Do you have a “velcro” dog? Does your dog follow you around constantly, even when you’re going to the bathroom or brushing your teeth? You probably think it’s either really cute or really annoying, especially if you’re tired of almost falling on your face every time you step over or around your dog.
Dogs are naturally social animals, and chances are that your dog sees you as the leader of the pack, so it’s natural for your dog to want to follow you around. Dogs can be our best friends, and studies show that people who have dogs are healthier and happier, and the more time we spend with our dogs, the better they come to know us, and the more we reinforce the human-dog bond with food rewards, cuddling, petting, going on hikes and other activities.
More often that not, dogs just want to be with us no matter what we’re doing. Now some dogs follow their owners everywhere out of sheer love, or it could be due to separation anxiety. In order to find out why your dog won’t leave you alone for one minute, it might be helpful to look at some possible causes of this behavior.
Many dog breeds, especially smaller lap dogs like French Bulldogs and Chihuahuas are particularly fond of following humans everywhere. These smaller dogs were bred to be companion dogs, so they naturally want to be around us.
The herding breeds, such as German Shepherds or Australian Shepherds tend to be one-person dogs, and are historically loyal to that one person. The sporting breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are bred to be fun-loving companion dogs, so they’re most likely to follow you everywhere.
One reason why your dog might follow you around everywhere is that your dog prefers your companionship over other humans or dogs in the household. Over thousands of years dogs have bonded with humans, and during their evolution, natural selection has favored dogs that like spending time with humans over those who did not. Dogs just love to be around us.
As mentioned above, velcro dogs are often rewarded for their constant attention by our behavior, because they associate us with pleasant and positive experiences. We reward them by letting them sit on the couch while we pet them, we reward positive behaviors with food or treats, and we reward their companionship with fun activities.
What could be more fun for Fido than getting in the car and going for a hike in the woods? As soon as your best friend learns that you’re a provider of all things fun, it’s natural for them to follow you everywhere in hopes of receiving some of this positive reinforcement.
Another reason for your dog never letting you out of his sight is separation anxiety. This is triggered when you and your dog are separated for any amount of time, and some dogs can become very agitated when you leave them behind at home, while others seem depressed when they see you getting ready for work or packing your bags.
Some dogs even try to prevent you from leaving. Dogs with separation anxiety will sometimes start barking, pacing or exhibiting other distressing behaviors after a short time after being left alone. Then when you return home, your dog jumps up and down, and acts as though he hasn’t seen you in years.
If you think your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety when you’re not around, behaviorists recommend leaving an interactive toy to help divert your dog’s attention from your absence. or leaving a radio or television playing when you are out of the house. If those distractions don’t work, you could try desensitization, a behavioral solution to separation problems.
This is when you leave for a very short period of time, like maybe 5 minutes, then come back in the house. Over many trials, the length of time the owner is gone is extended, until hopefully your dog gets so used to the idea of you being gone, and is reassured that you will be coming back, it no longer bothers him.
Some symptoms of separation anxiety include urinating and defecating in the house, excessive barking, or destructive behaviors such as tearing up furniture or chewing household items. Other symptoms include chewing, digging at doors and window sills, attempts to escape, pacing, and even coprophagia (eating excrement). If you suspect that your dog has separation anxiety, consult your veterinarian, he/she can offer you some recommendations such as medications and behavioral therapy.
While it’s healthy for a dog to look to us for companionship, commands and cues, it can be unhealthy and annoying when a dog can’t stop following or looking at you. This is especially concerning if the dog has chosen only one particular person to interact with, and is fearful or avoids all other people. In these cases, the dog may be improperly socialized or might have overly bonded to one person. These dogs are at risk of developing social or separation anxiety, fear aggression, or other behavioral issues.
If your dog follows only you, and refuses to interact with other humans, this can be a sign of anxiety in your dog. They may cry or pace anxiously if you, the light of their life, is not in their sight.
To help an overly anxious dog learn to not be with you all the time, there are a few things that you can do to help alleviate your dog’s anxiety.
If you’ve had too much, and can’t take a shower, or sit on the couch with a loved one without your pooch demanding attention and following your every move, there are some strategies that you can try to help your dog detach from you and build self-confidence.
Showing your dog that other humans are just as nice as you will help them detach from you. Let your dog bond with the other people in your home by having another person feed, play with, train, or walk your dog. If you live alone, you can still have friends come over and interact with your dog.
Velcro dogs want to keep an eye on you everywhere you go, so it’s important to show your dog that the world won’t end if you’re out of their sight. You can do this by setting boundaries.
For example, shutting the door when you use the bathroom or go to another room, and then come back within a few minutes. This training may take a while, but your dog will learn that just because they can’t see you doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned them.
Anxious dogs will do anything from whining, to inappropriate elimination in the house to get your attention. A way to correct this is to not reward your dog for needy behaviors. For example, if you leave a room, and your dog starts to cry, don’t reward the behavior by consoling him. Rewarding negative behaviors will only enforce attention-seeking behaviors.
It’s OK if you don’t talk to your dog all the time, or constantly give him attention and cuddling. You can teach your dog to occupy himself while you’re at home by encouraging independent activities like offering chew toys or doggy puzzles. This way, your dog can learn to entertain himself with these same activities while you’re gone.
If you have a “Velcro dog,” they may know what getting your briefcase, or jingling your car keys means, and this can cause anxiety. Helping to desensitize your dog to these actions can make leaving your home less stressful for both you and your dog.
You can help relieve your dog’s anxiety by not making leaving a big deal, and to practice those rituals often without leaving. For example, grab your car keys, put on your coat and grab your briefcase several times each day without leaving. Soon your dog will eventually learn to stop associating these tasks with you leaving.
If you have done everything under the sun to try to get your dog from following you everywhere, and experiencing anxiety if you leave the home, call a behaviorist. Veterinarians specializing in animal behavior can give you tools and counseling to help you and your “Velcro dog.”