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Jealousy is the feeling of being envious or protective of something deemed special. It can develop over relationships, people, and even inanimate objects like toys and food. It is difficult to know exactly what emotions pets feel and acknowledge, but jealousy is one that has been studied and documented in dogs.
What Causes Canine Jealousy?
Common objects that inspire jealousy in dogs include time with family and friends, a toy, a bed/personal space, or food items. In 2014, researchers in San Diego completed a study that involved dogs watching their owners interact with different objects, observing their actions and behaviors.
The objects that were used included a stuffed animal that looked like a dog, a jack o’-lantern, and a book. A third of the dogs in the study tried to get between their owners and the stuffed toy or to redirect their owners back to interacting with them. A fourth of the dogs in the study snapped aggressively at the stuffed animal. The researchers further surmised that the remainder of dogs that did not react to the stuffed animal had realized that it wasn’t real and did not perceive it as a threat. No dogs showed jealous actions towards the jack o’-lantern or the book. It was clear from this study that the dogs were jealous of the stuffed toy when their owners were playing with it and their actions further solidified this conclusion.
Objects or actions that trigger jealousy are unique to each dog. These feelings have also been noted in dogs when a new significant other, pet, or baby enters the relationship, which may lead to less personal attention from their pet parent.
Ways to help minimize and avoid jealousy must start by identifying the cause and determining if it is secondary to a person/pet or inanimate object. Once you have identified the inciting cause or causes, you can work toward minimizing and eliminating jealousy.
Tips for Minimizing Jealousy in Dogs
- Establish a routine. Carve out a particular time that is dedicated to your dog. This can be an early morning walk or run before the family wakes up, where you can devote your attention to them specifically.
- Create a relationship with the object of jealousy (if it is a person). This can include having the new person take your dog for walks or car rides, which may get your pup excited to spend time with them. Encourage that new person to shower the dog with positive reinforcement and treats. If the new addition is a small child, safely start to incorporate them into quality time, such as taking them for a short walk in a stroller with your dog, so they slowly become a part of your pet’s routine. As they get older, they can have their own positive relationship with the dog, which can include playing with toys, games of fetch, and supervised treat giving.
- Give each pet personal attention. If the jealousy stems from another pet in the house, create a dedicated time where each animal gets their own attention, exercise, and feeding. If your pets have to fight for time with their pet parents, the jealousy will only worsen. Make sure they each have their own individual relationships with you and are not fighting over attention. Making sure each pet has their own dining area, private crate, and sleeping space can help them escape and relax in a location where they do not have to compete for resources.