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Your Happy Pet: Does your dog get jealous?

Original Publication Date: October 14, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

For years, it was accepted that when dogs exhibited apparent emotions like jealousy, anger, fear, shame and guilt the behaviors were based on instinct rather than emotions.

New research is proving that theory wrong. One recent study shows that given cause, your sweet, much-loved pup might turn green with envy.

University of California psychology professor Christine Harris and colleague Caroline Prouvost documented the reactions of 36 small dogs in their homes as each watched his human interact with three inanimate objects.

Owners petted and sweet-talked a toy dog that could whine, bark and wag his tail. Each owner also gave attention to a pumpkin pail and read aloud from a pop-up book that played music.

A significant 78 percent of the pups pushed or touched the owner when he interacted with the fake dog. Almost a third of the dogs tried to place themselves between the owner and the toy dog, and 25 percent snapped at the toy.

Surprisingly, 86 percent of the dogs sniffed the stuffed animal's rear end. The researchers concluded the dogs viewed the toy dog as an interloper and a true threat. In comparison, 42 percent of the pups were upset over their owner's attention to the pail, and only 22 percent were bothered when their owner focused on and read from a book.

Jealousy might manifest in your dog as sulking, snarling, growling, fighting, sluggishness or loss of appetite.

There are steps you should take if you introduce a new addition into your family and jealousy appears. Maintain your established routine with your dog as it was before the new person or pet arrived.

The new arrival may cause your dog to fear losing his place in your life, so regular feeding, walking and play times will reassure him of your love. Then, spend a bit of extra time with your dog to convince him of your affection, and encourage the new addition to also play with, pet and spend quality time with your dog.

The take-home lesson is to watch for signs of jealousy in your dog if you bring a new person or pet into your life. Your dog thinks he is part of your family or pack and may not wish to share you with a new individual. From his point of view, he was with you first and has worked hard to be loyal and affectionate. That is true, but you must remain alpha.

Gently scold negative behavior and reward positive behavior with words of praise, lots of petting and treats.

Current research indicates that, like humans, dogs display strong distress when a rival tries to steal a loved one's affections. The University of California study reveals dogs value social relationships, engage in what appears to be jealous behavior and try to break the connection between their owner and a perceived rival.


Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at holistictouchtherapy.com