Think Your Dog is Jealous? Here’s What You Can Do

By Sarah Hinds Friedl on March 26th, 2021

Do dogs get jealous? Many dog owners will say: absolutely! From adorable newborns and wrinkly puppies to the introduction of a second pet, dogs seem to feel jealous of anything that takes the attention of their beloved humans away.

But even with the anecdotes of dog owners, scientists haven’t always been so sure. Are our dogs capable of complex emotions like jealousy? Can they act out of spite when they’re green with envy? Or is there something else going on here?  

In this BreezeGuard article, we’re going to explore the fascinating question of doggy jealousy. And, we’ll provide some tips on how to reassure your pup that there’s nothing to be jealous of!

What does science say about dog jealousy?
For many years, scientists assumed that dogs, like most animals, were only capable of primary emotions, such as joy, fear and disgust. A dog hears a loud noise, and they feel fear. They taste something rancid, and they feel disgust.

Other emotions, the so-called secondary emotions, are more complex. Jealousy, guilt, resentment, and regret require a level of cognition that we didn’t think most animals were capable of.

But then, a groundbreaking study from UC San Diego suggested that dogs were, in fact, capable of jealousy. In the study, participants were asked to turn their attention to other objects—a realistic stuffed dog, a Halloween toy, or a book—and record how their pup reacted. 

The group that turned their attention towards the book or toy didn’t see a difference in their dog’s behavior. But, the group paying attention to the realistic stuffed dog saw an increase in aggression towards the object as well as interrupting behavior. This suggested that while the dogs didn’t seem to care about their human paying attention to inanimate objects, the idea of them focusing on a dog-like item was triggering. 

Could this be jealousy?

A 2018 study asked the same question, but this time, with real dogs instead of stuffed animals. They had dog owners pay attention to familiar and unfamiliar dogs, as well as other objects, while their own dogs watched. They found that, while the dogs didn’t seem to care when their human was focused on a non-dog object, seeing their human with other dogs was a different story. As in the previous study, the dogs tried to win the attention of their human by getting between them and the other dog. 

Researchers concluded, once again, that dogs could feel jealousy, especially when their humans were focused on another animal.

Why do dogs feel jealous?
Now that we know that dogs are capable of jealousy, the next question is, “Why?”

Scientists are still trying to figure that part out. They suggest that it could hark back to our dogs’ wild ancestry, when puppies had to fight for attention from their parents just to survive. Another theory is that dogs picked up the habit during the domestication process, when the relationship between human and dog became the primary motivator for our pups.

We’re still learning about why our dogs get jealous and what’s most likely to set them off. But one thing is likely: dogs probably don’t experience jealousy for the same reasons that we do. Instead of jealousy based in self-esteem or insecurity, our dogs probably feel jealousy as it relates to their access to resources, affection, and attention. It’s not quite as deep, in other words, as our own feelings of envy.

How do dogs act out their jealousy?
We mentioned some of the clear signals that dogs will use to convey their jealousy, such as interrupting behavior and aggression towards the object of their jealousy. But, there are a few other tactics that a dog might use to bring the attention back to them:

  • Whining, barking, or howling
  • Dragging out all of the toys from the toy box
  • Sulking or pouting behavior
  • Urinating in the house

Now, we want to be clear that these behaviors may be the result of jealousy, but they are not spiteful acts. Your dog isn’t urinating in the house to get back at you for petting the neighbor’s dog. Instead, jealousy makes your dog feel stressed. Their natural instinct might be to assert their territory or try to win back your attention.

What can you do if your pup is feeling jealous?
Because your dog is acting out of stress, it’s important not to punish your pup, which could exacerbate their anxiety. Instead, try out a few simple things that can ease your dog’s feelings of jealousy:

  • Give your dog equal attention. If your dog is trying to separate you and another pet, do your best to give each animal the same amount of attention. If your jealous pup becomes aggressive; however, you will want to remove them from the situation to keep everyone safe. From there, you can work on socialization so that your dog knows how to interact safely with other dogs, even when they’re feeling jealous. 
  • Prepare ahead of time. If you’re going to have guests over, consider loading your pup in the back of the car—fitted with BreezeGuard Screens to keep them safe!—for a fun one-on-one outing or trip to the dog park. 
  • Separate your pets during feeding times. A jealous dog may be particularly triggered when it comes to food. If you notice more aggressive behavior at mealtimes, consider feeding your pets separately.
  • Make sure that their inside potty accidents are not a sign of a medical problem. While peeing inside the house can be a sign of jealousy, it can also be a sign of a medical issue. It’s a good idea to check with your vet to rule out any health conditions.
  • Give your dog a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise and mental stimulation will help lower your dog’s anxiety, which will allow them to cope better with jealousy.

Helping your dog overcome their jealousy takes time. And, to be honest, your pupper may always want to be the only dog you pay attention to. But with some understanding and small changes, you can ease your dog’s jealousy and show just how much you love them!

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