long claimed that their dog acts jealous whenever they bring home a new pet, greet another dog, or even kiss their human child. While we can’t read their minds, we can interpret behavioral cues and conduct experiments to test whether or not dogs actually experience jealousy like humans do. The verdict of several studies concludes that dogs do get jealous, especially over others that they believe could threaten their relationship with their pet parent, as opposed to an inanimate object. Here’s what to do if you’re considering bringing a new addition into the picture, or are currently dealing with your dog’s jealous behaviors.
Understanding dogs’ jealousy
In humans, jealousy is often directed towards a suspected interloper. This person is perceived to be a threat to an important relationship and is often challenged. Jealousy is a complex emotion that can lead to many devastating actions, including obsessive behaviors like stalking, and even murder in severe cases.
It’s easy to suppose that dogs can’t feel such strong emotions. Since dominance is a big deal in the canine kingdom, people have assumed that what might appear to be jealous behavior is simply one dog asserting dominance over another. This theory is certainly easier to believe if you undermine a dog’s cognitive processes.
However, anecdotal tales from pet parents have long asserted that their dogs display jealous behaviors not only towards other pups, but also towards new people, close human relationships, and even cats. This suggests that dogs do feel jealousy towards their owners when they perceive a threatening relationship coming between them. After recent studies, research seems to agree.
Case studies on dog jealousy
In a 2014 study from the University of San Diego, leashed dogs watched their owners pet an animatronic stuffed dog and then display the same affection towards a plastic jack-o-lantern. Afterwards, the pet parents read aloud from an interactive children’s book. In every phase of the experiment, the pet parents totally ignored their dog while researchers recorded their dog’s reactions. The researchers hypothesized that the dogs would react with more negativity and aggression towards the realistic fake dog as opposed to the obviously inanimate objects. They were correct.
The dogs exhibited more jealous behaviors towards what they believed to be another dog — even lunging in attack towards the stuffed animal — as opposed to the inanimate objects. In fact, dogs were more likely to ignore their owners when they were reading the book rather than react aggressively. This proves that the dogs were concerned about the possibility of another animal jeopardizing the relationship with their owner, as opposed to merely addressing the loss of attention or control.
Recognizing signs of jealousy in dogs
Since dogs can certainly get jealous, how do we know when they feel this way? Canines can’t write a revenge song and are unlikely to poke holes in our tires, so we have to rely on their body language to give us clues on how they really feel. Jealous dogs may exhibit behaviors including:
- Stepping in. A dog who feels misplaced may try to come between their owner and the new object of affection. This could look like wedging in between a new couple, bumping their owner’s hand with their nose, or attempting to shove their rival out of the way.
- Vocalizing. Your dog might frequently bark or whine to try to grab your attention. Short, sharp barks are a common sound coming from a pup who’s feeling abandoned or jealous. If their attention is directed towards their rival, they may also growl or snarl.
- Lunging towards the threat. If you have a protective dog, they may feel like they have to guard you from the unfamiliar person or pup. They may run towards the potential threat in attack mode.
- Raising their tail. A stiff, upright tail usually indicates your dog is feeling scared or threatened. Conversely, a lowered tail is often a fearful response. Both are tail-tale signs that a dog fight may be about to break out, so you may need to intervene to prevent a problem.
- Ignoring their owner. This behavior was more commonly observed when the pet parents were enraptured by inanimate objects rather than another animal. However, it’s still possible for your dog to ignore you if you introduce a new pet or spend time with someone else’s dog.
Causes of dog jealousy
Dogs get jealous and let us know in various ways. But what turns them into a green monster? Every dog is different, but here are the most common triggers:
- New pets. Adopting another dog or cat is an exciting decision that greatly impacts your household dynamic. While it’s normal for your dog to feel jealous over the new arrival at first, they’ll probably appreciate having a friend over time.
- New family members like a baby. A baby changes everything in a dog’s life. Not only do they have to contend with a needy person who’s a direct rival for their owner’s attention, but their idea of normalcy shifts and can create feelings of instability. It doesn’t always have to be a baby, either. For example, your mother-in-law coming to live with you can also disrupt the daily routine.
- Shifts in routine. Switching jobs or moving places may give your dog the idea that they’re not a priority in your life anymore. This may be especially true if you’re currently consumed with tasks that accompany those types of changes, such as packing boxes and working long hours. Including your dog in your new schedule can give them confidence that you’re still there for them even when everything else is shifting.
- Food aggression and resource guarding. Some dogs may guard food, toys, beds, or anything else that they value from the perceived threat. If this is happening in your home, the best way to handle the situation is to feed your pets separately to prevent envy.
Dealing with a jealous dog
While we often try to appease our pets, there may be situations where you have to help your dog get over their jealous behaviors, like when you bring home a new baby. Thankfully, positive reinforcement training can speed up the process.
Tips and tricks to calm a jealous dog
Jealous dogs are desperate for your attention. When you respond to them with positive or negative feedback, you’re rewarding their attention-seeking behavior. The secret to helping your dog overcome jealous behaviors is to ignore them when they’re behaving badly, such as bumping you or barking sharply. Once they’ve calmed down, give them your full attention and a treat.
If a dog is showing some signs of aggression due to jealousy, the ultimate goal is to desensitize them to the triggers that may be occurring. If the trigger is another dog or person, you can try to offer a treat or use positive reinforcement before, during, and after limited interaction. If that seems to work well, then the interaction time should gradually increase. A basket muzzle may be needed if the risk of being bit is high during the training period.
Training techniques to alleviate jealousy
If your dog barks, whines, howls, or bumps, try to ignore them. If you cave to their requests, you’re reinforcing the idea that their rude behavior worked. Of course, if you’re sensing that the situation could escalate into aggression, you might have to change your strategy to prioritize everyone’s safety. In this case, remove the misbehaving dog from the room, not the perceived threat.
Once your dog stops their negative behavior, reward them with your attention. You can also give them a treat if you prefer.
It’s important to never purposefully try to make your pets jealous of each other. You should always give your pets equal attention to help them trust you and get along with their other household members. If your dog has a problem with resource guarding or food aggression, feeding your pets separately is a good idea to keep everyone safe and happy. In severe cases, you may need to hire professional help for a few training sessions. When life shifts and other things take priority — new housing situations, jobs, family coming to live with you — remember to carve out time to spend with your dog so they feel secure in their place in your heart and home.
Frequently asked questions
How do you know if your dog is jealous?
We can’t read our dogs’ minds, but we can sometimes guess what they’re thinking through their behaviors. Pet parents have long claimed that their dog seemed jealous, but now science is on their side. Research has linked multiple canine behaviors to jealousy, including barking, whining, growling, bumping, and coming in between their owner and the potential rival of their affection. While dogs may feel the loss of your attention while you work or tend to the house, studies also show that they are more likely to display jealous behaviors when you direct your focus towards another animal or person.
Do dogs get jealous if you get another dog?
It depends on their temperament and attachment style. Some dogs may act jealous or even aggressive towards a new puppy or cat. Dogs with a more mellow personality or who feel secure in their relationship with you may react with curiosity over the newcomer or display no interest whatsoever. With training and patience, it’s possible to get two dogs to coexist, even if one starts out being a little jealous.
How do dogs show they are jealous?
A jealous dog may bark, bump, or whine at you to distract you from their rival. Some dogs may choose to passive aggressively ignore their owners. However, this behavior is more likely when they’re feeling neglected rather than jealous over another animal or person. Unfortunately, jealousy can sometimes lead to aggression towards the rival. It’s important to recognize warning signs like growling, a raised or lowered tail, or lunging so that you can intervene before a fight starts.
Do dogs get jealous of their owners?
Yes. A new family member, change in schedule, or adopted pet can make your dog feel threatened. Continuing to spend quality time with them in the middle of changes — coupled with positive reinforcement training — can make them feel more at ease.