Why does my pet prefer someone else to me?

Hello! I want to start off by welcoming you to Ruff Start Rehab (RSR). My name is Maxine, and I have been a part of the RSR team since 2011 working with both cats and dogs. Today I want to discuss favoritism in pets, how it can affect the relationship dynamic between not only pets and humans, but also cohabiting humans as well. My husband and I have three cats. We’ve noticed peculiar odds and ends to when one of our cats might prefer one of us to the other. I’ve also had clients complain about how a pet will show favoritism to one owner. So, let’s jump right into it.

Just like you and I can have favorites amongst our pets, pets have been known to gravitate to one person over another. Sometimes this can be easily attributed to the types of interactions that go on within the home between all occupants. My husband and I notice this not only with our own pets, but with clients’ pets. It’s based hugely on the personality of the pets. In the instance with our own cats, we have noticed certain quirks. At night, the cats like to sleep with me on my side of the bed. After my husband leaves for work in the morning, I’ll enjoy a thorough cuddle with my eldest cat before beginning my day. In the evenings, it’s my husband’s lap that they want. A couple different things that contribute to this are our daily schedules. They know when he gets home and plants his butt in the chair to play video games or watch TV, he’s not gonna be moving any time soon, and they take full advantage of that. Our cats are simply opportunistic cuddlers. When it comes to dogs, the dynamic definitely changes since my husband is more of the "fun one." Sometimes, favoritism in pets can be polarizing: a pet can be extremely loving to one human, and aggressive to the other. I have had clients joke to me about how the pet is the "other girlfriend/boyfriend." It’s quite funny in passing, but feelings of jealousy or resentment can take hold, especially if a person is making efforts to bond with the animal to no avail. If you talk to your animal all the time and it prefers your partner, perhaps it’s a matter of being overly engaged. Pulling back on both affection and talking to your four-legged counterpart all the time might be all it takes to alter your pet’s opinion of you. For more serious issues, professional help might be needed.

Whatever the reasons, there are some basic things to take into account if you’re finding you’re struggling with building a bond with your pet.

  • First, we need to take a look at the family dynamic. Who does the feeding? This is the

    first thing I look at when there’s some affection imbalance. Whoever is the one looking to build a stronger bond, is the one who should be feeding the pet(s). This is an easy way to create a direct correlation of something positive. Once the imbalance is addressed and progress is made, the responsibility of feeding can become more of a 50/50 job.

  • Playtime is the next big ticket item. Things to consider are the time devoted by each person to playing with the animal. Depending on the severity of favoritism, perhaps your partner or roommate exclusively plays with the animal while you ignore it, or vice versa as appropriate. I also like to look at play styles. For instance, you cannot roughhouse with a cat the same way you would with a dog. When engaging an animal in play, the type of play has to honor that individual animal.

  • Basic obedience with positive reinforcement is another great relationship building exercise with both cats and dogs. There are plenty of instructional videos for tricks that hold a wealth of information. Yes, cats can be trained, it just takes far more consistency than with a dog.

  • Sometimes, it’s a little more deep-seated than that. It could be an individual’s

    personality. If there is a loud and boisterous human in a household with a shy/fearful animal, the pets are more likely to run and hide than if they were confident and in the middle of all that attention and energy.

  • Sometimes it can be based on scent, where your pet might simply prefer the way you or your partner smell. After all, a cat’s sense of smell is 14 times greater than that of a human’s with 200 million nerve cells versus our 5 million. The cat also has an unusual organ in the roof of its mouth called the Jacobson's organ (or vomeronasal organ). It helps the cat with its sense of smell and can help distinguish pheromones. With dogs, the difference is even greater, up to 300 million nerve cells depending on breed. Every human has a unique scent fingerprint, and that’s pretty much everything a dog or cat needs to tell one person from another. Science has been studying just how powerful a dog’s sniffer can be more now than ever, especially with practical uses in law enforcement and military. So with all of this, it isn’t too far of a reach that our animal counterparts may favor one human scent to another.

    There are many things to attribute to favoritism behavior in our animal counterparts, but with some careful observation, you might be able to remedy the situation yourself through feeding schedules, playtime routines, or changes in the way you simply interact with your pet on a day-to-day basis. If this is something that you feel is affecting things on a more serious level, never hesitate to contact a professional. 

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Comments: 10
  • #1

    Julie miller (Thursday, 22 February 2018 15:49)

    HI I have a few questions I moved back home due to me having cancer and bow I'm cancer free my chihuahua is constantly with my mom all the time they sit together all day in the rocker recliner and when it's bed time my dog will sleep with he only ...my dog only comes up for her treats and takes them back downstairs where my mom is ... and in the summer time my dog goes bye bye as I say it and she will race around and jumps in her carrier after I say load up but when we get back home from being out all day playing walking and going to get her dog flavored ice cream cup for pet ..but when we get back home she runs for my mom and I don't know what I could be doing wrong I'm not mean to her I have her groomed once a month and see the vet so I'm just confused my dog was giving to me by my son to help me with my cancer but now I have been 5yrs cancer free my dog won't hang nor sleep with me .... very sad

  • #2

    Mya Savage (Sunday, 11 August 2019 20:54)

    I know how you feel! I was in the hospital for quite a while. When I came home MY cat acted like he'd never seen me before. He was all over my husband, who has his own cat! I think he was angry with me for leaving him. He did get over it after a while.

    You have an option that I didn't. You could get your own place again. Your dog may be attached to your mother because she feels that your mother is the Alpha female of the household. This pattern has gone on for years now, if I understand you. I think it would be hard to change the dynamic in your current situation.

  • #3

    Alice Whit (Saturday, 24 August 2019)

    Hi. I have a problem and I don't know what to do. I am the owner of my cat and he loves me. I feed him all the time, I play with him and I look after him. I give him treats occasionally when he comes back home. But then my neighbour decides to give the cats on the street some treats.Then all the cats, included mine, go and get food from them. I noticed today that as they were putting the food in the bowl my cat stepped into their house to receive it. I don't want to lose my cat.I don't know if this problem would carry on further and I don't know how to ask them politely to stop as we know them very well. But I don't want him to also take advantage of me either. Could you please help me? Thanks

  • #4

    Willie Glenn (Sunday, 01 March 2020 14:32)

    Why does my dog want my brother more than me. I always love my dog and cuddle with her but my brother really
    doesnt care for the dog and also how can i make my dog love me more?

  • #5

    Ruth Rasaga (Tuesday, 31 March 2020 04:36)

    Hello. I have a problem. My dog is greatly attached to my brother - as well as to me, but I have never been overly sure who she loves best. I have, unfortunately, been often angry at her, sometimes exploding because of a bad day, and sometimes I get a bit jealous. Is there any way to get my dog to be my dog? Or is this a permanent thing?
    Thank you.

  • #6

    Aaron (Tuesday, 12 May 2020 16:26)

    First, thanks for the great article! My wife and I have a Brittany-Doodle that we’ve had since he was 7 weeks. He used to be IN LOVE with my wife. She gives him all the treats, toys, and goodies. I travel a lot for work so she was always the one who was with him and took care of him. He adored him. Recently, I’ve been home more and his loyalty seems to have shifted. It’s causing her to be heartbroken and feeling less than. Is there any advice to shift his loyalty back to her?


  • #7

    LaDema Fowler (Friday, 10 July 2020 19:28)

    I have a 7yr old female chihuahua that has been in a one on one relationship with me her whole life. She has on occasion picked out friends of mine as special to her but recently she has literally taken to a housemate to the point that she wants to be with her all the time. She used to be excited when I would return home but now nothing unless I say this person's name and then she gets all excited and thinks that person is there. What should I do at this point?

  • #8

    Rachel (Sunday, 26 July 2020 16:03)

    Hi! I have a 16 week old kitten whom stuck to me like glue when I first adopted her. I am a teenager living with a family of 5 and I am the only one who feeds her, plays with her, cleans her litter box, and gives her treats. She used to cuddle/lay with me all the time. Now she just goes for my mother and leaves me. She won't cuddle with me or even lay next to me. Everyone in my family (besides me) basically ignores her but she specifically gravitates towards my mother. I am still the only one feeding her, playing with her, giving her treats, etc.

    I don't understand. I've tried everything. I can't get her to lay by me again. Is it just her age?
    Thank you.

  • #9

    Majo Erazo (Wednesday, 09 September 2020 14:41)

    Suddenly my cat has started to spent less and less time with me after being inseparable, she just likes to be with my brother now.

  • #10

    Grace L (Thursday, 24 September 2020 19:31)

    My 2 year old chihuahua mix has been mine and my mom's dog since we rescued her. We now have 2 of my sister's also at home. There are 5 of us. My dog now has become quite aggressive towards the birds and squirrels in the yard, she growls thru the night constantly, she barks all the time at really nothing that we can see. She only generates to 2 of my sisters and not me and my mom anymore. She barely eats anything and wimpers with her toy in her mouth regularly. Is this stress and anxiety. I see my dog as changing and it's not in a good way. Help!!