December 18, 2017
Do you have a pet who is your “shadow”?
Ever since I got my dog a couple of years ago, I’ve had a near-constant shadow following me around. No matter where I go or what I’m doing, my dog wants to be a part of it. Showering? He’ll sit on the bath mat, thank you very much. Cooking? He can be found curled up on a kitchen chair. Working at my desk? He’ll sit in the windowsill and watch the world go by.
Whether you find it irritating or endearing, it’s definitely odd behavior. So why, exactly, do dogs follow their human companions everywhere?
According to experts, there are several reasons why your dog might be trailing you.
Some dogs suffer from actual separation anxiety when their owner leaves the house or the room. If a dog has separation anxiety, she might salivate excessively, scratch, bark, whine or destroy furniture when separated from her owner.
If separation anxiety is the cause of your dog’s obsessive following, you’ll want to make sure your pet gets some training to help. Cesar Milan, the “Dog Whisperer,” says separation anxiety is a learned behavior like anything else. He says it starts when dogs are puppies and we respond to their every whimper rather than letting them learn to self-soothe. Getting them used to the safe space of a crate, not announcing your exit when you leave and exercise can all help your dog feel more balanced and less anxiety.
As PetHelpful.com explains, “Imprinting describes the way in which [animals] identify the first being they encounter after hatching as their mother.” Just like baby ducks, puppies can — and do — imprint on humans.
“Puppies can imprint on people, as well,” Mary Burch, PhD, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, told PetMD. “The imprinting period for puppies is between three- and 12-weeks-old.” Once a dog imprints on you, she comes to see you as a source of security and companionship — and will follow you everywhere.
Dogs release oxytocin — that “feel good” chemical that bonds humans and dogs alike — when they’re in their owner’s presence, and they’re social creatures by nature. Dogs like being around their pack, and as their constant companion, guess what? You’re their pack!
Some owners will get two dogs to help provide companionship to each other. Doggie playdates or trips to a dog park can help, too. Having another pooch to provide companionship and fulfill the “pack” need can help take the pressure off of a dog’s human to be his one and only source of interaction.
When you get up from the couch and wander off, chances are your pup is wondering exactly where you’re going — and what untold sources of joy could be found there. Will there be treats? Will there be games? Are you going for a walk? Curiosity is a powerful motivator, and chances are your pup wants to find out what you’re up to.
Unless you’ve got a case of separation anxiety on your hands — in which case you should see your vet or trainer for advice on cracking the habit — you shouldn’t worry. Your dog is simply following you around because he or she really, really loves you.