Handling Jealousy Among Pets

Behavior and Training  •   Pam Karkow  •   Dec 19, 2016

The other day I was visiting a friend. Her dog was jumping all around her, whimpering and crying. The reason? She was cuddling a baby and her dog was jealous. I can certainly relate as I remember so well a similar situation when we brought our first baby home from the hospital. In an effort to get closer to me and receive the kind of attention I was giving our newborn, our golden put her paw up and scratched our little one’s forehead. As upset as I was, I had to try to understand that our sweet puppy dog didn’t mean to hurt our baby, she just felt replaced.

You may find your pet competing not only with your human children, but also with his four legged counterparts. Do dogs really get jealous? Jealousy in Dogs, a study of 36 dogs conducted by Christine R. Harris and Caroline Prouvost, set out to find the answer to this question. They asked dog owners, with their own dogs present, to interact alternately with an animatronic dog, an interactive book, and a toy pumpkin. The findings? “The owners’ pleasant praise and gentle petting of the robot dog invoked more of a jealous response by the canine subjects as compared to their responses to the owners’ comparable attentiveness to the book (which played music and featured pop-up pages) and jack-o’-lantern.”

So, what to do when your dog or cat is jealous? For starters, read our post, What Your Dog Should Expect When You’re Expecting, to get some ideas on how to prepare your dog for the introduction of a new baby. Then, see our Dos and Don’ts below.

DO make sure you spend equal time with your pets. This will head off jealousy before it starts. In her blog post, 3 Tips for Giving Your Dogs Equal Attention, Rebekah Olsen shares her ideas for making sure your pets get the same amount of attention.

DON’T shoo your dog away. In the feature The Vets Will See You Now in the February 2016 issue of Real Simple magazine, animal trainer Mikkel Becker recommends ignoring jealous behavior. If you are giving your cat attention and your dog tries to get in the way, first try ignoring the behavior, and if that doesn’t work, command him to sit. “Any attention, even if it’s negative, can be construed as a reward and reinforce the habit,” Becker says. Once your dog sits, you can finish cuddling your cat, and then give your dog the same love. Soon, your dog will learn that he can count on receiving love and attention from you.

DO teach obedience skills one on one. Commands such as sit, down, stay, watch me, leave it, walk nicely, and come are all important life skills each of your dogs needs to know. Certified dog trainer and animal behavior consultant Liz Palika recommends training individually, since teaching these exercises as a group can be difficult. In her blog post, 7 Suggestions for Training Multiple Dogs, Palika suggests walking your dogs separately at first, to teach them how to walk nicely on a leash. She also recommends going to a room or separate space and closing the door to work with each dog one on one. “After a training session with the first dog, then rotate and work with the second dog. There are many ways you can do this; it’s just a matter of getting in the habit of doing it,” says Palika.

DON’T play favorites. Although it may be hard to resist coddling the sweetest (and there’s always one in the pack), Palika says it can only lead to strife and competition among your brood. She does have one exception though. “That said, I do pet (feed, leash, groom, or play with) one dog first. I always give the oldest dog attention first and then the two younger dogs. I feel the oldest deserves attention first and so I give it to him. My dogs don’t take issue with this though as it’s the normal routine.” My good friend and dog lover agrees. When she adopted her second dog, she let him know that his senior companion would be fed first and be let out first. Rank has its privileges, right?

Caring for multiple pets can multiply the love and affection in your home, but it’s important to recognize that humans aren’t the only species capable of jealousy. You must be willing to put in the work and care it requires to head off envy before it begins brewing.

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