So you want to bring another pet into the family. Are you worried that your current dog might hate it?
But wait. Can dogs get jealous? Or are you just imagining things?
- 1 What research says
- 2 What canine jealousy looks like
- 3 What canine jealousy isn’t
- 4 What you can do
- 5 The final word
What research says
Nope, you’re not imagining it. A study published in the PLOS One scientific journal back in 2014 has already proven what dog parents have known for years. Like toddlers, dogs do get jealous when they see their parents caring for a new pet or even another human being.
This means that dogs are intelligent and highly-observant social observers. They have enough brains and emotions to understand when they’re not getting their fair share of food or individual attention.
The study’s researchers (from the University of California San Diego) think canine jealousy may have evolved as a self-defense mechanism for pups. Pups must often compete with siblings for their mother’s milk and protection. So it’s not surprising if dogs are “wired” to be ultra-sensitive to any competition.
What canine jealousy looks like
But how does jealousy in dogs look like, anyway?
Here are the signs that your dog is jealous of the new member of your family:
1. Your dog acts “clingy.”
Your dog will double down on his attention-seeking. He’ll try to be by your side more than ever before, nudging you for constant affection. (Example: if he’s a small dog, he gets yappy if you don’t keep him on your lap.)
2. Your dog starts “claiming” you as his exclusive “territory.”
Whenever the other pet tries to approach you, your dog wiggles in between you and that pet. (This is what dog trainers and animal behaviorists sometimes call “splitting.”) He tries to block the pet’s way or push it out of your reach. And if you succeed in picking up the other pet, giving it affection, or feeding it, your dog starts to whine or bark incessantly. (Your dog may also display other similar signs of frustration, like running around you and attempting to clamber up your legs.)
3. Your dog engages in “passive-aggressive” snubbing.
Your dog may snub or avoid the pet. He’ll sulk in a corner of the house. Then he’ll give the other animal the suspicious “side-eye” glance or “stink-eye” look. (That’s the canine equivalent of saying to a rival, “I’m keeping an eye on you, buddy… a very close eye.”) And if the other pet walks past him, your dog may subtly use his body to block that pet’s path to other parts of the house — without any confrontation (i.e., fighting).
4. Your dog is overtly defensive towards the other pet.
Sometimes, it’s no longer subtle. Whenever the other pet approaches him or walks near him, your dog may:
- Prick his ears up (in the same way he does with a stranger)
- Take on an alert, defensive posture
- Bark, growl, snap or bare his teeth at the other pet — all signs of strong distress
5. Your dog is hostile and aggressive towards the other pet.
If your dog’s behavior is left unchecked, things can escalate. Once you come into the scene to touch the other pet, your dog may suddenly become angry and pick a fight with the other pet. It can get violent (i.e., snarling, biting, chasing, and scratching) and you’ll need to forcibly separate your dog from the other pet.
What canine jealousy isn’t
However, don’t confuse jealousy with these other forms of canine behavior:
If your dog acts defensively or aggressively towards the other pet, but only in a particular place (e.g., a favorite bed or couch) or near a particular object (e.g., feeding bowl or toy), then it isn’t triggered by your presence (or the presence of a “favorite person”).
This is not a form of jealousy. It’s “resource-guarding.” Your dog is simply staking a claim to certain areas or items, and he doesn’t want to share them with anyone else. It has nothing to do with competing for your affection or protection.
Many people tend to think an “alpha” dog is one that bullies an entire pack. On the contrary, a truly dominant and secure dog doesn’t bully newcomers. He will only growl or snap at a new pet if it steals food or resources from him (e.g., from his food bowl); it’s done only to keep the other pet in line with the “order” of things. In all other instances, the dominant dog will tolerate or welcome the presence of the other pet, even when you come in to give that pet food and attention.
The jealous dog, on the other hand, feels insecure and will try to bully the other pet at every turn.
Note: Strictly speaking, dogs are social animals. They’re supposed to look to you (as the “alpha” of your pack) for guidance on acceptable behavior. If this isn’t made clear, the dog becomes confused and insecure about his “place” in the social hierarchy of your home — and is more likely to bully other pets!
What you can do
So, are you still determined to get another pet? Here are some tips on how to avoid cultivating any jealous behavior in your dog.
- Your dog’s first encounter with the new pet should be on neutral ground, and never inside your home or garden. Example: at the vet’s, the pet shop/kennel, your friend’s house, the breeder’s home, or the local park or playground.
- Both pets should be leashed or under the supervision of one adult human. (Especially if we’re talking about dogs!)
- You have to be there. You can’t delegate the introductions to someone else (e.g., dog trainer). Schedule the introductions on a day or entire weekend when you’re free to supervise the whole event.
- Have the other person carry or supervise the newer pet.
- Have the new pet “approach” your dog from the side, while your dog is walking or exploring the area.
- While they may be supervised and leashed, give both animals enough room or leeway to approach each other. Allow them to sniff each other.
- Once they look relaxed and friendly with one another, allow them to play with each other. (You may even drop the leashes.)
- If there’s time for it, pet introductions can be made as a short series of encounters, spread over a few days. You can have them interact with each other on a few more play dates or walks, before bringing the new pet home.
- Important note: When you enter your home for the first time with the new pet, don’t let your dog or the other pet rush in ahead of you through the door. Humans should come in first!
- Make sure your home has plenty of food, water, and toys for both pets. Be sure to designate separate feeding bowls and toys for them.
- Never change your dog’s sleeping and eating arrangements, just to accommodate the new pet. (Your dog will notice these things!) The new pet should have its own spots.
- In the beginning, you can feed the two pets in separate areas. (Keep their sleeping areas separate, too.) Over time, once you observe them being comfortable with each other around the house and garden, you can gradually introduce any changes (if necessary). Shift their feeding bowls and sleeping areas slowly, a foot or so a day, towards your desired final spots.
- Supervise your pets carefully. Watch out for the signs of any jealousy, and make sure to keep both pets in check.
The final word
Here’s one more thing to think about.
The famous “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan says jealousy in dogs is less about a dog’s character and more about the pet parent’s failure in becoming the “alpha” of the home — i.e., establishing authority over the pack.
If your pets are fighting each other and your efforts at reconciling them don’t seem to work, you may need a few training sessions with specialized dog behaviorists (much like Cesar Millan) to re-“educate” your dogs. But don’t be surprised if it turns out that it’s you who needs to be re-educated! After all, you’re the one who has to learn how to neutralize or mitigate the first signs of jealousy and establish your authority. (Click here to see Millan’s simple trick for dealing with “splitting” behavior in dogs.)
So when it comes to training your pets to get along with each other, seek the help of dog trainers. Be open-minded and learn from them.
Above all, be patient, observant, and consistent towards your fur babies, so that they learn from you and build proper social relationships with one another.