Your Dog’s Emotions

Most of the time, it seems like a dog wants nothing more out of life than to eat, sleep, and play, but our dogs are capable of emotion. No, they are not human and never will be, but they do have feelings. If you ignore or don’t know how to handle your dog’s feelings, it can be a dangerous situation because your dog will let you know in inappropriate ways that you have stepped on his toes. Learning about your dog’s emotions and how to handle them will keep you, the dog, and those around you safe.


One of the most basic emotions experienced by dogs is jealousy. Just try petting only one dog when there are others around. The un-petted dog will be quick to join you, usually sticking his nose under your hand to get in on the action. He may also push the other dog aside to make sure she is not getting more than her fair share of love.

Jealous little dog
Jealousy in dogs can cause problems if you don't deal with it.

To tame that jealous streak, you must first of all make sure you are treating your dogs fairly. Not necessarily equally, but at least fairly. Certainly, some dogs need and want more attention than others, but that doesn’t mean you can totally ignore the dog who is a little standoffish. Invite him to get in the game when you are playing with another dog, or spend some special time alone with the dog who doesn’t constantly seek you out.

Next, socializing and training go a long way to keeping all of your dogs feeling that they are loved enough. Make sure your dog spends time with other dogs while he is young so that he realizes he isn’t the only dog in your world. Put your puppy in daycare a day or two a week, spend time with him at the dog park, take classes for obedience, or participate in a dog sport. Even if your dog is the only one in your house, you will undoubtedly come into contact with other dogs while you have your dog with you.

And if you plan on petting the other dogs at the vet’s office or along your neighborhood’s streets, you need to make sure your dog is used to seeing you pay attention to someone other than him. The last thing you need is for your dog to come unglued and start a dog fight simply because you stop to pat the head of the neighbor’s dog.

The key obedience training required to combat jealousy is the “stay” command. Put your dog in a sit-stay or down-stay position before you start talking to the other dog. Praise your dog for sitting or lying down, and return to him with praise periodically throughout the time period that you are with the other dog, just to let your own dog know you have not forgotten about him.


Dogs are great believers in the toddler’s rules of possession: what’s mine is mine; what’s yours is mine; what looks like mine is mine; what I want is mine; and what I had five minutes ago but am no longer interested in unless you make a move on it is mine. Even if what another dog has is something that your dog has shown zero interest in before, the fact that another dog has it is enough to make the object a valuable commodity.

Jealous little dog
Jealousy in dogs can cause problems if you don't deal with it.

Your dog may even want to keep you from getting at whatever the prized possession of the moment is. Don’t simply try to take it from your dog unless you have trained him the “leave it” command. You are very likely to get bitten for attempting to grab the prize he considers his.

Never, never, never get in the middle of a dog fight over a toy or bone. You will most assuredly be the loser. Instead, if you see dogs fighting over something, try spraying them with a water bottle or hose, or even dumping a bucket of water on them. This should distract them enough to stop the fight. If you cannot get their attention, enlist the help of another adult to pull the dogs by their hind legs until they “wheelbarrow” themselves apart.

The whole issue of possession must be dealt with very early in the dog’s life. Try putting his food in front of him, then taking it away after he’s eaten a bit of it. If he doesn’t growl at you, praise him and give it back. Do the same thing with toys, blankets, or whatever he becomes attached to throughout his puppyhood. Make sure you always give back the items he is allowed to have, or replace the items he’s not allowed to chew.

For example, if a puppy is chewing your shoe, you definitely want to take the shoe away, but you must replace it with something the puppy is allowed to chew such as a squeaky toy or a bone. First, tell the dog to leave it in a firm tone of voice, then bend down and take the shoe away. Tell him what a good dog he is, then present him with his toy or bone as a reward.

If the dog growls or snaps at you when you take something away from you, discipline the dog with a firm “no” and do not give him the food, replacement toy, or whatever. After you have totally ignored the dog for 5 – 10 minutes, give him something to play with and try to take it away again. If he lets you take it away, praise him and immediately give it back, maybe even give him a treat. He’ll learn soon enough that if he lets you have whatever he is playing with, good things follow.


You may realize that the time you spend taking out the garbage is much less than the time you spend at work each day, but your dog doesn’t. Dogs have no sense of time, and of course, most dogs don’t wear watches. All dogs get excited when you return home, even after just the briefest absence, but dogs who suffer from a sense of abandonment are just positive that the minute you walk out the door you are gone forever.

These dogs can totally destroy your home in the amount of time it takes you to run a simple errand. (Think about Hooch in the movie classic, Turner and Hooch.) They are desperate to have your companionship, and they think you are lost to them forever when they hear the door close. Sometimes this is because someone truly did leave them – either dumped them at the side of the road, moved away without taking the dog, or dropped them off at a shelter. Sometimes, abandonment issues arise out of nowhere, although separation anxiety is more common in some breeds than others.

Common wisdom says to crate your dog every time you go away. This will keep him from destroying your house and will force him to stay in an area where he should feel safe. Crating is indeed a good idea; however, there are other things you can do to make him more comfortable while you are gone. This is particularly important if you live in an apartment where your neighbors may quickly become tired of hearing your lonely boy howl.

Try placing your dog in the crate with something that smells like you. Rub an old towel along your arms to place your scent on it, then put it in the crate with your dog. You might also put in a favorite toy or bone. Leave the house for just a few minutes – go get the mail, water the plants – whatever allows you to be gone for 5 – 10 minutes. When you come back in, immediately go to the crate and let the dog out. Give him a treat (no matter how he behaved while you were gone). Play with him and let him know how much you love him. Do this for several days until he is able to keep himself calm for the 5 or 10 minutes you are gone.

Gradually, extend the time you leave him alone, always going through the same routine when you come home. It takes a long time, but most dogs can be trained to relax while their human is gone if they know they will get rewarded upon his return.

Positive Emotions

Up to this point, we’ve focused on the emotions you want to help your dog extinguish. Of course, there are many positive emotions that you want your dog to continue to display: affection, excitement, protectiveness, playfulness, and the like. When you see behaviors related to one of these emotions, make sure to praise your dog and give him lots of love. You want him to know these feelings are welcomed in your home, and the only way your dog will be sure of that is if you take the time to tell him he’s done a good thing.

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