Written by Anna Hollisey
“I’m just fetching a drink – I’ll be right back,” you mutter to your sleeping dog as you get off the couch. Right away, they leap into action to follow you and sit on your feet for the 15 seconds it takes you to run the tap – then sigh happily when you both sit back down. Why do our dogs shadow us like this?
Following their owner is natural behavior for many dogs.
To understand why, we need to look at their evolution. Dogs are pack animals. They learned to stay together for protection and survival. It makes perfect sense, really… because forming a pack offers better odds against threats, and better success at hunting for food.
So when dogs were adopted into human families, they kept their instincts to stay together and protect weaker members. That’s why they make such good companions. But it’s also why they love to go wherever you go. In fact, they’re probably puzzled that you want to go out without them!
There are some less subtle reasons for dogs to follow their owners, too.
Some dogs will just follow one person, while others will follow any family member. Does your dog have a favorite person?
It’s not always because they regard that person as ‘alpha’. Dogs are quite selective in choosing favorites, just like people.
For instance, young pups are likely to follow a primary caregiver because they don’t know enough about the world to travel alone in confidence. Older dogs might show a preference for children who drop cracker crumbs! They’re smart enough to pick a favorite… and change their minds, depending on the time of day.
What if your dog’s following you like a shadow? Well, it could be part of their loving personality. If you’re happy with their company and they don’t become distressed when you leave, it’s no problem. But there are some cases where this behavior indicates a problem which needs attention:
Our main tip for managing a dog who follows you around at home? Ensure that they’ve had a busy day with the right amount of exercise and activity. A tired dog is more inclined to relax at home, giving you the peaceful companionship that you prefer. To help them settle, try increasing their daily walk or adding an extra evening stroll – it can be gentle, and it will still provide stimulation.
If you’d like to stop your dog following you into various rooms, don’t scold them – try positive tactics: leave them with a puzzle or chew while you visit the bathroom, and simply close the door behind you. Your dog should be confident that you will return quickly and, if you remain consistent, they will adjust to the change.
Also ensure that you’re not accidentally reinforcing their behavior – for instance, by giving them a little treat when you take your plates to the kitchen. Do you reach for a biscuit whenever you pass the cupboards – or give your dog attention while you wait for the kettle to boil? You could have unwittingly become a dog-magnet!
If your dog is underfoot while you’re cooking in the kitchen, it might be useful to train them to stay on their bed. You can practice this by throwing a treat onto the bed while you say “bed” and then continuing to bring them treats while they stay there. This way, they will associate their bed with positive reinforcement, and they’re more likely to settle on it while in the room with you.
If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, steady training can help them. This starts with encouraging them to play in the yard without you. When they’re happy to leave your side at home, you will start settling them in a safe and comfortable place while you “leave” for just a few seconds. Using a baby safety-gate – which your dog can see beyond – is better than a solid door, as your dog can keep an eye on you.
It’s important to do this training slowly and let your dog choose to enjoy activities away from you. Baby steps will help your dog to feel relaxed at home, and confident that you will always come back.
Watch Steve Mann’s advice on handling separation anxiety.
Have you found any clever ways to settle your dog when you don’t feel like being shadowed? We’d love to hear about them!