Does your dog always follow you around when you're at home? Does your dog insist on never leaving your side, even when it's time for you to take a shower? Does your dog constantly look at you with rapt attention, as if he can't possibly look at anything else?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it's likely that you have a clingy dog. Although clingy dog behavior can be endearing, it can also be annoying, especially when your dog just won't leave you alone—even for a minute!
Clinginess can frustrate pet parents. However, it can also signal a bigger behavioral problem: separation anxiety. Learn how to differentiate between a clingy dog and a dog with separation anxiety so you know how to best manage the behavior.
Why Are Some Dogs Clingy?
Clinginess is often a learned dog behavior. Dogs learn this behavior from us by how we interact with them. If we always give our dogs food when they follow us into the kitchen, or pet them every time they lie next to us, we're teaching them that following us leads to some type of reward.
If we give puppies constant attention when they're developing, they can become fearful of being alone and subsequently never want to leave our side. Dogs can also become clingy if we change their daily routine.
Older dogs with vision or hearing loss, or who are experiencing cognitive decline, can suddenly become clingy because their world is becoming unfamiliar to them. Dogs who are ill or bored can also become clingy.
Interestingly, dogs can also become clingy if they sense our stress or anxiety. And dogs who have anxiety issues of their own often develop clingy dog behaviors.
As if all of these reasons weren't enough, some dog breeds are prone to clinginess. For example, lapdogs, like Shih Tzus, tend be needy dogs. Also, working dogs, who are trained to be dependent, can become clingy.
Clinginess vs. Separation Anxiety
Clinginess and separation anxiety are similar but not exactly the same. Generally, what separates them is how a dog reacts to being away from their owner.
Clingy dogs want to be around you when you're at home, but they don't panic when you're not there. A dog with separation anxiety panics when you're not around.
Separation anxiety causes dogs to engage in destructive, anxious behavior when left alone. Such behavior includes incessant whining, pacing, destructive chewing, and urinating or defecating in the home.
Clinginess becomes a problem when it progresses to separation anxiety. If a clingy dog starts becoming anxious or panicky when left alone, it's time to suspect separation anxiety and seek professional behavioral help.
How to Make a Dog Less Clingy
If you have a clingy dog without separation anxiety, there are ways you can teach them how to become more independent. Here are several strategies that can help reduce a dog's clinginess.
- Increase exercise. A good bout of physical activity will tire your dog enough to where he has little interest in following you around.
- Stimulate their mind. A bored dog may become clingy because he doesn't have anything better to do. Dog interactive toys, such as the Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound dog brick interactive toy and the Omega Paw tricky treat ball, keep dogs mentally stimulated and encourage independent play.
- Create a special space. Set up a space with your dog's bed and favorite dog toys where your dog can go instead of following you around. Train your dog to go to this area with a cue like, "Go to your special space," and immediately reward them with a treat when they go there.
- Desensitize your dog to your movements. Your dog has probably associated certain movements (e.g., going to the kitchen, grabbing your keys) with you rewarding or leaving them. To "normalize" these movements, practice doing them without the intended effect. For example, go to the kitchen and start sweeping or grab your keys and turn on the TV. Eventually, your dog will learn that your movements don't warrant much or any attention.
Consult with your veterinarian before trying these strategies at home. Also, if these strategies do not reduce your dog's clinginess, consider consulting with either your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist for further guidance.
By: Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
Featured Image: iStock.com/Kesinee Khaikaew