As dog owners, we love spending quality time with our pups. But there have been days when you might have wondered, “Why does my dog follow me everywhere?” The answer has to do with your dog’s animal instinct and pack mentality. Canine companions that exhibit this type of behavior are often referred to as “Velcro dogs” because of their desire to be attached to your side. “Dogs are pack animals, and we are their pack,” says Sally Morgan, an author and holistic physical therapist for pets and people.
While the thought of your dog following you everywhere might seem cute and lovable, it can be an indication that something else is going on. According to Dr. Rachel Barrack, a licensed veterinarian certified in both veterinary acupuncture and Chinese herbology with Animal Acupuncture in New York City, there are scientific reasons behind dogs’ clingy behavior. “Young puppies (anywhere from birth to 6 months of age) can often imprint on their owners and look to them as they would their mother,” says Dr. Barrack.
Another reason your dog might stay close to your side is positive reinforcement. “If every time you are with your dog, he gets affection or treats, he’s likely to [follow you around] more often,” Dr. Barrack says. If you’re flattered by this true sense of affection, and unknowingly reward your dog for his clingy behavior, you’re sending him a message that it’s welcome.
Because dogs respond to their owners’ behavior, it’s important to examine your relationship with your canine. For example, if your dog sleeps in your bed, you might be creating a dependency and reinforcing his need to be close to you at all times. In households consisting of multiple people, there’s a good chance your dog will become fixated on one person in particular. Sometimes it’s the primary caregiver who provides food and walks or the fun-time human who plays tug of war, a game of catch, or hands out endless amounts of treats.
“Look at it from the dog’s point of view,” says Erin Kramer, a professional certified dog trainer and owner of Tug Dogs in Northern California. “You might think you’re the cool one, but the person your dog is attached to is the road to everything wonderful and magical. The focus is on that person because of what they give access to.”
As Kramer points out, one of the problematic things about behavior is the many factors that influence it. A dog’s life experience before entering your home can play a big part when it comes to being fixated on one person, especially for dogs who have been rescued. What was their life like before they came to live with you? “Those previous experiences have an impact on a dog and can contribute to the lingering fear of abandonment,” says Dr. Barrack.
It’s not uncommon for certain breeds to over-attach to their owners, particularly dogs in the working or herding groups that are bred to work side by side with their humans. “It’s a trait that’s prized and bred into their genetic history,” says Kramer. If your dog is overly attached, it’s important to figure out whether this velcro behavior is part of his personality and breeding, or if something more serious is going on. Could these signs be an indication that your dog has separation anxiety? While they’re both associated with not wanting to be away from an owner, there are some distinct yet subtle differences between these two forms of behavior.
The big difference between separation anxiety and being a velcro dog is anxiety itself. While velcro dogs are constantly glued to their owner’s hip, dogs with true separation anxiety become anxious and panic when they’re away from their owners. In some cases, that fear can cause real damage to the dog both mentally and physically.
While velcro dogs are more susceptible to developing separation anxiety, it doesn’t automatically mean they will. But it should serve as a wake-up call to address the behavior before it reaches the point where your dog can not function without you in the picture. “Patience and positive reinforcement over time are important components of all behavioral modifications,” says Dr. Barrack.
There are various approaches owners can take to help their dog should he exhibit these traits. The key is to have a dog that loves your attention and being close to you, but is fine when you’re not around. “Bonding with your dog is good for you,” says Dr. Barrack. “Just make sure that in the process you do not limit their social interactions with other dogs and people. [This socialization will help] prevent anxiety when you are separated.” If you’re having trouble with your pup’s clingy behavior, consider consulting a professional dog trainer.