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clingy dog

Clinginess can be annoying, but deep down your dog just loves you.

The essentials

  • Dogs can experience separation anxiety — Some dogs, especially those that have been through trauma, might be experiencing separation anxiety.
  • Velcro dog syndrome — Clingy dogs are said to have Velcro dog syndrome, but it’s not an official disorder.
  • Some dogs have a predisposition for clinginess — While every dog is different, certain breeds, like vizslas and pugs, are more prone to an attachment to people.

10 reasons why your canine best friend won’t leave your side

It can be annoying to have a clingy best friend following you everywhere: the bathroom, underfoot, even on the smallest trips across the room. The pooches that do this are known as Velcro dogs because they stick to your side stronger than a toddler’s new shoes.

Clinginess is a learned dog behavior but can also be a sign of a mental or physical problem. Regardless of if your dog’s clingy behavior is cute or annoying, there’s a reason behind it. Here are some of the most common reasons your pup won’t stop following you around.

1. Boredom or need for mental stimulation

Many dogs need more daily physical and mental stimulation — especially young puppies. If they have the energy to burn and no fun activities to funnel it into, your dog may follow you around. They’re looking for something to do, even if that means causing trouble.

2. Companionship

Our canine companions may not seem like traditional pack animals, but dogs have been domesticated over centuries to accompany humans — they’re meant to be in groups, not alone. Humans are a dog’s best friend. Dogs are pack animals, and humans are their pack.

3. Lack of confidence

Some dogs are scared to be alone. Though this can be a sign of separation anxiety, it could just be that your dog is nervous. Some dogs may become clingy during scary situations, like storms or fireworks.

This also applies to human anxiety: dogs can become clingy if they sense their human’s stress or anxiety. This is why they make such good emotional support animals.

4. Positive reinforcement

If your dog gets a treat, cuddle, or affectionate stroke every time they’re with you, your dog is more likely to follow you around. You reward your dog with each treat, cuddle, or compliment and tell them, without meaning to, that their clingy behavior is OK.

5. Breed traits

Some breeds are more likely to follow humans because of their instincts. These breed traits can include natural protective instincts, herding tendencies, or just a need for companionship.

Herding breeds like Australian shepherds, border collies, and Shelties may no longer have sheep to chase down — so they’ll keep an eye on the whole family.

Guardian breeds like German shepherds and Great Pyrenees will protect their herd. Loyal working dogs like Doberman pinschers and boxers have been bred to work with humans and will stay close because they are dependent on them. Small breeds like shih tzus make perfect lap dogs because they have been bred to be companions for dog owners.

6. Separation anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety may panic when you’re not with them. But while clinginess can escalate to separation anxiety, not all clingy dogs have separation anxiety. They may look similar, but the difference relates to how your dog acts when you’re away from them. If your pup has separation anxiety, they may also engage in destructive or anxious behavior while alone, such as pacing, inappropriate chewing, using the bathroom in the house, whining, or barking.

If you think your dog has separation anxiety, seek a professional who has experience with behavioral training in this area.

7. Emotional trauma

Shelter and rescue dogs may show Velcro behavior because of their previous life experiences. They may carry a lingering fear of abandonment with them. Here’s a great example:

Meet Elmer

Elderly dog sleeping on a dog bed inside.

Elmer was a long-time stray that betterpet staff writer Shannon Perry found standing in the middle of the road on a chilly November evening. Although Shannon had a house full of cats, she adopted the elderly boxer mix. Even once Elmer was fully settled about eight months later, he still was clingy and hated being away from his mom.

8. Curiosity

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it could be what’s causing your pooch to follow you to the porcelain throne. Dogs are curious creatures. They want to know what their pack members are up to. After all, you may be going to get treats or take part in a fun activity. Your four-legged family member isn’t taking a chance of missing out.

9. Age

Young puppies from birth to 6 months can imprint on their owners and treat them as they would their mother. This imprinting process involves them accepting humans and other animals.

Puppies have a lot of learning to do: they’re soaking up how to act and communicate as a dog. Young puppies learn about themselves and the world by exploring and observing their environment. If they get constant attention as they develop, they become afraid of being alone, which may lead to anxiety. That’s why proper socialization and training are important at a young age.

10. Health

Older dogs with health issues such as vision or hearing loss may become clingy because they must depend on their humans more. This increased dependence is because their world is suddenly unfamiliar and scary.

👉 If you suspect that your dog’s clinginess is caused by blindness, inability to see, deafness, or another health concern, talk to your veterinarian.

When clinginess is a sign of behavioral problems

Dogs communicate just as much as humans, using body language instead of words. If your pooch is excited (or a little too relaxed) around you, they may need some attention or companionship. If they have lots of energy, they may be bored.

However, if your clingy dog seems scared, panicked, or uncomfortable, their clinginess may be a physical or behavioral problem. The difference between a Velcro dog and separation anxiety is anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety become anxious, panicked, and scared when their pet parents leave them. Velcro dogs aren’t automatically destined to develop separation anxiety, but they can.

Indications of separation anxiety in dogs

  • Aggression. Dogs may be overly aggressive or possessive of the person they are overly attached to.
  • House messes. Separation anxiety can sometimes lead to accidents in the home with house-trained dogs.
  • Destructive behavior. Dogs have few ways to relieve stress, but one way is to destroy things, like shoes, couches, etc.
  • Depression. Listlessness and loss of appetite can indicate that your dog is experiencing depression.
  • Whining. Whines, yawns, and barking can all be ways that your dog is trying to tell you about their anxiety.
  • Pacing. Pacing is a sign of anxiety and stress for some dogs.

👉 These symptoms can indicate serious health problems, too. If your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety, it’s time to seek professional help. 

How to stop your dog from following you everywhere

If you’re the pet parent of a clingy dog, follow these five training steps to stop your dog from following you.

Tip 1: Increase exercise

Increased physical activity will tire your dog out, so they don’t have the energy to follow you everywhere. If you don’t have time to give them extra walks, invest in a few chew toys. Make sure to supervise your dog with toys of any kind. Alternatively, adopting another dog to keep your dog company might be a good choice too.

👉 Obedience classes and dog sports are fun ways to bond with your canine companion while funneling their energy into something productive. If you have a busy schedule, consider doggie daycare.

Tip 2: Stimulate the mind

Every dog needs to stay active both physically and mentally. Brain games are a great way to keep dogs mentally stimulated and encourage independence. If you don’t want to buy a toy, try the following fun activities.

Teach your dog new tricks — Set up an obstacle course and make your dog weave or jump through blockades, teaching them tricks like “bow” or “roll over” along the way.

Play hide-and-seek — Hide smelly treats around the house in easily found locations and encourage your dog as they go.

Make them work — Replace a bowl with a food dispensing toy or muffin pan to make them think as they eat.

Tip 3: Provide a safe space

Every dog needs a safe space to retreat to. For many dogs, their crate is their safe space. While some dogs retreat to their crates only when they are overwhelmed or just need to chill, most dogs enjoy a place that’s their own.

Set up a dog bed complete with favorite toys where they can be comfortable and entertained without following you constantly. You could even work with a trainer to teach your dog to “place,” going to a certain area, like their dog bed.

Tip 4: Desensitize certain behaviors

Dogs associate different behaviors with different rewards: for instance, grabbing your keys or putting on shoes means you’re leaving them. Desensitize your dog to these movements by making them routine. To do this, practice the movement without the regular consequence. Wear your shoes around the house. Grab your keys and stay home. You could also try hiding these visual cues, such as leaving your shoes outside.

Tip 5: See a veterinarian, behaviorist, or trainer

It’s always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian, behaviorist, or trainer to create a plan to help your clingy dog. Your vet can rule out any medical conditions and may even recommend calming supplements to help their anxiety.

Frequently asked questions

Can a dog be too attached to its owner?

Certain breeds, like those from the herding and working categories, tend to get over-attached to one person. But, any dog can be too attached to one owner, particularly if they are older, have an anxious temperament, or have experienced trauma (like some rescues).

What are the signs of clinginess in dogs?

Clingy dogs tend to stay very close to their human and show signs of stress, like pacing, whining, or destructive behavior, when they are away from their select human(s). When away from their person for extended periods, they may become listless and lose interest in games and food.

What is Velcro dog syndrome?

Velcro dog syndrome is a term used by pet parents to describe clinginess in dogs. Clingy behavior in dogs isn’t the same as separation anxiety, which is a diagnosis from a vet rather than a trait or mood.

Should I ignore my clingy dog?

Ignoring certain behaviors, like barking or whining, will eventually lead to the behavior ceasing, but ignoring your dog’s stress and anxiety won’t fix the problem. Consult with a vet and/or trainer to make a plan that will help alleviate your dog’s stress levels.

Do dogs get clingy when they are sick?

Some dogs become clingy and needy when they are ill, particularly older dogs dealing with canine cognitive dysfunction, aka dog dementia. Other dogs, however, may only show changes in their routine, digestion, or eating habits.