End Envy—Keeping Peace in Multiple Dog Homes

Two Golden Retreivers relaxing on the floorEnvy is an emotion more attributed to humans, but researchers are finding that this trait can be found in other animals, especially those that work in a cooperative unit. Many dog owners would use envy or jealousy to describe their dog’s behavior, and scientists in Austria wanted to get to the bottom of it.

Do Dogs Feel Inequity?

The scientists set up an experiment with over 40 pairs of dogs and tested them in a variety of situations. The basic setup was two dogs sitting next to each other. One dog was asked to shake; it was rewarded with a treat. The second pooch was also asked to shake, but it was not given a treat. Over the course of time, the unrewarded dog took longer and longer to perform the trick, until it stopped interacting with the researcher and laid down.

There were some variations of the test done. Sometimes the unrewarded dog was given occasional treats. In this case, the dog would perform the trick for much longer compared to no reward at all. Also, when the dog was alone and not rewarded for the trick, he would perform the trick for much longer than when next to a dog receiving treats. Scientists concluded dogs were aware that the same effort didn’t get the same reward, leading to disinterested and rebellious behavior.

If dogs feel they are not rewarded for their efforts, they will look for outlets to vent their frustration. They may do this by not listening to commands, initiating squabbles with other family dogs, or even get aggressive with a human family member. So what are some ways to keep envy from rearing its ugly emotions in your multiple-dog home?

Keeping a Happy Multiple-Dog Home

Your first thought might be to treat the dogs equally. That is not the solution. Trainers tell owners to treat dogs fairly doesn’t mean to treat them the same. A 5-year old dog has different abilities compared to a 15-week old dog. Introduce and reinforce training that is appropriate for the abilities and age of the dog. Your dogs also have difference in behaviors you need to encourage or avoid. If one dog has earned a privilege, like sitting on furniture, do not take it away. Find ways to restrict the other dog who has not earned the privilege from this undesired activity.

To help keep your training on point with your pets, find ways to train them one-on-one. Find a room in your home or a yard or park where you and one of the dogs can work together. This is also a chance to lavish some good praise for this dog and keep them happy with their place in the home.

Another dynamic to consider is that dogs are a pack animal. The instincts of packs in the wild is to have one dominant dog, the alpha dog, lead the pack. This dog has the first pick for many things, like food, treats, and affection. Some behaviors associated with an alpha dog include: always wins tug-o-war, may steal or guard toys from other dogs, and pushes to be first in and out the door. The beta dogs in multiple dog homes exhibit behaviors like: looking away from the stares of other dogs, giving up toys and sleeping areas, and rolling on their back to expose their belly.

The main thing to remember with how the dogs arrange their pack order is that you cannot affect it. You can affect the relationship the dog has with you, but you can only reinforce how the pack interacts with one another. Reinforcing the hierarchy the pack has chosen will instill comfort with the dogs, as they’ll feel secure in their place. For instance if the dogs all perform a command, reward the alpha dog first with affection. Reward the next dog with just as much praise, and go through the order of your pack.

Once you acclimate with the needs of each dog, and reinforce their place in your home, your family will be a jealousy-free zone. Need some ideas on training to keep up-to-date with your dog? Check out our blogs on Teach Your Dog or Puppy Basic Commands and Essential Dog Games and Training.

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