Is it Normal For a Dog to Follow You Everywhere in the House?
Is your dog on foot patrol, following you everywhere around the house? If so, you may find the behavior cute at first, but then it can become a tad bit old, especially if you own a small dog and you risk repeatedly tripping over him every time you walk around. If you are wondering whether the behavior is normal or not, well the answer as in many things dog-related is that "it depends." Normal is not something you can really assess with accuracy when it comes to dogs because there are over 300 breeds of dogs and they all have different histories. Then add into the mix that dog behavior tends to vary based on the age of the dog, its genetic makeup and behavior history. So following your everywhere may be something a dog may be normally doing or it can be a sign of dysfunctional attachment that can lead to future problems down the road. Here are for instance, a few examples as to why certain dogs may be following their owners everywhere around the house and not always is their behavior necessarily problematic.
Recently rescued dogs. When you rescue a dog that has been in a shelter or foster home, he may feel a bit disoriented at first. These dogs are in need of security and reassurance. A recently rescued dog may therefore be following his new caregiver around because he doesn't know yet what to expect. Is this person going to take me out? Is he going to feed me? Where do I go if I need to potty? After going through a honeymoon period, most recently rescued dogs will settle down as they settle in their new routines and get to learn more about their new surroundings.
Bored, hyper dogs. Is your dog's nickname Shadow? Or is his second name Velcro dog?" If your dog gets up the moment he sees you put down the remote control or upon hearing you put your hand on the arm rest, there are good chances your dog is bored and hoping that you give him something to do. Yes, because just following into the kitchen and catching a few crumbs as you go fix yourself a sandwich may be a form of entertainment for your dog and so is following you into the yard to watch you garden. For these bored dogs, anything you do is pretty much entertaining considering that perhaps their only other option is to catch some zzz's by the fireplace.
Fearful, insecure dogs. Some dogs develop a strong attachment to their owners because they feel protected and secure. These dogs like to sleep always in contact with their owner either right next to their feet, or on the couch either directly on their owner's lap or right beside their arm, but always in contact with some body part. These dogs are so insecure they are worried about falling asleep and losing information about the whereabouts of their owners. By sitting right besides the owners or in contact somehow, it's as if they are saying "Wake me up when you get up, to leave the room." Some of these dogs may develop a dysfunctional attachment towards their owners and show signs of distress (relentless barking and pacing) when their owners leave the home even if just a few minutes.
Dependent dog breeds. Among the vast array of dogs breeds, some were selectively bred to live in social groups comprising people and other dogs. For instance, many working dogs have a history of working alongside their humans for most of the day and they heavily relied on their owner's body language to perform their tasks. Dog breeds like collies and several shepherd dogs are known for looking up at their owners for guidance a whole lot. Dogs with a history of working in packs such as some types of hounds also may dearly miss their owners when they are left alone and may engage in relentless baying. Then you have the many lap dogs which were selectively bred to be lap warmers for the aristocrats, which can easily become lonely and depressed if they are not part of the family's activities.
Senior or sick dogs. Senior dogs may start becoming particularly clingy especially when they start suffering from sensory decline. Hearing loss or loss of vision, can make these dogs feel vulnerable and they may therefore start becoming clingy, which can even at some point lead to the onset of separation anxiety, which can also affect dogs in old age. Sick dogs may also become clingy as they also may feel vulnerable and seek their owners for reassurance and guidance. If your dog has become clingy out of the blue, it's a good idea to see your vet to rule out any medical problems.
Dogs undergoing changes. Some dogs start becoming clingy when they are stressed by abrupt changes. For instance, moving to a new home may cause dogs to feel as if they lost their comfort zone and this may lead to clingy behaviors. Some dogs may start suffering from anxiety when their once work-at-home owners start a new job which takes them out of the home more and more. Some dogs even suffer the "post-vacation" blues when they get used to seeing children and parents around the home during the summer and they are abruptly left home along once school starts again. This may cause them to follow their family around the home in fear that they will be left alone again during the day.
As seen, there may be several reasons as to why dogs may be following their owners everywhere around the home. As social animals, most dogs like to be around their owners and they are interested in their whereabouts, but there is sometimes a thin line between what is considered normal or abnormal. Generally, dogs should be concerned about their owners whereabouts, but it shouldn't become an obsession. A dog should be able to relax and self-sooth when the owner must leave the room. Because clingy behaviors are often seen in dogs suffering from separation anxiety or in it's pre-developmental stages, it's important to have the dog evaluated by a professional in the early stages if this is a new behavior as it's easier to eradicate in the early stages rather than later once it puts roots.
Train your dog to settle on a mat
10 Tips to Help Your Velcro Dog
As much as having a dog constantly on foot patrol may sound like a problem, the good news is that Velcro dogs can be helped out especially when the clingy behavior is at its earliest stages. These tips can be helpful to gradually teach these dogs some coping skills, but it's important to consider that severe cases or dogs suffering from separation anxiety may require professional help and in some cases some medications along with behavior modification. Following are some tips for mild cases.
- Start with a veterinary appointment so to rule out any medical problems. As mentioned, some dogs may become clingy when they are not feeling well, and in senior dogs it can be a sign of sensory or cognitive decline.
- Train your dog to sit stay and down stay using reward-based methods. Who said that obedience exercises are just for training? They can be incorporated often in behavior modification as well, and in this case, we are teaching the dog to cope with brief absences start from close distances and gradually building it up. Yes, gradually is the key word here as if you ask too much, your dog may feel overwhelmed and anxious. As you train this exercise, make sure you add closer distances every now and then in the midst of the farther ones, otherwise your dog may come to expect that the exercise will become more and more difficult which may cause distress.
- Train your dog to go to his mat and relax there with a stuffed Kong when you are eating your meals or when you want to enjoy a bit of alone time. Use clicker training to introduce the mat using a training method known as "shaping."
- Install a baby gate. This is more of a management tool to use whilst you are starting to train your dog to better cope with your absences. As you run errands around the house, keep your dog behind the baby gate and give him something to do such as access to a fun interactive toy.
- Clingy dogs benefit from a confidence boost. Instill confidence in your dog through confidence boosting activities such as trick training, agility, clicker training and free shaping.
- Teach you dog to sleep at night on a mat besides your bed rather than right next to you.
- Desensitize your dog to you getting up and walking around the house by simply making the activity meaningless. Your dog gets up when you move your had on the arm rest? Do it repeatedly without going anywhere. Then, get up, when your dog attempts to follow you, just get up and sit down right away, then progress to just walk around in circles. At some point your dog's senses will tire. When he stops following you, make sure you praise and reward him.
- Play games based on distance such as hide n' seek, canine nose work and fetch.
- Provide enough exercise and mental stimulation as many dogs are clingy just because they are looking for something to do.
- Train your dog that great things happen when you are not around. Feed your dog his meal you have placed out of reach up the counter or give a safe chew toy or bone you have kept on the shelf (but that your dog could see so you can build a bit of anticipation) and walk away so he gets to enjoy it behind the baby gate alone. When he's done, return.
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© 2016 Adrienne Farricelli