Help! My Dog is a Stage-Five Clinger
Remember back in the day when it was all the rage for socialites to cart around a teacup pup in a Gucci bag? As if a living, breathing animal was no more than a cute accessory?
That was some bullshit.
Not that there’s anything wrong with your dog tagging along, but your relationship is so much more than that. Dogs aren’t like family - they are family. They’re our ride-or-die constant companions. Our best friends.
Our dogs should always be by our side.
Or so we imagined. If you adopted a velcro dog, there might be something about that pet-person relationship that you’re feeling a bit reluctant to admit.
What’s a velcro dog, you ask? It’s a cutesy name for a dog that wants to stick by its owner at all times.
Owning a velcro dog seems ideal. Until you can’t make dinner without fido under your feet. Or your little cuddlebug inserts itself smack dab in the middle of that Netflix and chill date for two.
It sucks to admit that you just want a little alone time. Yeah, you were looking for a ride-or-die, but even the clingiest of stage five clinger human partners doesn’t stand there and watch every time you pee. Hopefully.
Does it make you a bad dog mom if you just wish your dog would leave you the fuck alone now and then?
Absolutely not. You’re the best kind of dog mom, because you want to understand why your dog is so clingy and what you can do to help.
Your pup will be a lot happier once you understand what’s behind this behavior and take steps to address it.
Why Won’t My Dog Leave Me Alone?
There are many reasons why dogs hound their owners. Some breeds are simply wired that way. The best guard dogs, like Rottweilers and German Shepherds, are really just doing their jobs. How can they protect their owners if they’re not keeping watch?
Lap dogs have cuddling in their DNA.
And all dogs are pack animals. They’ve been domesticated for thousands of years, but that natural instinct to belong to a family hasn’t changed. Loyalty and dependability are the traits that make dogs awesome… as long as it’s kept on a healthy spectrum and balanced by independence.
Clinginess in Dogs Is Learned Behavior
It’s important to understand when you’re rewarding good behavior versus when you’re encouraging unwanted behaviors by giving your dog what it craves.
Desensitize your pet to certain parts of your routine by removing the reward from the action.
Does your dog follow you into the kitchen every single time? That makes sense if the dog has learned that a trip to the kitchen results in a treat. It’s hard to resist those puppy dog eyes when you’re making something delicious for dinner.
Start walking to the kitchen just because. Wipe off the counter. Make a grocery list. The idea is to let your dog know that it’s not missing out on anything interesting if it just stays put. Be cool. Act like it’s a non-event and soon enough, it will be.
Your Dog Thinks Leaving Means Forever
A more serious issue is when the learned behavior comes from fear of abandonment. This is common with rescue dogs, who were often taught early (and sometimes repeatedly) that when its owner leaves, they may not come back.
Dogs with abandonment issues need time to trust that they’ve found their forever home. Leaving should feel like part of the routine. Save the tearful goodbyes for rom-coms and keep it low-key.
Time and consistency will heal those old emotional wounds.
Your Dog Is Worried About You
Ever been around someone who’s just a bundle of nerves? It freaks you the fuck out and makes you feel anxious.
Your dog gets the same way. A study from Sweden’s Linkoping University found that emotional contagion, or the mirroring of stress levels found in cohabiting groups, is a very real thing for people and their pets.
The TL;DR is that when you’re anxious or stressed, your dog is attuned to that and responds by, well… freaking the fuck out. Anxiety and stress equal danger in dog language.
Your dog wants to protect you, but doesn’t know how. The only thing it can control is to not let you out of its sight until it knows you’re safe.
Take a deep breath, get your woo-sah on, and try to let it go. Some things are just too big to let go, but if it’s just Karen down the hall being Karen, leave it at the door.
Dogs Crave Attention When They’re Bored
If you’re home alone with your dog, it’s not a humblebrag to say you’re the most interesting thing in the room. But sometimes, your dog needs a distraction.
Especially in 2022, when being at home involves working at home for so many. You’ve got important stuff to do. Like pretending to work.
Invest in a fun, interactive dog toy like a Kong or puzzle ball. Treat-motivated dogs will unleash their inner piglet and go to town until you almost wish they would pay attention to you.
Feel sad when your dog slinks across the room looking all pathetic and lonely? Give them something to look forward to - a dog cave.
Much like a man cave, the dog cave is a place they can go to entertain themselves and leave you the hell alone. Fill the space with their dog bed, favorite blanket, chew toys, and other favs. “Go to your dog cave” will start to feel more like an adventure and a lot less like rejection.
When Is It Time to Worry?
If your fiercely independent dog has morphed into a velcro dog, it may be time for concern. This can happen when something changes in your dog’s physical environment, like a move to a new home.
But it can also happen when their safe space suddenly seems unfamiliar.
Increased anxiety in dogs could be explained by sensory changes, like vision or hearing loss. They don’t know how to exist in the world in the same way, so they stick to the person they trust most (you) to protect them.
Dogs can be a lot like people when they’re not feeling well. They just want to be taken care of, but they can’t tell us with words. Instead, they may follow us around, whine, or even try to keep us from leaving home.
If stage five clinger status comes out of nowhere, it’s definitely time for a call to your vet. Don’t dilly-dally with this one. Seek out the pros, pronto.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Clingy dogs often just want you around because life is more fun with a partner in crime. Separation anxiety is not that.
If your dog seems unusually panicked when you leave or exhibits signs of extreme distress like:
Excessive whining or barking
Using the whole house like a toilet
…then it’s time to seek professional help. A veterinarian, pet behaviorist, or trainer who specializes in dogs with separation anxiety should be your go-to resource.
If your dog has no chill (even if it’s low-level garden-variety annoying lack of chill) and it’s too much to handle on your own, schedule a free consultation to find out how we can help! Learning to manage life apart will make your time together that much sweeter.