You have seen countless times how jealous your beloved dog, Fido, gets when your attention is not on him. Fido’s always been overprotective of you, but you still can’t believe how irritated he gets when you pay attention to the TV, your dinner, your spouse, or goodness, your baby! Fido seems to want your undivided attention all of the time, and although sometimes endearing, his reactions can also be startling. So, startling that you may think that Fido would get jealous of anything, even a random object. Is Fido’s jealousy normal? Is it destructive? Or is it something deeper that has been ingrained into his DNA?
The Root of the Behavior
Why does your sweet Fido get jealous? It may go back to basic needs such as attention seeking, obtaining food, and perhaps most importantly, the need for affection. It turns out that this common dog behavior is also quite common in babies. As a matter of fact, a recent study by Dr. Christine Harris, a researcher at U.C. San Diego, ended up performing a study on dogs that was originally performed on babies. This is just another reminder that dogs and humans are not so different, after all. The study involved a realistic-looking fake dog that barked and made other dog noises. Various owners of dogs were instructed to play with the fake dog and ignored their own dog. The heartbroken real dog had to watch and endure the whole process. The dogs in the study were not fans of being ignored.
Owners also performed the experiment by giving attention to a jack-o-lantern and then a children’s book, instead of their beloved canines. All procedures demonstrated similar results. In both cases, the real dogs showed various signs of aggression, such as raised tails, growling, and curled lips. The dogs also would go out of their way to seek attention and attempted to steal the spotlight from the fake dog, jack-o-lantern, and children’s book. The dogs yapped, whined repeatedly, and pushed against their ignoring owners. They seemed desperate for attention, jealous, and irritated at the whole process. Poor Fido! The study was similar to one done with babies and their mothers, in which the mothers ignored the baby and paid attention to a doll.
It has always been well-known that dogs display basic instincts such as hunger, fear, etc., but this study exemplifies the fact that dogs are much more complex and are capable of higher and more abstract feelings than we sometimes give them credit for.
Encouraging the Behavior
Most likely, your dog is not going to stop being jealous any time soon. And, according to Harris, it seems that the dogs are just trying to maintain their social relationships and protect their owners. After all, your dog just wants your unconditional love. Still, it is possible that Fido’s jealousy may become an annoyance, and if this is the case, there are some steps to decrease this behavior.
One way to control this behavior is by paying more attention to your canine. Now lives get busy, and this, of course, is not always possible, but make some extra effort to show Fido you care. It might be a wise idea to put aside at least 30 minutes a day to show your pooch your undivided attention: wrestle, throw balls, or throw in some extra training sessions. It’s also evident that jealousy is provoked by certain situations, such as the arrival of a new baby, ignoring your dog, and paying attention to anything other than your precious pooch. One thing is for sure, if you continuously ignore and/or direct your attention towards someone or something else, your dog will get jealous, and this is a complex emotion that is not just displayed in humans. So, what can you do about it?
Other Solutions and Considerations
Although you may know that the jealousy is coming from the need for your affection, it’s important that you set boundaries with Fido. One way to do this is to provide your dog with a command when he displays signs of jealousy. For example, if Fido is trying to nip at another dog that is trying to sniff you, say, “Sit!” and train Fido to be obedient during a fit of jealousy.
It’s also important to pay attention to Fido’s triggers. For example, does he get jealous more because of a change in routine? Have you been spending more time at work? Did you just have a new baby? Does Fido get defensive when you are around other dogs? Knowing these triggers can help you to control and decrease Fido’s jealousy.
Just like with humans, sometimes jealousy can lead to serious problems. Some dogs are more jealous than others, and if your dog snarls, and nips, etc. it might be time to seek some more professional training. Sometimes “Sit!” will simply not do. It really depends on your dog’s temperament and the specific situation, and you are the best judge to what kind of training your dog needs.
The discovery that dogs do get jealous proves that Fido is more similar to humans than we may have previously thought. This concept is no longer far-fetched. Still, it is not a behavior that should be overly encouraged. It is important that you recognize what triggers your dog’s jealousy, as well as possible ways to de-escalate the problem. If you know that your dog gets jealous of a jack-o-lantern (which apparently is the norm), you may want to have some commands in mind. But remember, Fido just wants your attention and puppy love.