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Living with Multiple Dogs; Jealousy or Hierarchy

For those that live with multiple dogs or have just introduced a new dog to your home with an existing dog, you may have noticed certain jealous-like behaviours. This can often leave owners confused as to how to go about managing them to maintain a happy and harmonious household.

Let’s paint a picture; You have been the owner of one dog for a period until one day, you opt to grow your family and introduce another four-legged friend. Your existing dog begins displaying jealous-like behaviour, often appearing particularly needy or seeking your attention and even becoming aggressive with the newcomer. All signs point to jealousy.

It can be easy as the human to label these certain behaviours as a bi product of jealousy as it is an emotion that we as people can resonate with. The fact is, jealousy is a secondary emotion and although it may appear your dog is acting based on jealous feelings, dogs exist in a world of primary emotions.

They don't have the capacity for secondary feelings, and this means that they don't spend time suffering emotionally like humans do, this includes feelings of jealousy.

When your dog displays what is perceived as jealous-like behaviour, what you are witnessing is your pet exhibiting natural pack behaviour. Social hierarchy is so important to dogs and a higher-ranking pet will assert itself when a lower-ranking dog is getting attention or special privileges.

Primary Vs Secondary Emotions

For dogs, the world is comprised of primary experiences and emotions, largely undiluted by the cognitions and secondary emotions that we humans constantly bathe ourselves in. A primary emotion is fairly simple to understand; they are a reaction/feeling to an external event, a secondary emotion is when you feel something about the feeling itself.

For example;

We tell our boss we are sick and go to the beach; the beach makes us happy, but we can’t help but feel guilty that we have lied, and we worry we’ll get caught

Happiness is the primary emotion brought on by being at the beach, the worry and guilt is the secondary.

If a dog is at the beach, he is happy and when the feeling is gone, it’s gone. He doesn’t feel anything about the feelings, he is living in the moment and thinking about the here and the now. He doesn’t feel worry that his time at the beach is coming to an end, he doesn’t feel guilt for trampling all over someone’s towel. He lives in a world of primary experiences and emotions, free from guilt, worry AND jealousy!

It’s all natural

Whether we are aware or not, a social pecking order exists within multiple dogs. Social Hierarchy is exceptionally important just as it is in the wild. When we think of a wild pack, we will often think of a large group of dogs with a distinct social ranking, comprising of the alpha and his subordinates

We know what you’re thinking

“surely there is no similarities between a wild pack and my two Cocker Spaniels”

Although a wild pack situation greatly differs from domesticated pets, the same behavioural patterns will be prevalent within your multi-dog home and become challenging if their innate way of life is not respected.

Introducing a new adult dog to your existing dog;

Bringing a second dog into your home, specifically an adult can come with some challenges. Your existing dog may be 100% complacent and accepting or begin trying to assert itself at the dominate figure in the house. It is important that you are mindful of this and take precautions to avoid any defensive of behavioural issues.

Ensure that (especially while you begin to understand the dynamic), feeding time is separate, play time is separate and perhaps even walking the dog. It is important that both dogs can bond with you as the owner individually.

Naturally, their social ranking will form organically. Respect the process without fueling any undesirable behaviour with human intervention. Most domestic dog packs will naturally establish ranks and co-habitate well together.

That being said, jealous-like behaviour is not reserved strictly for the existing dog. It is quite possible that if you introduce another adult dog to your existing dog, they might in fact be the more dominant dog in the “pack”.

A higher-ranking dog has privileges and will ensure that this happens by body blocking (coming in-between you and another dog), pushing, jumping up, nipping, growling and in some extreme cases, aggression. Be mindful of this; allowing a subordinate dog certain privileges before the dominate can result in a fight, unbeknownst to the owner, fueled by our actions.


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