Fact checked by a Hello Ralphie expert veterinarian
You’ve probably noticed your dog following you like a shadow from time to time. But whether this behavior is constant or occasional, there is an explanation.
Here, we’ll explain why your dog may be following you and when this behavior can be a cause for concern.
Are There Scientific Explanations for Why Dogs Follow Their Owners?
It may seem like your dog is following you because of their fondness toward their owner, but these animals have strong pack instincts. This pack mentality can be a partial explanation, but there are other scientific reasons:
Your dog could view you as a pseudo parent if you purchased or adopted them at a very young age. Puppies will sometimes seek out a parental figure if they’re taken from their mother early on.
While having your dog view you as their mother may seem cute, it can lead to behavioral issues. This is why puppies are usually kept with their mothers for at least the first six-to-eight weeks of their lives.
Unintentional Behavioral Reinforcement
In many situations, a dog will come to associate their owner with rewards. This doesn’t just include treats given for positive behavior, but also food, scratches, playtime, and walks.
If the dog was regularly given positive reinforcement for staying close to their owner, they may adopt the behavior as a habit. This can become an issue in household with numerous individuals. If the dog only follows one individual because they view that person as the source of all things positive, it can lead to friction within the family. After all, nobody likes favoritism.
Natural Breed Traits
Certain types of dogs were intentionally bred for their companionship. Over many years, dogs that exhibited clingy behavior were selectively bred together to create breeds that would stick close to their owners.
Think about a breed like a German Shepherd, which is known for its loyalty and ability to stick close to one owner. While there’s plenty of room for training and dogs can learn new behaviors, certain breeds have a stronger tendency to follow their owners than others.
The Desire for Companionship
Again, dogs are social creatures. It may sound obvious, but there’s scientific proof that dogs enjoy the companionship of their human owners. This is partially because of the history of domestication, where dogs were selectively bred to be good companions.
It also comes from their natural pack mentality, where they view one individual, usually the dog owner, as an “alpha,” or dominant pack member. There are complicated reasons why this social structure benefits dogs, but the important takeaway is that, over centuries, humans and dogs have become bonded to one another in a unique way.
When is a Dog’s Close Following a Sign of a Larger Problem?
If you feel your dog is following you an abnormal amount, or their excessive following and clinginess is becoming a problem, it could be a sign of an emotional issue.
The following are just some of the reasons why some dogs excessively follow their owners:
They Crave Attention and Feel Neglected
Almost every dog will crave some degree of attention from their owner. Most dogs associate them with fun and affection. Therefore, if they’re not getting enough of those things, they could follow the owner in the hopes they’ll get noticed.
While you don’t want to reinforce this clingy behavior, try playing with your dog the next time they’re following you around.
The Dog is Afraid of Something
Sometimes our pets get scared. It could be triggered by a loud noise, like fireworks or a thunderstorm, or it could be something as simple as a new and unfamiliar piece of furniture. Dogs can’t communicate with us using words, so their behavior is usually the best indication of how they’re feeling.
If that seems like a new behavior, or it’s situational, try to calm the dog down and reassure them that everything will be OK.
The Dog is Suffering from Anxiety
Just like humans, dogs can suffer from various types of anxiety. Whether it’s separation anxiety or just a general sense of unease, this can cause excessive stress and even lead to physical health issues if left untreated.
In many cases, a dog’s relentless following of their owner is a sign they feel anxious. This is especially true if the dog’s shadowing of their owner prevents them from behaving how you would expect them to. For example, a dog that won’t leave their owners side, even so it can play with other dogs in a fun setting, is most likely suffering from anxiety.
If you suspect your dog’s following could be triggered by anxiety, check out our Dog Anxiety Guideline and Anxiety Quiz.
If your dog is following you around to the point that it’s beginning to concern you, becoming annoying, or you’re concerned it could be a potential tripping hazard, don’t worry. There are numerous approaches owners can take to help their pet.
The key is to remain calm, patient, and loving. While your dog may just be a piece of your life, you are your pet’s entire world. Their excessive following can be overcome. Contact a Hello Ralphie veterinarian for a virtual advice appointment and we can help you understand why your dog is following you.