Anyone who lives in a multi-pet home has probably experienced some sort of canine jealousy, whether it’s as minor as a forlorn look when there’s treat inequity or as major as a scuffle during snuggle time. Though the exact degree of emotional complexity in dogs is still unknown, but there’s little doubt that our dogs experience jealousy.
What does canine jealousy look like? Dogs that are feeling the pangs of seemingly unfair treatment might react by shoving in front of another pet or person, pawing, barking, whining, growling or snapping. In sibling dogs, the intensity of the jealous reaction is often related to dogs’ overall relationship (for example, if there are simmering hierarchical tensions between dogs, jealous reactions might be more dramatic).
Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate your dog’s jealous behavior.
How to Manage Jealousy Between Dogs
You never want to reward a dog for inappropriate behavior, and even though some jealous reactions can be adorable (and make you feel very loved), it’s important to address them to keep the household peace. Check your own reactions to make sure that you’re not inadvertently reinforcing the jealousy with attention or laughter. Acknowledging the behavior can keep it alive.
To address jealousy when one dog pushes in front of the other during a petting session, first make sure that there are no food-guarding issues between your dogs (if you’re worried about altercations between your dogs over using treats in semi-close proximity, seek professional help). If there aren’t, grab a pocket full of everyday treats and begin petting your non-pushy dog. Before your jealous dog has a chance to act out, toss a treat a few steps beyond where he’s standing so that he has to run away from you and the dog you’re petting in order to grab it. Slip your non-pushy dog a treat while your other dog is fetching his goody, just so he doesn’t consider chasing the tossed treat as well.
Continue petting your non-pushy dog and toss another treat to your pushy dog when he returns, but before he has a chance to butt into the petting action. Try to land each successive treat a little closer to where you’re petting the non-pushy dog. The goal of this exercise is to pair the snuggles you’re giving to the non-pushy dog with the goodies your pushy dog is getting, so that he starts to think that you loving up on his sibling equals goodies for him. Tossing the treats turns it into a game and puts some distance between you and the non-pushy dog as you give his sibling love.
Once your pushy dog starts looking at you expectantly for the next treat while you pet your other dog, make him work before he gets his goody. Ask him to sit and praise him heartily while you pet your other dog, then give him the treat rather than tossing it.
Continue rewarding your pushy dog for maintaining his calm until you notice that he’s no longer trying to push his way into the action. From there, wean him down from treats to a mix of verbal praise with the occasional treat. With practice, you should be able to divide your time between your pushy and non-pushy dogs without a jealous reaction.
How to Manage Jealousy with People
Some dogs react to their people kissing, hugging or dancing with over-the-top displays of jealousy. From barking to pawing at the couple, these dogs seem to convey that public displays of affection are not okay. But dogs can easily learn to accept snuggles that don’t include them if you break the process down into pieces.
Similar to dog-on-dog jealousy, it’s important to watch how you react to your dog’s jealous displays. If you want to stop these behaviors, you have to ignore them. Outline all of the scenarios that trigger your dog. If your dog doesn’t like it when you stand up and give your partner a hug, break down the entire hugging process into small approximations of the finished behavior. The goal is to defuse each step of the process for your dog.
To start, grab a pocket full of high-value treats. Perform the first step of the hugging sequence that doesn’t elicit a reaction (it might be as minor as just turning to face your partner) and give your dog a treat for remaining calm. Repeat this process several times, checking to make sure your dog is remaining calm, then add the next step of the sequence (this might be reaching out your arms to one another). Try just this movement and reward your dog for not reacting. If your dog starts to revert back to his jealous behavior at any step in the process, go back to the last behavior he found “acceptable” and add just a half step of the next behavior. If reaching out to one another doesn’t elicit a reaction but moving closer together does, try reaching out and only leaning your bodies towards one another instead of taking a step. Don’t forget to reward your pup for remaining calm.
Continue to build each incremental step to the finished behavior, making sure that your dog is happily accepting your actions and is more interested in earning a treat than reacting to your hug. Once your dog is calm throughout the behavior, you can reserve the treat until you’ve completed the sequence.
Over time, wean down to only occasional treats for tolerating the behavior, and once hugging is officially no big deal, you can stop rewarding the behavior and just enjoy a drama-free, multi-species love fest.