Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Are Dogs Jealous?

Watching Dad leave for work.
We just adopted 11-year old Brooks. He's a sweetheart, and I can't stop patting his soft golden head, hugging his neck, planting a kiss on the side of his nose. But every time I do, I glance over to Kelly eying me with what I perceive as a mixture of contempt and hurt. What are you doing patting HIM? You used to pat only ME. You must not love me anymore.

Of course I'm projecting my own emotions onto my dog. But seriously, do dogs feel jealousy? How traumatic is this for Kelly? Do some dogs prefer to be an only dog?  I've been watching them carefully to try to determine the answers.

First, some background. Kelly was about 1 year old when we adopted her. We had a senior yellow lab at the time. Kelly immediately made it known that she was the boss, and this old guy sleeping on his pillow didn't really need any food, water, toys or affection. It was all hers. Our lab, Hudson, accepted his place with dignity. We gave him lots of food, water, toys and affection anyway. And eventually Hudson and Kelly did become friends. But whenever we gave Hudson attention, Kelly always ran over and nudged her way between us and Hudson.

It's been 6 years or so since Hudson crossed over. Years of just us and Kelly. All the food. All the toys. All the love. And now here's Brooks.

At first Kelly reacted badly. Whenever Brooks got anywhere near us, she bristled, made a loud noisy show of barking and snapping, sometimes even pushed him away with her front paws on his back. I have to tell you that these displays scared me at first, and upset me. I felt bad for both dogs--Kelly for feeling displaced. Brooks for feeling unaccepted. How could I show them that I loved them both?

I was talking to my dear friend Shawnelle one night. Shawnelle has five sons. And she told me that when a new sibling joined the family she, too, wondered how the older boys would feel. Was there enough time, enough resources, enough love to go around? Would they resent the newest? But, she said, every time the boys' lives were enriched by the newest brother. It was a wonderful thing.

The dogs enjoy walking together.
I hope this is the way it will be for Kelly and Brooks. Right now they aren't quite buddies, but after two weeks, the scuffles have dissipated. I still feed them separately. Toys are played with in separate rooms for the time being. But they can play outside together, snooze in the same room, and get along without any fighting.

If you're looking at a new dog to join the family, here are some tips to consider:

* Gender
Kelly is female, Brooks is male. Opposite gender matches usually go better.
* Personality
Kelly is bossy. Brooks is laid-back. When Kelly asserts herself, Brooks defers to her. Two dogs who both want to be the boss can make for a stressful situation.
* Energy Levels
Kelly and Brooks are both older, and have similar energy levels. One isn't constantly being bothered by an active puppy. They both sleep a lot and don't have a lot of youthful crazies.

There are many challenges to adding a new dog to the family. Our schedule has changed. We have to come up with new ways to handle new situations. Get to know what situations might trigger new behaviors. But my biggest worry, could Kelly accept a new dog into the house, has been calmed.

When I pat Brooks, I still feel like Kelly is shooting me daggers. But maybe it's just me. I go over, kneel beside her, kiss the top of her head and tell her that she's still loved. Very, very much. I have enough love to go around. And they return so much love to me.

Kelly and Brooks. Brooks and Kelly. I'm so blessed to share my life with two special dogs.

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