Do dogs feel jealousy?
Jealousy is a complex emotion which requires high cognitive capacity, and it was long assumed that animals do not experience it. But in the last couple of decades, psychologists have shown that dogs do feel jealousy.
Are dogs jealous when we give attention to other dogs? Yes. In one 2021 study which was published in Psychological Science, researchers found that dogs pulled hard on their leads and sometimes barked and whined to reach owners when they could see them bending to stroke a fake “dog”. Another study examined dogs’ jealousy when the owner gave attention to an animatronic dog, an unusual object (jack-o-lantern) and a book. Dogs responded with greater energy when their owners petted the other “dog”. They didn’t mind when their owners looked at a book or an object, but were jealous when they believed that there was a rival, maybe sensing that their own relationship with the owner was at risk.
Do dogs get jealous over people?
One 2012 study showed that dogs were jealous when owners attended to babies (which were role-played by dolls in the research) as well as other dogs. Well, we’re not surprised: a new baby demands a lot of attention. Doted-on dogs can become a little neglected when a newborn arrives.
There is little evidence that dogs feel jealous of their owners’ relationships with other adults. But they can become uncomfortable with someone who moves into their territory. This might be displayed in protective behaviours. If you have introduced a new person to your dog’s routine they might be unsettled or anxious about the change – it’s not necessarily jealousy.
Why do dogs feel jealousy?
The 2014 study by Harris & Provoust showed that “jealousy has some ‘primordial’ form that exists in human infants and in at least one other social species [dogs]”. They observed 14 breeds of dog while their owners pretended to pet a fake dog and their results suggest that jealousy is somewhat instinctive, rather than learned.
We do know that dogs form close bonds with their owners. Anecdotally, dogs grieve lost owners and celebrate when owners return. Many dogs form a close relationship with just one person and they get a lot of joy from receiving attention from that person. Dogs may also have a sense of rivalry due to their ancestry as pack animals. Either way, they’re not happy about “their” attention going elsewhere.
But psychologists are quick to note that dog jealousy is probably not exactly the same emotion as human jealousy. We are yet to find out how it operates in the dog’s mind.
Signs that your dog is jealous
These are the most common signs that your dog is jealous:
- Pushing or touching you when you are giving attention to something else
- Attempting to push or move the object, animal or person
- Standing erect, with their tail raised
- Trying to get between you and the person or animal
- Snapping or growling
- Aggressive behavior such as barking or biting (you or the other person or dog)
- Seeking attention from you or being extra clingy – nudging you with their nose to get attention
- Showing off or doing silly things like carrying shoes around to impress you
How to manage jealousy in your dog
You’re not over-anthropomorphising if you think your dog might be jealous. Researchers have shown that it’s feasible. But jealousy is manageable through training and if that fails, you could consider keeping your dog apart from the object of jealousy.
Jealousy produces stress and negative associations for your dog, and they remember stuff like that. It’s not nice for the dog or for you, so here are some suggestions for handling a jealous dog:
Reward good behavior
Always the best approach. When your dog is behaving beautifully – staying calmly at your feet in the presence of the new person or animal – reward them with praise and treats. If you have a new baby, feed your dog treats beside the baby, and stroke your dog while baby if on your lap. No matter how much you believe you can trust your dog, never leave them alone with your baby.
If your dog ever got jealous in the past, they’ll remember it. So you will have to remember those situations and try to avoid them, where possible.
If your dog has to learn to live with another animal or person, divide your attention fairly so that they learn to wait and expect their share. Your dog might have to lie on her bed a bit more often now. But make sure that she gets a game of fetch sometimes, too.
Don’t deliberately do anything that makes your dog jealous. It is not a game or a source of amusement to them.
The most sensitive dog breeds
Many dog breeds are known to have a sensitive tendency. This means they’ll have a close bond with their owner, and enjoy affection.
But there’s a downside to this sensitivity. It also means they can have their feelings hurt. They might be clingy; they could get stressed when they are left alone or get in trouble.
Of course, this type of breed could suit your lifestyle. If you want a pet who will be your best friend and closest companion, choose a loving dog who puts his heart into everything he does. For a dog who will adore you (in return for equal adoration), check out these heart-warming breeds!
The Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd develops a close bond with its owner.
Look into those soulful eyes: if you are looking for a dog to provide emotional support, the Australian Shepherd could be the one. Offering eternal loyalty and an energetic personality, the Australian Shepherd is a traditional herding dog. But it’s intelligent and surprisingly intuitive, making a good companion for an active owner. If an Aussie gets bored, jealous or develops any opinion that contradicts yours, they won’t hesitate to let you know with the full extent of their vocal powers but their super intelligent natures make them well suited to training.
The French Bulldog
This very popular dog has a heart as soft as marshmallow – but can easily have its feelings hurt. It was raised as a companion dog and is utterly devoted to its owners, whether that’s one person or five.
But take care to keep training positive and upbeat, because a scolded Frenchie might give you the silent treatment! The AKC describes the French Bulldog as adaptable, which means that it can cope with change despite its sensitive nature. (Good news if you plan to expand your family in the future...)
The Golden Retriever
When stressed, the Golden Retriever might pace, bark, or ask to be let out more than usual. This soft and humble family dog has a big heart (and is an excellent source of comfort when you are distressed) but will notice changes in circumstances and can be seen to look sad.
However, the Golden Retriever is intelligent and can be trained to adapt to change. If a new baby or partner arrives, you can gently accustom your Goldie to their presence: use lots of their favorite treats. With plenty of attention, play, and good food, Golden Retrievers will get their waggy tails back!
The Border Collie
The Border Collie is intensely intelligent – usually rated in the top 3 of the world’s smartest dogs – and, often, totally charming. It’s this eagerness-to-please that makes the Collie such a brilliant herding and agility dog, since they’ll do anything for a beloved owner. They’re often said to be highly tuned-in to their owners’ feelings, and will reflect sadness, staying close to their owners when needed.
Because they’re sensitive dogs, a Collie will not take reprimands well – but will respond beautifully to positive and encouraging training. In fact, they need training and activity to keep their brains busy. Properly exercised, a Border Collie will be a devoted family pet.
The Brussels Griffon
Another sensitive dog which requires an upbeat trainer, the Brussels Griffon dislikes reprimands and insults. They are extremely loyal and will follow their chosen human like a shadow, which means that they can actually be trained very well.
The Brussels Griffon is said to be curious and bold, which can lead to some entertaining adventures! Adaptability may not be their strong suit, and introducing another dog probably won’t be easy. This very sweet and smart dog is the best companion for a single adult who will usually be at home.
The Cocker Spaniel
The Cocker Spaniel is, literally and metaphorically, a total softie. Wonderfully affectionate and charming with children, a socialized Cocker is probably the perfect family pet.
But this dog can be a little cautious around new dogs and strangers, and will be anxious if you start using punishments or reprimands. Like most of the sensitive breeds, the Cocker responds best to gentle training. Use treats or games – especially when you introduce changes or people to the home – to get the best from this fun and loving dog.