Do Pets Suffer from Middle Child Syndrome?
Your pet won’t sign up for talk therapy, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a hint of sibling rivalry going on in your multi-pet household. For example, do you have a pet who’s bossier than another? Do you have one who seems needier? What would happen if you were to introduce a new pet into your home?
A new personality can throw off the household balance for a few weeks as everyone figures out their place in the new pack.
Sometimes, conflict can be age-related. Maybe your older dog has eye problems, and you have to give them drops twice a day. This added attention may lead to added affection, which will be noted by your younger dogs. You might even have a nagging feeling that you have limited time with your oldest, most senior pup, leading to more one-on-one time.
There’s a good chance that your other dogs will feel jealous, but will the middle child feel especially forlorn? How do you know if it’s “middle child syndrome”? Do they have to be true siblings to feel isolated from the pack?
What Is Middle Child Syndrome?
According to Parents.com, middle children often feel overlooked. They’re not confident overachievers like first-born kids, and they’re not doted on like the baby. As a result, the middle kids are often characterized as people-pleasers – they can be the peacekeepers in the family. They can also feel misunderstood.
Now you might be thinking that’s all well and good for people, but do your dogs and cats really feel the same way?
Do your middle-of-the-pack pets feel overlooked and misunderstood? To find out more, we got input from two pet specialists and dog trainers.
Why a Dog or Cat Might Feel Left Out
Rover’s Nicole Ellis is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and former celebrity trainer on Amazon Prime’s The Pack,” spending thousands of hours studying feline and canine personality and behavior.
She says, “These days, dogs are part of the family. We love, interact, and provide attention to our pets as we do to our children, so in theory, many of the same psychological principles and syndromes can apply. Often, when a family has three dogs, the attention is primarily divided between the eldest dog, who may be a senior and need extra care, and the younger puppy-like dog, which also requires additional attention. This leaves the middle dog with the smallest section of the pie chart. A dog that receives unequal attention can sometimes act out in jealousy or boredom. I don’t think sibling dogs would need to be from the same litter for this to happen, because once they become part of your family, that becomes their new pack.”
Age Isn’t the Only Factor
Kimberly Archer is a Pet Behavior Technician at Courteous Canine Inc. in Lutz, Florida. She says, “Just like human children, pet behaviors are impacted by the parents’ behavior and treatment of them. Many psychologists argue that ‘middle child syndrome’ seems to result from parents’ actions, and I would argue that the same can occur in pets. However, there are many factors to consider in pets other than just age. Suppose you adopt an adult Belgian Malinois that requires lots of exercise and training. In that case, a baby Frenchie may still feel left out due to their lower care needs and act out for attention.”
In other words, just like children of the two-legged variety, your fur-kids might feel a little sibling rivalry because of perceived additional attention given to another.
Cats might choose to “miss” the litter box. In some cases, they may feel abandoned and, as a result, engage in unpleasant behaviors. Dogs might chew your shoes and couch cushions or bark a lot. It might be more obvious, like nosing the “sibling” out of the way if you’re cozying up with another pet on the couch.
In some cases, they may act aggressively toward their siblings by hissing or baring their teeth.
How to Prevent Sibling Rivalry in Pets
You want to ensure you give every pet personal attention. If you have a high-maintenance pet and a low-maintenance one, try to divide your attention, so everyone feels included.
You know how when you’re petting and praising one pet, another pet wants in on the action? This is normal, and it goes back to their birth. While dogs and cats are not likely to know their birth order, and they may very well not live with their littermates, that doesn’t mean there’s not a healthy sense of competition.
The best way you can manage a multi-pet household is to practice positive reinforcement equally. Praise everyone and don’t reward bad behavior.
If you have two pets and add a third, there will be an adjustment period for everyone. That’s to be expected. If you can, build in extra one-on-one time with your original pets so they still feel validated.
It can be tough to balance the emotional needs of a multi-pet household, but it’s certainly never dull!