Maybe you just got a new dog, and your older dog isn't loving it. Or maybe you have two dogs, and one is always looking for all of the attention. No matter the reason, you might sense that if you treat your dogs differently, one feels that they are getting the short end of the stick.
Can dogs really sense if we're playing favorites, though? Research says, they can to an extent, and it might not be a great thing for your pups' relationship if you're picking one over the other.
Signs Your Dog Knows You're Playing Favorites
Something important to keep an eye on if you get a new dog is how your older dog is feeling. Dogs are great students of routine, and if their routine gets interrupted or they aren’t getting as much attention as they are used to, they might become sad.
A few signs to watch for include whining or howling when you’re interacting with your other dog. You might also notice your dog staring intently at what you’re doing and tilting their head. Your dog might even try to jump up on you to get your attention. If they do any of these things, don’t be quick to brush them off - play with both of your pups.
Changes are hard for everyone, including your pooch. Another thing to keep an eye on is your dog becoming aggressive toward a new family member, dog or other species. If your dog starts to become more erratic, bites, or tries to pick a fight with the new family member, it’s important to note and correct that behavior immediately. You want to keep everyone safe.
History of Dogs Sensing Favoritism
For many years, people have known that their pups don't like it when they play favorites. In fact, the research goes back several years on jealousy and favoritism in dogs.
A former dog owner recently recounted asking her dad if they could get a puppy to keep their older dog company, over 10 years ago. Her dad told her it wasn't a good idea because he thought that his kids would play with the puppy and leave the older dog out, making the older dog unhappier than if he didn't have another dog to keep him company. There are many stories like this from older adults with the same philosophy.
Another dog owner recently mentioned that his dogs play favorites with their humans. One dog will pick his human dad 100% of the time, while the other pup always picks her mom. It’s curious that dogs can even pick favorites, themselves.
It's also interesting to note that dogs aren't the only animal species that can get jealous. There have been reports about other domestic animals in the home that also get jealous of one another as well as pick their own favorites.
Science Behind Dogs Sensing Favoritism
In an article written by NPR in 2008, they detailed several studies done with different animals. The first was conducted by researchers Frans de Waal and Sarah Brosnan.
They started with a study that involved monkeys and favoritism. The gist is that researchers rewarded the monkeys for handing them rocks. Some monkeys received cucumbers and others received grapes. When the monkeys that got cucumbers saw that others were getting a sweeter reward (grapes), they would get agitated and stop giving the researchers the rocks.
Later, the researchers did another study with dogs where they had the dogs perform a trick, but they rewarded some dogs with wheat bread and other dogs with white bread. The dogs didn't seem to care about the difference in treats. They did however care if they didn't receive a treat. So, it's pretty convincing that animals can sense favoritism and can get jealous. It just varies by degree.
Training Your Dog to Not be Jealous
As far as training your pup to not be jealous, just like humans, you can't control others' feelings. You can, however, treat your dogs or pets equally.
Your dogs' personalities might be different, which means they like different things. So, make sure that you offer them both time to play, either together or with you individually. Make sure they both get outside and have frequent walks. It's also important to make sure that they both have comfortable places to sleep and if you give one a reward for doing something, that you reward the other pup for the same behavior. Dogs also love routine, so keeping them both on a consistent routine is key, as well.
Despite your best efforts, if one of your dogs still seems jealous of the other, keep an eye on him or her. Every dog will react differently, but you don't want your dogs to fight or hurt each other. So, if you sense bad feelings between your dogs, make sure neither of them is feeling slighted by you, and again, make sure all of their needs are being met. If you're doing all of these things already and bad behavior is escalating, it might be time to get a dog trainer involved to give you some extra tips and tricks to keep the peace.
By Katie Anderson
Published: 04/12/2018, edited: 04/06/2020