Is your dog like your shadow? Petplan’s dog behaviourist Nick Jones answers common questions about this canine behaviour, and explains what to do if your pet is a bit too, er, dogged in their devotion!
As pack animals, dogs are naturally sociable. They want to be with us, which is one of the reasons they make such great pets! So, if your dog is following you around, this isn’t necessarily a problem. But it can be indicative of an underlying issue, which is something we need to be mindful of.
Are certain dogs more likely to be followers?
Some dogs have a greater tendency to follow their owners than others – it really depends on the individual dog. It can also depend on what we teach our dogs and what becomes normal for them.
Some dog breeds can be more dependent on humans, with the potential to be a little bit needier than others. For any breed, one of the most important things we can do for our puppies is to show them that it’s OK to be left alone for a sensible amount of time.
Why does my dog follow me and not my husband/partner?
Some dogs will naturally lean towards following the person in the house whom they get the most out of. Their allegiance often lies with the person who walks and feeds them regularly, or whomever plays with them the most.
Other dogs may simply prefer the energy of a certain member of the family, and there’s no telling whom they might choose as their favourite!
Am I reinforcing this behaviour by rewarding my dog with attention?
That can be true in some cases, yes. By talking to and touching our dogs every time they approach us, we can encourage and reward the precise stress-based behaviour we’re trying to reduce. It really depends on the personality of the dog, and also the owner!
With some dogs, you can give them a lot of attention each and every time they approach you, without them becoming overly dependent on you. Other dogs could respond to the same situation by becoming anxious and stressed when you’re not around – what we call separation anxiety.
What if my dog follows me to the bathroom?
Your dog shouldn’t feel the need to follow you wherever you go in the house. If they’re even following you into the bathroom, you may want to consider proactively working on getting your dog used to being left alone.
Should I be worried about my dog following me?
Most owners will know when they’ve reached the point that their dog’s behaviour is causing a problem. Perhaps they’re barking continuously if you’re not around, being destructive or showing other signs of stress. If this is the case, they may have some degree of separation anxiety.
This is something that crops up for quite a lot of dog owners. I’d say dealing with separation anxiety forms about a third of my work. It’s probably more prevalent now, what with lockdown lifting and many people heading back to working away from home.
Don’t overthink your interactions with your dog, but instead pay attention to their reactions. If you give your dog a lot of attention while you’re at home, but they can happily be left at home alone, then there’s no cause for concern.
On the other hand, if your dog can’t be left alone, then it might be time to take a deeper dive into your interactions. It might be that you need to avoid giving your dog attention each time they approach you, and see if you can encourage them to lie down and relax instead.
Recording audio or installing a pet camera can be a great way to get a better insight into your dog’s behaviour when they’re left alone. You can then start to gauge the extent of any anxiety problem, and put together a simple action plan to address it.
How do I get my dog to stop following me?
Encouraging your ‘Velcro dog’ to remain on their own in a different room while you’re still at home can be a good start. You should keep interactions on your terms, and try to ignore attention-seeking behaviour.
Remember that your dog can pick up on your energy, so if you’re feeling anxious and tense, this can reflect back on them. If we’re relaxed and in control of our emotions, that can have a calming effect on our dogs, too.
If you got a puppy over lockdown, then now is a great time to help them feel happy and secure about being left alone for short periods of time. Crate training is an excellent tool, but if your dog is already showing signs of separation anxiety, now may not be the best time to start. Doing this can simply increase their stress, rather than help us get to the root of the problem. If you’re concerned, working with an animal behaviourist can help you find the right strategies and training techniques for you and your dog.