If you’ve ever been to a dog park or a house with multiple dogs, you’ve probably experienced a swarm of dogs all vying for your attention. You may even feel pressure to make sure you give all of them some love, so no one feels left out.
Although dogs will undoubtedly compete for affection, people have often wondered if they feel the same kind of jealousy humans do.
So, if you’ve ever watched your pup seem to give you the side-eye because you’re petting another dog, this article is for you.
Is My Dog Jealous?
For a long time, scientists denied that dogs could get jealous simply because a secondary emotion like envy requires a heightened level of self-awareness.
As an emotion, jealousy requires awareness of the situation and the ability to compare yourself to another. Many people wrote off dogs’ ability to feel jealous simply because they didn’t believe they were capable of that level of cognition.
However, if you observe a canine mother with her litter of puppies, you can see jealousy patterns. If the mother perceives that her puppies are getting more attention than she is, she may ignore the puppies or block them from coming back to the nesting area.
While dog mothers are significantly less nurturing in the long term than human mothers, this instinct shows that dogs possess the ability to assess their surroundings and exhibit emotions based on their perceptions.
Dogs have the hormone oxytocin, like humans, which signals responses to social interactions. For humans, oxytocin is involved with expressions of love and jealousy, and there’s no reason to believe that dogs are any different.
A Brief Study
At the University of Vienna, Friederike Range conducted a study to test if dogs could exhibit jealousy. The test was simple: two dogs sat next to each other and were both asked to “shake hands” with a human. The catch? Only one dog got a reward for completing the trick.
The dog that wasn’t getting the treats quickly caught on to the fact that his counterpart was receiving treats and stopped responding to the “shake” request. The dog began to show signs of stress and frustration that the other pup was getting preferential treatment.
To prove that this reaction came from envy, they performed the same test with the dogs in different rooms. When there wasn’t a partner to compare themselves to, the dog kept performing the trick without reward for longer without signs of anxiety or annoyance.
Signs of a Jealous Dog
- Exhibiting Aggressive Behavior: if your dog is looking for your undivided attention, they may try to nibble on you to get you to notice them.
- Disregarding Their Potty Training: if your dog has been potty trained since they were a puppy, but they look you in the eye and squat in the house, chances are they’re jealous. Like teenagers go through “phases,” your dog may be acting out simply for attention.
- Giving You Extra Love: If your dog sees you giving someone else attention, they may be extra lovey with you to show their affection for you and remind you that they also need your attention.
- Being Pushy: If a dog can’t subtly gain your attention, they may try to act out in a more obvious way to get you to pay attention to them.
- Growling, Hissing, or Fighting with Other Pets: Your dog may turn to a primal instinct to mark its territory. Or, in this case, to claim their human.
- Doing a Trick: If your dog starts performing an impromptu circus act, it could be a sign that they want you to remember how amazing they are and show them love.
- Getting Up in Your Business: Your dog may not get jealous of other dogs or people, but if you work from home and they see you giving your computer more attention, then all bets are off. They might try to wedge their head in between you and your work or get really close to you to try to get you to abandon your work and cuddle them.
- Leaving the Room: Sometimes, when dogs get mad, they just leave the room. It’s the most dramatic response they can give because it forces you to go find them and apologize.
Why Do Dogs Get Jealous?
Sometimes dogs get jealous because they feel insecure and want your undivided attention. Other times, their envy is sparked by their territorial nature, and they want to keep you to themselves.
Jealousy in dogs can also be triggered by scenarios such as a new routine, a new baby, a new dog, or something else that prevents them from getting their regularly scheduled time with their humans.
What Can I Do If My Dog Exhibits Jealousy Towards Other People or Dogs?
Like all other habits, you can help your dog control its jealousy through practice and patience.
In multi-dog homes (or when dog-sitting for a friend), you can:
- Give all the dogs an equal amount of attention
- Provide each dog with their own space
- Feed them separately to prevent food-related aggression
- Ignore all your pets when you first come home, so it doesn’t look like you’re giving preference to one over the other
- Have toys for each dog and supervise playtime with food-based toys (like Kongs)
- Reward your dog for not showing jealousy towards the others in the home
With dogs that are jealous of other humans, you can:
- Allow your dog to sniff something (like a piece of clothing) that smells like the person they’re jealous of so they become more comfortable around them
- Have them practice interacting with the person while on a leash so you can control their behavior
- Reward them for acting calm around the person
So the next time you come home after petting another dog, and your dog starts sniffing you up and down as if to ask, “Well, where have YOU been?” just give them lots of love to remind them how much you care about them.
After all, they probably just want your attention.