By Langley Cornwell
Personal experience drove me to research the topic of jealousy and dogs. There was a time when I had three rescue dogs. A black Labrador was the first to come along. She needed extra care due to her very young age and the neglect she had suffered. Once I got her healthy and housetrained, a yellow Lab mix needed a home urgently and I stepped up. Even though both dogs were female, they worked the hierarchy out with no problems. Casual observers had a hard time identifying which was the alpha dog. The black Lab was, but she was a kind and benevolent alpha so it was hard to determine. Nonetheless, we enjoyed complete harmony. A year later, a female German Shepherd was in a dire situation and I agreed that I could add another dog to our pack. This may have been naive, but someone needed to act fast so I did. That’s when things started to unravel.
Searching for a solution to the chaos of a three dog household, I consulted dog behaviorists, veterinarians, trainers and anybody that would listen to me. I read books and more books. Turns out, there are a variety of opinions about jealousy in dogs.
Some animal experts say that jealousy is a human emotion and dogs are not capable of such complex feelings. Still, many of us have dogs that seem to exhibit jealousy-related behavior. If a new dog, roommate, girlfriend or boyfriend, baby, cat, toy, etc. joins the household, a dog may react to the change in circumstances, perhaps feel neglected, and show signs of jealousy. The most important thing I learned was that understanding your dog’s behavior and responding appropriately to the specific situation is the key to restoring harmony. These three books helped me do that:
For the Love of a Dog; Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend. I’ll say right up front that author, dog trainer, animal behaviorist and zoologist Dr. Patricia McConnell is one of my favorites. She has written some of the best, most helpful books I’ve ever read on animal behavior. This book taught me to more clearly understand what physical cues to look for so I can better determine what my dogs are feeling and how to respond appropriately. It showed how understanding my dogs’ emotions can improve the relationship between us. This book weaves science-based evidence, entertaining stories and practical advice into an easy-to-read format, and I heartily recommend it. If you like Patricia McConnell’s style and approach, I also recommend her book The Other End of the Leash: Why We do What We do Around Dogs.
On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals. Turid Rugass is a Norwegian dog trainer and behaviorist who has studied canine social interaction her entire life. Her phrase ‘calming signals’ describes the body language and social skills dogs use to communicate with one another – and with humans. This book was valuable when I was trying to identify the reasons my dogs were fighting so I could change the circumstances to avoid the conflicts. If you’re interested in this book, be sure to get one of the newer editions that have photographs. The visual aids and captions helped me recognize subtle differences in my dog’s signals, and I was better able to interpret what I was seeing.
Don’t Dump the Dog: Outrageous Stories and Simple Solutions to Your Worst Dog Behavior Problems. If you’re on the same quest I was, you may start a few books that are hard to finish. Many of the tomes I picked up were as dry as a bone, reading like textbooks full of boring background information, slowly laboring forward and never actually getting to the heart of the matter. Randy Grim’s Don’t Dump the Dog is the polar opposite. Funny, quirky and immensely readable, this book offers suggestions on what you can do to remain unruffled and solve canine behavioral problems. Extra credit goes to Grim, founder and director of Stray Rescue, for his commitment and tireless dedication to abandoned and homeless dogs. To learn more about Randy Grim and his work, read Melinda Roth’s The Man Who Talks to Dogs: The Story of Randy Grim and His Fight to Save America’s Abandoned Dog.
What about you? Have any books helped you eliminate jealous behavior and enhance the relationship between you and your canine companion(s)?
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell
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