Dogs didn’t get the nickname “Man’s Best Friend” for nothing. The domestic dog evolved as a pack animal, which includes their human companions, so it’s natural for them to follow you around and want to be with you.
Though this behavior can be lovable, sometimes it’s an indication of a problem. Often called “Velcro dogs,” a dog that’s too clingy could be due to a dysfunction. Here are five reasons your dog may be so attached to you.
Why Is My Dog So Attached to Me?
1. Learned Behavior
Clinginess in dogs is often a reinforced behavior because of the way you interact. For example, if your dog learns that following you into the kitchen means it gets a scrap of food or a treat, you’re teaching it that sticking around you can lead to a reward. It doesn’t even have to happen every time, just enough to be worth the effort for your dog.
While puppies are developing, giving them too much attention and allowing them to be clingy can quickly shift from healthy companionship to separation anxiety. Be mindful of how much you reinforce this behavior. You want a confident dog, not a dog that’s afraid to be without you.
Dogs who are suffering from an illness can become clingier. If you’re noticing sudden clinginess in your dog, especially coupled with other symptoms, speak with your vet about the behavior.
Older dogs that experience a decline in vision, hearing, or cognitive abilities may become clingier as well. You represent safety to them when their familiar environment suddenly becomes strange.
3. General Anxiety
Dogs with anxiety often become clingy out of fear or stress. If you notice other signs of anxiety in your dog, such as compulsive licking, trembling, or destructive behaviors, this could be the cause. Sudden changes, such as adding new pets to the home or making changes to the routine, could also trigger anxiety and stress.
Some dogs are more sensitive to their humans, so they may respond with clinginess if you seem stressed, anxious, or upset.
4. Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is a specific type of anxiety that’s different from being clingy. It’s a constant, excessive concern that a dog has about being left alone or separated from its owner. Left unaddressed, separation anxiety can cause dogs to engage in distress or destructive behaviors like pacing, whining, chewing, or inappropriate soiling in the house.
When a dog is clingy, it may follow you around or want to be with you. Separation anxiety causes panic at being left alone, which goes beyond just wanting to be at your side. Clinginess can progress to separation anxiety, however, and often has subtle signs of anxiety or panic that escalate over time. Usually, this needs to be treated with a combination of medication and behavioral modifications.
Some breeds are simply more attached to their owners than others. Toy and small breeds—lap dogs—tend to be needier than others. Breeds that are taught to be dependent on the owner through training may also show more clinginess. Herding and working breeds can become clingy, though many are known for independence.
How to Help Your Dog Develop Independence
Normal clinginess with a healthy dog isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. But, if you prefer your dog to be more independent, you can work on some training methods.
Keep in mind that separation anxiety is a different situation and requires more intensive modification than simple clinginess.
For example, if your dog always follows you into the kitchen because it usually means getting table scraps or a treat, go into the kitchen and don’t offer a treat or any food. Instead, start cleaning or organizing. If you do want to give your dog a treat, replace the kitchen with its place and offer the treat there. Eventually, your dog will realize that your daily routine is “boring.”
While it’s good for your dog to have some independence and confidence on its own, avoid cutting off your connection completely. It’s important for both of you to bond, so while you’re teaching your dog to spend more time alone, make sure you’re balancing it with bonding activities like walks or play time.
Dogs are partners and companions. In fact, that’s why many people get a dog. Having a mentally healthy pup means finding a good balance of independence and bonding time to give your dog more confidence on its own without compromising your relationship.
Featured Image Credit: Jennay Hitesman, Shutterstock