We know that humans experience jealousy at various points in their lives, but do dogs get jealous? And if so, why do dogs get jealous? Who do they get jealous of? And when might they experience this jealousy?
Read on to learn the ins and outs of jealousy in dogs.
Do Dogs Get Jealous?
It’s hard to say with 100 percent certainty if dogs get jealous, but if you’ve ever petted another pup in front of your own, welcomed a new baby, or brought another dog (or cat!) into the family, you may have noticed your dog exhibiting different behavior.
“It’s difficult to assign human emotions to animals without anthropomorphizing,” says Oakland, California-based veterinarian Gary Richter, DVM, author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide. “Dogs can get upset when someone or something else is getting attention or a coveted toy, food, etc. Whether this is jealousy in the way people experience the emotion is unknowable.”
Renee Rhoades, applied animal behaviorist and head of behavior at R+Dogs, suspects that jealousy in dogs does happen. “I believe that jealousy does exist in dogs, and to what degree would be dependent on factors such as attachment style and resources,” she explains. “For example, if a person is a [primary] caregiver to a dog, supplying all their needs for positive welfare along with their fundamental needs, the potential for jealous-like behavior would be higher. I hypothesize that to some degree, dogs do understand the need for cohabitation for survival, and therefore, some dogs might see their guardians as necessary resources. The guarding of resources is innate (in some dogs), so that might also be a factor in jealousy-like behavior.”
Overall, what appears to be dog jealousy is still normal behavior.
Causes of Jealousy in Dogs
Pet experts hypothesize several reasons why dogs get jealous, including being territorial (resource guarding), showing dominance rank, anxiety, and dog parent-oriented behavior.
“The jealous-like behavior dogs may exhibit is more similar to the parent-child dyad than any other human-associated jealousy,” says Rhoades. “This makes sense as the dog-human relationship mirrors parent-child relationships in attachment.”
Let’s go over some more specifics on some of the possible causes of dog jealousy, including whether or not the experts think they truly have an impact.
Do Dogs Get Jealous of Other Dogs?
There are a few studies that have indicated dogs can experience jealous-like behavior over their guardians. A 2021 study indicated that jealousy could start as early as puppyhood, with puppies seen to express an increased desire to get to their caregivers upon seeing them interact with an expressive robot dog .
A 2018 study determined that dog jealousy is not associated with dominance rank and territorial behaviors . The results found that the dogs losing their parent’s attention during an interaction with another dog was not enough by itself to elicit jealous behavior. More specifically, the dogs in this study showed pet parent-oriented behavior (trying to direct the owner’s attention) when presented with a familiar dog rather than an unfamiliar dog.
Do Dogs Get Jealous of Babies?
While new and soon-to-be parents might be concerned that their dog will get jealous when a new baby arrives and the majority of their attention is diverted elsewhere, in general, it seems that babies aren’t the biggest cause of jealous behavior in dogs.
The current studies have indicated that dogs are more likely to show jealous-like behavior when their guardian is interacting with another dog or dog-like figure, according to Rhoades.
Perhaps with babies, it is more the sudden change in patterns and household dynamics that causes a change in the dog’s behavior due to anxiety versus jealousy. “Welcoming a baby into the home changes everyone’s life in the family, and this shift can be confusing as well as stressful for dogs,” says Rhoades.
While other pets and people may be the cause of jealous-like behavior, Rhoades cautions against assuming jealousy is the issue. “Any change in your dog’s behavior should be assessed by a qualified behavior consultant,” she explains. “There are other behaviors which we might label ‘jealousy,’ however have other motivating factors which are best left to an expert to investigate…often we can just dismiss the dog as being jealous when there could be something else going on.” (For example, fear or anxiety could be the cause.)
Dog Jealousy Signs
What are some signs of a potentially jealous dog? Here are a few common behaviors to watch for:
- Pulling on a leash
- Getting between you and the other dog, child, or pet
- Vocal behaviors like whining, barking, and growling
- Pushing or touching another dog or owner
What to Do If Your Dog Is Jealous
As a pet parent, you may experience signs that you might assume are dog jealousy at some point. Determining what to do depends on their behavior as well as the situation at hand.
Bring in a Professional
Dog possessive aggression and jealousy behaviors need to be worked on with a dog behavior professional as soon as possible. “The best course of action if you see your dog acting in a way that you believe to be jealous would be to contact a qualified behavior consultant for individual advice,” advises Rhoades. “I have addressed jealous-like behavior with dogs successfully, but the right approach must be taken to ensure what you’re seeing is jealous-like behavior and the best way to help your dog feel positive about these interactions.”
When it comes to avoiding jealousy surrounding a new baby, Rhoades has some advice. “The best way to help a dog transition is to reach out to a certified dog professional who specializes in babies and children. Ideally, you would do this as soon as you find out that you are pregnant or if you are in the planning stage of bringing a baby home.”
Introduce New Dogs Slowly
What about welcoming a new dog into the mix? Make sure introductions are in a calm, neutral environment (such as the front yard or a local park) and give both dogs time. It’s also a good idea to keep the dogs separate and allow the new dog time and space to relax in a gated off area. And remember, it’s okay for your first dog to see you giving the new dog attention — just make them wait their turn for your attention, then show them love, too.
If you suspect that your dog is jealous, don’t yell at them or punish them. This can make the situation worse by pushing the dog to continue feeling negative about the interactions you are having, Rhoades advises. “This will only cause the feeling to become stronger with your dog, leading to the potential for more negative and elevated interactions in the future.”
Tips for Preventing Dog Jealousy
While you can’t control or prevent anyone’s — including your pets’ — behaviors from happening, you can take steps to minimize the likelihood that your dog will experience dog jealousy.
Redirect. Do not reward a dog’s jealous behavior by reassuring them when they are acting jealous – this reinforces the bad behavior. Instead, if your dog is exhibiting jealous-like behavior, ask them to perform a behavior (such as sit) and reward them with attention or a high-value treat for behaving like a nice dog. This will interrupt the jealous behavior and redirect the dog into behaving in an acceptable manner.
Ensure your dog isn’t anxious or fearful. Sometimes, fearful or anxious behavior can be mistaken for jealousy. If you aren’t sure, schedule a consultation with an expert. It helps to record your dog’s “jealous” behavior so the expert can see what you are talking about.
When in doubt, grab two of everything. Avoid putting dogs in situations where they need to get along or share. If you’re interacting with two dogs, make sure they each get their own resources, including toys, bedding, food, treats, and water.
Change the scenery. If your dog is expressing discomfort, it’s best to remove yourself and your dog from the situation, if possible.
Keep aggression in check. If your pup exhibits aggressive behavior toward another animal or human for any reason, separate your dog from the situation and seek help from a veterinarian or professional dog trainer.
Don’t turn your dog into a social experiment. From time to time, there are trends on social media to do things that provoke jealous-like behavior in dogs (such as the #jealousdogchallenge). “It’s important to not perpetuate these trends,” says Rhoades. “In fact, most dog trends on social media are often ill-advised by qualified dog experts.”
Speak to an expert. “When it comes to behavior patterns, much like humans, dogs tend to evolve into behavior patterns rather than abandon them,” notes Rhoades, adding that if you see elements of what you believe to be jealousy in your dog, it’s better to contact a qualified dog behavior consultant for an evaluation. This way, you can learn more about these patterns of jealous behavior and how they can be remedied before they become permanent.
- Bastos, Amalia P. M. Psychological Science, “Dogs Mentally Represent Jealousy-Inducing Social Interactions.” 2021; https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797620979149
- Abdai, Judit. Nature. “Investigating jealous behaviour in dogs.” 2018 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-27251-1