Why Does My Dog Follow Me Everywhere?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM December 29, 2020
The dog is man’s best friend and as a best friend they’re supposed to exhibit certain characteristics, such as loyalty, companionship, and affection. All good things, right? But in some instances, these qualities can get a little overwhelming. Especially when they seem to never leave your side, follow you everywhere, and never give you a moment’s break. Sometimes even best friends need a little time apart.
Why Does My Dog Follow Me Everywhere?
Your dog may follow you because they imprinted on you in puppyhood, due to their pack mentality, out of separation anxiety or companionship, because they need something from you, or because you’re knowingly or unknowingly reinforcing it.
Most of the time, having a dog follow you is welcomed but not all of the time. There are times you may want to do something about it. Regardless of how you feel about your dog following you everywhere, let’s dig deeper into the reasons why so that you can better understand your dog’s actions and how to correct them if necessary.
Puppies look to their mother to teach them the ways of the world such as where to get food, what to bark out, where to find safety, etc. The time of imprinting is between three and 12 weeks of age, even up to six months. During this time, a puppy may look for that positive role model or mother figure in you and following you around is how they learn from you.
- Pack mentality
In the wild, most dogs are part of a pack. The pack supports each other in finding food, water, shelter, and safety. They protect each other, play together, and share their meals. With domesticated dogs, their pack becomes you. Following you around is no different than a wolf following another group of wolves around hunting, socializing, or playing.
This is similar to the pack mentality. Dogs are social animals and want to be around others. In the absence of a pack of familiar dogs, you become their main companion and the one that they want to spend their time with.
- Positive reinforcement
You may or may not realize it, but you may be contributing to your dog’s desire to be close to you. Think about it, you turn around, tripping on your dog and what do you do? Pet them, talk to them, or give them a treat. It doesn’t take long for your pup to learn that being as close to you as possible is how they get noticed and attention.
- It’s in the breed
Some working and herding type breeds are more likely to stay glued to your side. That’s because they have evolved working side-by-side with people. Sticking by you and following you around is no different than working closely with a co-worker. They’re there to help when you need them to get the job done.
There are a couple of reasons why your dog follows you around that may need some closer attention.
- Separation anxiety
Separation anxiety can develop into a serious problem for both dogs and their owners. It occurs when dogs get anxious or nervous when their people family are away, sometimes to the point that they are destructive to themselves or objects.
- They’re trying to tell you something
Following you around may be your dog’s way of trying to tell you that they are in pain, not feeling well, scared, stressed, not getting enough to eat, you name it. It’s fair to think that being around you as much as possible might help them get their message across.
Are Some Breeds More Likely to Follow You Around Than Others?
A dog’s genetic makeup absolutely can have an effect on whether they follow you around or not. Herding dogs, such as Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, or Kelpies; or working dogs, like Labs and Golden Retrievers, were bred for their loyalty to their owner. People wanted to have these dogs close by should they need them for work. The more a dog wanted to follow their owner, the more sought after they were. Think about it, if the cows get out, you don’t want to have to go find your dog to help get them back in. You want a dog that is already right there with you to help get the job done more quickly.
Even though some of these breeds are popular now as pets and may not ‘work’ a day in their life, they haven’t lost that instinct to stick with their owners.
Is It Loyalty Or Separation Anxiety?
Since some breeds have been genetically designed to want to follow their owners around, it may lead some to wonder what happens when this goes a little too far. First, it’s important to note that there is a difference between a dog that sticks to their owner unconditionally and one that has separation anxiety, even though it may sometimes be hard to tell.
With dogs that have an extremely high loyalty trait, they want to be with their owners as much as possible. They feel that urge to help them, protect them, and not miss an opportunity when they could be useful. However, when the times comes to be apart from their person, they’re okay with it. They understand that everyone needs a little down time and are able to be separate comfortably and be relaxed.
With separation anxiety, a dog also feels the urge for a 24/7 connection. However, the difference is apparent when the time comes to be apart. They get very nervous, anxious, uncomfortable, and are not okay with separation. Some may become destructive and take out their anxiety and frustrations on the furniture, carpets, other pets, or even themselves. If untreated, separation anxiety can lead to some serious mental and physical issues in a pup that may take some intensive training and/or medication to resolve.
How Do I Stop My Dog From Following Me Everywhere?
This may seem like a crazy question. After all, isn’t companionship one of the main reasons that we have dogs in the first place? The problem is that sometimes that constant connection can put you or your dog in danger. We already talked about the issues that can arise when a dog develops separation anxiety, but there may be other complications as well.
Dogs can become overly protective of you and bite others that need to come near you, like your family or co-workers. Or your dog may follow you somewhere that isn’t safe such as swimming after you when you take a boat out into a lake or river. While we all enjoy the company of our best friend, we all need our space. Teaching your dog to appreciate theirs will help you avoid these and other potentially bad situations.
- Start small
Take little breaks from your dog. If separation anxiety is an issue, you may need to safely confine them somewhere where they can see or hear you but can’t be near you. Then start to incorporate short periods when they can’t see or hear you. Always make sure you come back and give them attention if they reacted well. Increase the length of time that you’re away from your dog until they can comfortably handle longer periods of alone time.
- See your vet
If your dog’s excessive following has come on suddenly, see your vet to help determine if there’s a medical or behavioral cause. They can help rule out pain or illness and help get you different training tools if it’s simply behavioral. In severe cases of separation anxiety, your veterinarian will be able to prescribe, hopefully temporary, medications to help reduce your dog’s nervousness so that you can get a handle on training to help them.
- Practice the art of ignoring
If you’ve been rewarding your dog for being underfoot, it’s time to stop. Rather than patting their head when you trip over them, act like they’re not there instead. Only give them attention when they appropriately follow you or after they’ve kept their distance for a designated period of time.
- Enlist a professional
Never forget about dog behavior experts. It’s amazing what these people can do with our furry friends. Not only can a professional help get to the root of your dog’s following behavior, but they can give you helpful tips and tricks that will help cut it down to a healthy amount.
You may think that having a dog that follows you everywhere is what you’re looking for, and there’s many reasons why one will. But it may be time to think again. We all need our space sometimes and teaching your dog to appreciate theirs can help reduce agitation and possibly serious complications in the long run.