Do Dogs Really Get Jealous?

Jealousy doesn't look good on anyone, including dogs.

But just like humans, dogs can't control their envy; they want what they want. And since they can't tell us that they REALLY wish you'd stop paying attention to your new girlfriend, we must rely on their body language.

Dogs understand when something isn't fair - and they'll call you out on it, says Dr. Jill Sackman, a senior medical director at BluePearl Veterinary Partners' Michigan hospitals.

"Emotions can cause changes in behavior," she tells The Dodo. "We know through imaging studies that dogs have many of the same brain structures, hormones and neurotransmitters that humans do. It turns out that dogs also have an intuitive understanding of fair play and become resentful if they feel that another dog is getting a better deal."

Is your dog jealous?

My dog would much rather I stare at her instead of the screen.JILL LAYTON

My dog would much rather I stare at her instead of the screen. | JILL LAYTON

Jealousy can manifest as attention-seeking behavior or aggression, and it's important to nip it in the bud, according to Dr. Ladan Mohammad-Zadeh, veterinarian and critical care specialist at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital.

If your dog constantly brings over a toy and demands you play with him, even when you've already thrown the ball 45 times in a row, he's desperately seeking your attention. Or if he's laying on the couch with you and launches himself at another dog who dares to interrupt your time together, his behavior has become aggressive.

"There are several ways of dealing with jealousy," Mohammad-Zadeh tells The Dodo. "Maintaining regular attention and activities with your dog can help reassure them of your affection. It's also important to build a positive relationship between your dog and the cause of their jealousy, such as a new baby or new pet in the family."

So, if you can, slowly introduce the source of jealousy to your dog in a controlled and safe environment.

"Give attention to your dog as well as the trigger and never leave your dog alone with someone or something that causes them to be jealous," Mohammad-Zadeh says, adding that it's important to ignore attention-seeking behavior and to reward calm behavior with the trigger of your dog's jealousy is present.

If your dog's aggressive behavior isn't improving, find an animal behavior expert to help.

But is it really jealousy?

Some dog behavior experts say the term "jealousy" may not accurately describe what dogs feel.

Dogs don't necessarily show jealousy or envy, but definitely have wants, Terri Bright, director of behavior services at MSPCA/Angell Animal Medical Center, tells The Dodo.

"If someone has something dogs want and is giving it to someone else, they will try and get it," she says.

And if the dog has been given what he wants in the past, that behavior has been reinforced, and will likely occur in the future, she explains.

"So though you could say, 'The dog is jealous and gets in between me and my boyfriend whenever we are trying to sit together,' it is quite likely that the squirming-into-the-middle-position has been reinforced in the past," she says.

"I would not attribute anything devious when a dog tries to get what he wants," Bright added. "They are fairly simple food and attention-seeking creatures."

So while we may think a dog's behavior is implying jealousy, they may just be telling us what they want. And dogs certainly want what they want. Don't we all, dogs. Don't we all.