How to handle your dog's jealousy

Jealous dog canagan

Credit: Victor Grabarczyk (Unsplash)

We share such a special bond with our dogs. They offer unconditional love, companionship and entertainment; in turn, we’re the centre of their world. So, when your companion sees their favourite human showing affection to another pet or person, they may naturally feel jealous.

You may have introduced a new dog or cat to the household with the greatest intentions of giving your canine company. You might be growing your family with a baby or taking your relationship with a new partner to the next level. It’s important to be mindful of the impact this can have on a devoted dog. If they start seeking attention more aggressively, it’s wise to take a closer look at any recent changes to your home life. We have examined the signs of pet jealousy, reasons behind such behaviour and how to combat it.

Dogs experience jealousy, just like us

It’s scientifically proven that dogs feel jealousy. Whether it’s envy as we humans know it, or a manifestation of instinctive dog behaviour like guarding their territory or re-directed excitement, the green-eyed monster does rear its head behind those cute puppy dog eyes. Unlike us however, dogs can’t say how they feel. So, they channel their frustration in unsociable and possessive behaviours.

Why does my dog get jealous?

Dogs are pack creatures that have evolved over time to become domestic animals living side-by-side with humans. This pack mentality means they view you as their leader. So, when a new member infiltrates the pack — whether it’s a new pup or person around the home — your companion may naturally feel threatened and insecure. They’re no longer your second-in-command but need to grapple for dominance. Your jealous companion now has a rival for your attention and love; plus, from a survival instinct point-of-view, their share of food and sleeping space (especially if there’s a second pet pitter pattering around).

What are the signs of jealousy?

  • Crowding your space — It’s natural for your dog to follow you devotedly and enjoy every second of your company. If they’re a little too ardent, separation anxiety may be at play. But if you notice that your dog pushes in between you and your loved one, whether you’re hugging a family member or snuggling another pet, they may be jealous. They may also paw repeatedly at you
  • Distracting with destruction — A jealous dog that notices their beloved owner’s attention is elsewhere may claw at or destroy an item in your home until they become an object of interest again (if for the wrong reason)
  • Aggression — Your dog growling, snarling or snapping in your direction (or the person / pup evoking jealousy) are warning signs that they aren’t comfortable. They may lash out, commonly by biting or nibbling (in puppies especially). They may pounce on a furry ‘frenemy’ who will either recognise their spot in the pecking order and lower themselves obediently, or respond with physical force
  • Whining — An unpleasant sound, but one they can guarantee will pull your attention away from your conversation or cuddle
  • Bad toilet habits — If your companion is well-trained and knows they should only go to the toilet outdoors, a dirty protest indoors is a red flag. Your dog is seeking attention and trying to tell you they’re upset

How to help your jealous dog

  • Training — Puppy training sessions may feel like a distant memory, but feel reassured that it’s never too late to teach a dog new tricks. Practise basic directions like “sit”, “stay”, “come” and “go to your bed”. This will reinforce your leadership and role as ‘alpha'. Then, if your companion starts acting unacceptably, you’ll feel confident to use these commands and manage a difficult situation
  • Ignore unwanted behaviour — Our pups can get a thrill from a response, be it positive or negative. If your dog growls, whines or paws at you, walk away or don’t react. Show them that you won’t indulge naughty habits
  • Reward good behaviour — Offer your companion treats and attention when they’re calm so they recognise that good behaviour is well-received. For example, ask your dog to “sit” before you put their lead on for a walk, or stay “down” before receiving a snack
  • Socialise your pet — If your companion flares up at a new person entering your life, acclimatise them early. Introduce a newcomer to your companion in an environment they’re comfortable in or a scenario they’re familiar with. If your furry friend senses there’s an imbalance at home and acts territorial, invite your new partner on a walk or push the baby’s pram through a park. Why not ask your loved one to practise commands with your pup? They will soon recognise this once unfamiliar person as part of their pack
  • Remove triggers — You might not be the only object of your pup’s affections. For example, toys or a juicy bone can trigger jealous and impulsive behaviour. If you have two or more dogs, equality is key
  • Keep calm and carry on — With time and training your dog will combat jealous behaviours. Love and accept them for who they are. Try not to let your worry or frustration show, as dogs can detect tone, facial expressions and low mood. If you let stress wash over you, your companion will feel calm too. Just like us, their wellbeing and resulting behaviour relies on a balance of exercise, good nutrition and quality sleep so ensure these are all in check too
  • Note the social cues — Watch and listen out for your companion’s behaviour so you can act accordingly. You’ll also be well-equipped for an expert’s questions if the need arises
  • Seek professional help if the issue persists — Whether it’s a vet, pet behavioural specialist or trainer, there are wonderful experts out there who can help your companion curb their jealousy and offer you advice
  • Call on a pet-sitter or familiar friend — For major events like the day a baby arrives or introducing a new dog to the family, ask a trusted friend or pet sitter to look after your pup so you can focus your full attention on a special occasion without worrying that your companion might interfere

How to prepare a jealous dog for a new baby

Welcoming a new baby into the world is such a magical moment, but dogs don’t necessarily see the positives. To ease the transition, it’s important to desensitise your dog to the baby — a bundle of joy who will grow up wishing to lavish attention on their cute companion. To start the process, wave an object or piece of clothing belonging to the baby in front of your pet. Give them a treat if they successfully smell the item and remain calm.

No matter how angelic your dog is around you at the best of times, never leave them unattended around a baby or small child. If you feel comfortable, keep your dog on the lead so you can gain control of them easily while in a social situation.

How to prepare a jealous dog for a new pet

How to prepare your dog for a new pet

Credit: KaLisa Veer (Unsplash)

Introducing a new pet into the family is another truly exciting time, but again this changes the household dynamic. Your first companion may feel neglected when everyone else is cooing over the new pup. This sadness risks turning into jealousy or anger. They’ll also see the newbie as an intruder who’s invaded their territory.

  • Introduce your two furry friends on neutral ground, so away from the home (which your companion will class as theirs). This is a level playing ground, where you are firmly established as the leader while they are equals. Your dog will therefore feel less threatened when the new companion returns home with you both
  • Stick to the same routine as normal — It’s natural to lavish attention on your gorgeous new addition, but respect that your older dog will be feeling delicate and conscious of their territory
  • Separate your dogs during sleep and mealtimes — Evolutionarily speaking, food and sleep are vital to survival. If these are thrown into jeopardy, hostile behaviour can ensure. Keep your dogs away from one another while they’re refreshing themselves. Quality sleep and happy tummies make for content, co-operative companions
  • Treat them together — Offer tasty treats when both dogs are sitting politely on their beds or once they have been successfully dried after a rainy walk. They’ll brush up on their obedience skills and a jealous dog will associate the new companion with positive behaviour
  • Experiment with shared walkies — Take them on walkies together, too; they’ll settle into a pack mentality trotting happily alongside one another and sniffling the outdoors delights. Keep a close eye on your companion that’s prone to jealousy; they may need a separate stroll while they acclimatise to a new home life

When a dog loves deeply, it’s natural for jealousy to manifest. Yes, you’re the centre of their world — but your world keeps turning. Meeting new people and moving onto a new chapter keeps life exciting. Don’t be deterred or upset by your companion’s behaviour; involve them in the adventure and enjoy the experience of uniting those you care most about — soon they’ll be in puppy love, too.