Did you ever see the movie Secret Life of Pets? Do you remember how Max, the small Jack Russell Terrier, becomes jealous when his owner adopts a Newfoundland mix called Duke? When the two dogs first meet, Max growls at Duke, who whines in fear. When I first saw the movie, I thought this was a funny scene. Now, I’m not so sure.
I remembered the movie because two months ago, my family took a newly born abandoned puppy. Since we have a four-year-old dog, we have decided to keep the puppy away from the older dog in a small enclosure. It was a conscious decision to introduce the puppy to our dog slowly and step by step so that, our German Shepherd mix, will not be stressed out too much about this new addition to the family. First, we let our dog sniff the puppy at intervals.
Then we began to carry the puppy and then let our dog sniff us. We permitted the puppy to enter the house now. But our German Shepherd is still showing signs of jealous aggression, wanting to keep her toys away from the puppy, growling at the puppy to physically stay away from her, not finishing her food if the puppy manages to eat the leftovers.
Max and our dog are not the only ones that exhibit this jealous-like behavior. The internet is riddled with jealous dogs. There are jealous dog memes. Search for “jealous dog” on Youtube, you will get thousands of video clips. There is the husky who pulls a sleeping puppy away from the bed until the puppy falls to the floor and the husky can curl up beside the human.
There is the Golden Retriever who chomps on a stuffed look-alike dog that the owner praises as a good girl. There is the Papillon who insinuates herself between her kissing humans. There is the Shiba Inu dad who always growls at his children whenever they try to get near him.
The dogs in these photos and videos are all depicted as funny. Yes, jealous dogs can be quite cute and funny. But some of their behavior such as growling and snapping can be causes for concern.
I am always scared that our elderly dog might snap and bite the puppy one day, so I looked over the Internet for some initial research before speaking to the veterinarian.
The number one question for my research is: can a dog feel jealous? Dog experts differ in opinion.
Some experts say dogs don’t feel jealous as we humans do. What is seen as jealousy can be the territorial behavior of many animals.
The alpha will always protect its territory in the wild against anyone or anything that might want to enter or take it away. This territory covers the alpha’s home and its family.
With domesticated pets, alpha dogs consider their humans, toys, and homes to be their territories. So if the alpha dog gets displaced by another animal, even for just a moment, then there will be some negative behavior displayed as the dog tries to reclaim its territory.
On the other side of the debate, other experts argue that dogs do feel emotions like jealousy. Charles Darwin himself believed this to be true. This belief was echoed by a 2014 study by psychology professor Christine Harris, and her student, Caroline Prouvost. The two researchers conducted a scientific experiment on 36 dogs.
The owners were instructed to ignore their pets and focus their attention on a stuffed dog, a pail, and a book. The results showed that 78% of the dogs exhibited jealous behavior such as whining and growling when their owners paid attention to the stuffed dog. Only 42% exhibited such behavior over the pail, and only 22% did it for the book. About 30% tried to get between the stuffed animal and their owners while 25% snapped at the stuffed dog. The researchers concluded that the dogs considered the dog-like object as a rival for affection.
The conduct appeared to be more centered on the emotional and social relationship between dogs and owners than on a dog’s territorial connection over what it sees as its own.
Whether these actions are true jealousy or not, the experts agree that it is not healthy behavior for dogs since it could stem from anxiety or stress. The jealous behavior could be a result of something new in the dogs’ life, such as:
- A change in the dog’s daily schedule, which includes walks and feeding time;
- Moving to a new home and adjusting to a new neighborhood;
- Having a new person looking after them;
- Introducing a new pet in the household;
- New human additions to the household, including a new baby in the family.
10 Signs your dog is jealous
Here are some behavior patterns that could be deemed as jealousy from dogs:
- A person arrives, whether a family member or friends and your dog whines to be included in the welcome hugs and greetings.
- People who are trying to get your attention are attacked and get bitten by your dog.
- Your dog pees or poops in the house when you have trained her or him to go outdoors because your dog wants to get your attention.
- Your dog becomes unusually attentive to you, cuddling or licking you.
- Your dog becomes pushy and demands attention by intruding between you and another person or animal.
- Your dog growls hisses or starts a fight with other animals, even if these animals are also from your household.
- Your dog warns or tries to scare strangers away from you by barking or growling.
- Your dog impulsively performs tricks like sitting up on their hind legs to beg for treats without your prompting.
- Your dog will crowd your space to prevent people or dog from getting close to you.
- Your dog will act like she or he is throwing a tantrum and will leave the room, so you have to look for her or him.
Solutions to dog jealousy
It is very essential to manage not only our dogs’ physical but mental health.
There are some tips on how to handle or stop unwanted jealous behavior positively to ensure this:
- Note the conduct patterns of your dog. If you can, record these. You will thus understand what the particular triggers are for the jealous conduct of your dog. If the conduct persists despite some personal handling, then you can consult your vet or a dog behaviorist with a very specific example.
- Try to give equal attention to all your pets if you have more than one in your household. You have to reassure your older dog that you still love her or him, but you also have to make sure that your new pet feels welcome and loved.
- Build or designate areas where your dog can feel safe and where she or he can run to if put under stressful conditions like fighting with another dog.
- Consider staggering mealtimes or at least feeding pets in separate locations to avoid food aggression.
- Put all your dogs on leashes when you go for a walk; don’t allow one dog to be on a leash and one dog to roam freely.
- Buy a toy for each pet, so they don’t fight over one.
- Train or re-train all your pets to reinforce positive behavior. Give treats only for obedient behavior. You can also do batch training where all dogs are simultaneously trained to ensure that all dogs know that treats will only be provided for positive behavior. In this way, with you as the ultimate alpha, you can restore the social hierarchy in your house.
- Be careful of your behavior. Giving attention to your dog when she or he is misbehaving could reinforce the negative behavior.
If it is safe to do so, ignore your dog when she or he misbehaves.
- If you have a new adult or child in your family, get your dog to be friends with the new person. Make the new person join you when you feed your dog or when you take your dog on walks. Make your dog realize that the new person is not a rival but could be a source of treats and play as well.
- If you have a new baby, start the introduction by letting your dog sniff the baby’s things so the dog will get used to the baby’s smell. Then slowly let your dog interact with the baby in a calm or relaxed situation. Never leave your baby and dog alone.
- Exercise your dog as much as possible. This would ensure that your dog can use up all the extra energy which could otherwise be used to fight other pets.
- Establish a new routine or schedule by doing the same thing at the same time every day. Your dog has a pretty accurate internal clock you need to adapt this internal clock to your new schedule.
- Keep calm. No dog is perfect, but that’s why we love them.
Your dog just wants some assurance that you still love her or him even if there is something or someone new in your lives. If you feel overwhelmed, get some professional help, whether it is the vet, a dog behaviorist, or a temporary pet sitter.
You can rest assured that your dog is behaving this way because she or he loves you and wants you to love her or him back. Isn’t that devotion the best thing in the world to have?