We spend so much time with our doggie friends that it can be easy to anthropomorphise them, to assign them emotions and tendencies which stem from human behaviour and cultures. However, dogs can sometimes seem to genuinely display intense almost human emotions, from happiness to fear – and quite often, jealousy. This article looks in more detail at what your dog actually feels when it’s acting as a human would when they’re ‘jealous’, what that behaviour means and how you can react to it in a positive manner.
What does it look like?
Dogs are territorial animals, who have maintained a deep pack mentality even into domestication. As a result, their relationship with their owner(s) becomes like that with a pack, and they can display emotions of jealousy and protectiveness. This can sometimes be very obvious in their behaviour, even when they’re well trained! It could be shown somewhat aggressively, for example barking and growling at other dogs which come near you, or in less pushy and obvious ways, such as trying to push in when you’re giving another dog or family member attention.
Dogs aren’t people
This might sound obvious to some, but it needs saying – dogs are not people! While jealous behaviour might seem cute at first, that’s because we’re seeing it from a certain perspective – we’re treating dogs as humans, and seeing their jealousy as evidence that they care for our attention and love us.
And while this evidence of affection might be true to a certain extent, it’s also evidence of something a little more problematic: the dog cares for you and loves you, but feels insecure and scared about that dynamic – they’re essentially confused. That confusion can lead to fear, and a dog can’t rationalise that emotion away, their instinct is to fight the threat and that’s all the only option they have.
If jealous behaviour is treated as it often is, with proclamations of ‘aww that’s so cute!’ the dog will only be more confused. They will see this as approval of their reaction to that emotion of jealousy, approval of what is essentially a negative experience for them. This leads to more confusion, and can make their responses to jealousy deteriorate into aggression, which is both potentially very dangerous and unpleasant for the dog.
When a dog is jealous, and hasn’t had that reaction to what they see as external ‘threats’ trained out of them, they can get aggressive. They’ll be on guard, getting more and more stressed, until the smallest thing can make their nerves snap. Lead ups to this can be excessive jumping on the lead, aggressive barking and intense growling.
Dogs can sometimes also go quite still, and stare intently with their hackles raised, before snapping. Although a dog shouldn’t have gone this far into that behaviour pattern, at this stage it’s important to break their attention with the object of their aggression. They need to remember that you’re the boss, that they need your permission before they act.
Check with a vet
If a dog suddenly becomes aggressive out of the blue, and it is truly out of character, take the dog to a vet. Dogs can become aggressive and lash out when they’re in pain – they have no other way of telling you that they’re not feeling so great. The vet should be able to check if they have any illnesses or injuries which could be making them feel the way they are, and can treat what is causing those symptoms. There’s no point trying to train an aggressive dog which is in pain, the dog won’t be receptive and it’s a natural reaction.
Training isn’t just something a dog needs to receive when it’s a puppy, although it will obviously be most receptive to behavioural change in its earlier months and years. Training is something that needs to happen throughout a dog’s life – not necessarily with a specific dog trainer, but just in how you respond to its behaviour. While it is possible that dogs will become aggressive, this will rarely come from out of the blue. Rather, there will have been signs for a long time beforehand, which have either gone unnoticed or unchecked.
As mentioned above, we can often, without knowing, reward negative behaviour in dogs. If you want that behaviour to change, which you should, you need to be strict with both yourself and how you react. If your dog is trying to push between you and someone else you’re showing affection, such as your partner, ignore the dog or walk away. You don’t necessarily need to chastise the dog if it’s not being aggressive.
What you certainly don’t want to do is reward it or give it more attention in these instances – giving your dog affection is of course very important, but it must be on your terms. You’re the ‘pack’ leader, and you can’t give your dog any authority – that’s not how pack dynamics work, and it will only confuse your dog. They’ll do better with you as a strong leader, it will make them feel safe and comfortable in their environment.
Another way to keep dogs from getting jealous and aggressive is to socialise them. Dogs generally don’t like new things, they’re scary and unknown – and this includes meeting new dogs and people. However, if dogs are constantly meeting new experiences from a young age, they learn how to behave in these situations. Have doggy play dates, take them to new places – if they can learn to be inquisitive but not scared of new situations, it will open up a whole new host of places and experiences you can partake in with them.
While it’s good to tell dogs when they’re doing something wrong, it’s equally important to reward good behaviour! Positive reinforcement is more fun for both you and the dog, and will help strengthen your bond. If your dog sits quietly and calmly while you greet another dog and give them affection, give them a treat. If they’ve been calm and happy all evening while you’ve had friends round for a dinner party, be sure to let them know they’re being good! After all, that’s why people have dogs, to love them and spend quality time together.
Learn your dogs social cues
Dogs are simpler than humans, but they’re still highly complex animals – and they won’t all react in the ways described in this article. Dogs might act out in many different ways other than being overtly pushy and aggressive. These behaviours could be things you wouldn’t naturally link to jealousy or aggression – it could be a well trained dog suddenly going to the bathroom inside, a dog sighing and leaving the room, or even doing tricks they’ve been trained to do but without the command or apparent incentive.
Dogs have a limited repertoire of ways to get our attention, so it’s important to try to listen to them. An unhappy dog will try to tell you, but you really must learn the signs it gives you! No two dogs are the same either, which means that while you may have understood your previous dog’s language, you’ll most likely have to learn your new dogs cues and signs all over again.
This process is certainly complex, but like in every relationship, once you’ve mastered the communication side of things, the rest all fits into place.
Once you can work out what your dog is trying to tell you, and you can effectively tell your dog which behaviours are appropriate or not, you can nip jealousy and aggression in the bud, before it progresses into something more serious.