Picture this: you just met this great new guy (or gal) and you just can't wait to bring them home to meet the most important person in your life: your dog! You envision your dog being as psyched about your new S.O. as you are and becoming the best of friends, but things don't go exactly as you planned. What's the deal, pup?
Is My Dog Jealous Of My New Boyfriend?
Let's start with the most obvious question.
Is my dog even capable of feeling jealous?
Cuteness covered this in the past, but according to a study led by Christine Harris, a psychologist from the University of California, San Diego, the answer is: yes. Dogs can in fact feel "something very similar to human jealousy."
CNN drew the conclusion that Harris' study suggests "the dogs' jealousy was triggered by social interaction and not merely by their owners ignoring them for an inanimate object."
So don't worry; your pup won't feel an ounce of jealousy when you're sitting around all googly-eyed and texting your new love interest all day. Basically, as long as your partner stays on their side of the front door, they can text/snap/tweet you without your pooch even twitching an ear, as your eyes glaze over from staring at your phone for hours on end.
Now that we've establish that yes, dogs can feel jealousy, let's examine a few reasons why your usually lovable pooch isn't digging your new crush as much as you are.
Do you have more than one pet? Is your new S.O. paying more attention to one than to the other? If you answered yes to these questions, not only is that totally uncool, it may also be the reason your dog acts jealous the second your date steps foot inside your place.
Friederike Range of the University of Vienna in Austria conducted a study where two dogs performed the same task (shaking paws), but only one was rewarded with treats (rude!). His findings suggest "that not getting a reward if the partner is rewarded is more stressful than not getting a reward in the absence of a rewarded dog."
So if your potential life partner shuns your pooch, it isn't as bad as ignoring one while praising another. But really, can you blame them for not liking someone who ignores them?
It's possible that your loyal pup actually views your new boyfriend as a potential threat that wants to take away their most valuable resource. And if you think about it from your dog's point of view, as their caretaker you are their most valuable resource.
Deborah Jones a psychology professor turned author, dog trainer and behavioral specialist explained in an article published by the Association of Animal Behavioral Professionals that "when that resource is a person and the experience is connected with competition for that person, we tend to label it as jealousy."
Training Director at Tails-U-Win training center in Massachusetts Leslie Nelson agrees with this idea, "Your attention, your voice, your touch are all to be prized, and it is only natural that a possessive dog would want them all for himself."
While it might make you feel good to know your pup wants your undivided attention, rushing your date to the emergency room for stitches because the dog felt threatened when you went in for a smooch, isn't cute.
Should I Just Break it Off?
While dog's are excellent judges or character for a number of reasons, don't feel forced to end the relationship because Fluffy made a bad first (or second... or third) impression. With a little time, love, and dedication from all parties, these issues can be resolved.
Just remember, it's important not to punish your dog.
Instead, Nelson believes you should practice something called negative punishment. What this means is when your dog does something wrong, the consequence isn't yelling at him. It's actually better to ignore it completely. Nelson further explains that "most of us instinctively turn our attention toward the aggressor and yell at him or try to soothe him. Our attention is a huge reinforcer. Even negative attention is better than no attention." Sometimes you have to treat your dog just like you would a small child by using time outs to correct the unfavorable behavior.
The next time your dog acts jealously, simply remove the reward (you) from the situation. Walk away somewhere your dog can't follow you. These time outs are most effective when they're short and sweet. Jones follows a two minute rule "We use a two-minute isolation in a crate as soon as the behavior starts," she said.
Do what works for you, but make sure you seek professional help if your dogs becomes overly aggressive before the problem gets worse.
Wayne Booth, Founder and Director of the Canine Behavior Specialists Network, said that dog owners should back up their partner, "if your spouse wants to sit down and your dog is occupying the space next to you, it's a good idea to back your spouse up and make your dog get down." Other things like keeping your dog socialized, making sure they're getting enough exercise and affection can help too.
Booth adds that, "If you find ways to include your dog in your activities, along with your spouse, then you will have fewer problems with a jealous dog." So if you're serious about a relationship, your dog will learn to accept the other person and the fact that they aren't going anywhere. It might just take a few extra treats, belly rubs and trips to the dog park but we aren't complaining about that.
Alas, all hope is not lost. If you're dog is giving your cute new crush the cold shoulder or is constantly nuzzling between you two, just take it as a testament to how awesome you are. If you were a dog and had you as an owner, you wouldn't want to share either.
Cut Fido a little slack.