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Why Is My Dog Being “Clingy”? 8 Possible Reasons

It’s no secret that dogs are happiest with their owners. But why do some dogs follow their owners everywhere? Here are eight potential reasons for this behaviour.

We all enjoy spending time with our pets, but some dogs become a constant shadow to their owners. This behavior is often described as “clingy” or “velcro dog syndrome”, although it’s important to note that these terms aren’t based on veterinary or behavioural science.

Some dogs are naturally prone to becoming a velcro dog. But clinginess can also be caused by an underlying issue, such as illness, stress, environment changes, or aging.

In this article, we’ll discuss eight of the most common causes of a dog becoming clingy. We’ll also explain why it’s important to distinguish between a clingy dog and one who has separation anxiety. 

What Exactly is “Velcro Dog Syndrome”?

“Velcro dog syndrome” isn’t an actual syndrome or medical diagnosis. However, the term “velcro dog” is often used to describe a dog who is clingy or won’t leave the owner’s side.

Of course, most dogs have a natural desire to be close to their owners. But “velcro dogs” take this to an extreme, suggesting there is an underlying anxiety or medical problem.

Why Do Dogs Want To Be Near Their Owner?

In the same way that infants are comforted by their parents, your dog is happiest when she’s near you – and there’s a biological reason for this. During close contact with your pet, the hormone oxytocin is released in the brain. Also known as “the cuddle hormone,” oxytocin reinforces your dog’s bond and desire to be near you.

When Does Constant Shadowing Become A Problem?

While it’s great to have your furry companion by your side, there are times when constant shadowing can become a problem. This behaviour can also be a sign that your pet is struggling with anxiety or pain, so it shouldn’t be ignored.

In reality, it’s nearly impossible for your dog to be with you everywhere. Whether you need to go to the bathroom, have a sleep, or just want some time alone, it’s important that your pet doesn’t feel anxious or stressed when you’re apart.

Your dog can also be a tripping hazard if they are always underfoot. This is especially hazardous on stairs or in the kitchen.

What Causes a Dog to Suddenly Become Clingy?

1. Pain or Illness

Dogs who are in pain or sick may seek more reassurance from their owners than normal. This can cause them to become clingy and anxious about being separated.

Many dogs hide that they are unwell or hurt, so it’s important to take note of this type of behaviour change. Other signs your dog might be in pain include: 

  • Shaking or trembling
  • Reluctance to lie down or get up
  • Excessive licking of a certain area
  • Limping
  • Whining
  • Reluctance to go up steps
  • Slower pace on walks
  • Resource guarding
  • Lower tolerance to people/animals
  • Sudden avoidance of being touched
  • Excessive panting (especially if not hot or exercising)

Be aware that these symptoms may be more prominent in the evening when the pain has gotten worse over the day. Always contact a vet if you notice any strange symptoms or behaviour changes in your dog.

2. Vision or Hearing Loss

Losing a sense – even partially – is very stressful for a dog. They are likely to feel uncertain, anxious, and scared, so it’s natural that they seek the comfort of being near their owner.

Unfortunately, a dog experiencing hearing or vision loss is even more of a tripping hazard than a healthy dog. So, it’s important to be careful if your deaf or blind dog won’t leave your side.

The good news is that there are many ways you can manage your dog’s hearing or vision loss to make him as comfortable as possible. For example, deaf dogs can often learn hand signals to replace verbal cues. Over time, you can also re-teach your pet to be relaxed on his own.

3. Change in the Home Environment

Dogs thrive on routine and consistency. They can be sensitive to changes to their home environment, particularly if it alters their routine or the people they spend time with.

Common examples include a family bereavement, new baby, new pet, or a family member moving out. While these changes are hard for humans, it’s important to remember that they affect your dog too!

If your pet is feeling anxious or stressed about a change in environment, he might want to stick close to you for reassurance or comfort.

4. Moved to a New Environment

If you’ve ever moved home, you know how stressful the process can be. This is also true for your dog, who doesn’t understand what’s happening or why everything is changing.

After the move, your dog may follow you around both for comfort and also because the layout is unfamiliar. Clingy behaviour will usually decrease as your pet settles into their new environment, but this can take longer than many people realise.

To help your dog feel comfortable in their new space, provide a designated area where they can relax. Give them old bedding, favourite toys, and other comforting items to create a sense of security and consistency.

5. Routine Change

Dogs are creatures of habit and find comfort in routine. Any changes to this routine can be unsettling and a source of stress.

Common examples include changes to feeding times, walking times, or play times. These may not seem like a big deal to you, but they are for your pup! 

Unsettled by this change in their routine, your dog may shadow you as a source of comfort. They may also want to follow you to check whether it’s time for food or a walk.

6. Stress

Stress can cause your dog to act more attached for several reasons. As we’ve seen with a change in environment or routine, when your pup is stressed, they will turn to you for comfort. Just being near you helps them cope. 

Likewise, when your dog senses that you are stressed, your dog may shadow you in an effort to comfort you. If you’ve ever been upset and noticed your dog is suddenly there to offer snuggles or a lick, it’s no coincidence. Dogs are highly sensitive to changes in their owner’s moods and emotions, mainly due to their ability to smell cortisol (a stress hormone). 

Helping your dog with their stress will depend on identifying the root cause. Once identified, you can either work to avoid or reduce the stressor, or work with a behaviorist who can help your dog overcome their anxiety. 

7. Boredom

All dogs require daily mental and physical stimulation, otherwise their wellbeing can suffer. This can lead to boredom, frustration, and stress.

As we mentioned earlier, stress or anxiety makes it more likely that your dog will follow you around. Following can also be a form of entertainment for a bored dog, as watching you may partly relieve some of her frustration.

In addition, it’s easy to accidentally reinforce your dog’s clingy behaviour. For example, if you give your dog attention when they follow you (even negative attention), then the relief from boredom provides a type of reward. This increases the chance of the behaviour in the future.

Make sure your pup gets plenty of exercise, as well as mental stimulation from puzzle toys or training. If your dog is appropriately tired and satisfied, they are less likely to shadow your every move.

8. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (Dementia)

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) affects dogs in much the same way dementia does in humans. It can also cause confusion and anxiety, leading to the dog wanting to be near the owner as much as possible.

Other common signs of CCD include: 

  • Disorientation or confusion in previously familiar places
  • Different behaviors towards their owners or other pets
  • A change in their sleep routine (awake more at night, sleeping more during the day)
  • Accidents in the house
  • Change in gait, posture, or depth perception

Unfortunately, symptoms of CCD are common as dogs get older. Nearly one in three dogs over the age of 11 will show at least one sign of cognitive dysfunction.

While you cannot cure or stop CCD, there are some things you can do to potentially slow the progression and keep your dog as comfortable as possible. Some examples include:

  • Maintain routine. All dogs thrive with routine, but it’s especially important for aging dogs that are easily confused. Keeping meal times, bedtimes, and exercise times on a set schedule can help. 
  • Continue with exercise and mental stimulation. While your dog will usually be less active as they get older, it’s important to still incorporate a routine with regular exercise.
  • Talk to your vet. Your dog may benefit from medication, therapy, vitamin supplements, or a specialized diet. Talk to your vet about which options would be best for your dog as they age.
  • Use lights at night. Using nightlights or leaving some ambient lights on at night can help your dog navigate in the dark. Due to disruptions in their sleep cycle, dogs with CCD are more likely to wander at night.
  • Minimize changes to your home environment. If possible, avoid making any major changes to your dog’s home environment. Keep things like furniture, food and water dishes, and your dog’s bed in the same place to minimize confusion.

Tip: If your dog has CCD, the book “Remember Me” by Eileen Anderson contains excellent advice for managing the condition and improving your dog’s quality of life.

Why Separation Anxiety Can Also Cause Clinginess

Dogs with separation anxiety become extremely distressed when separated from their owners. If your dog has separation anxiety, they may always follow you, or they may follow you more when they realise you’re going to leave.

Other signs of separation anxiety tend to happen after you’ve left the dog alone, and may include: 

  • Destructive chewing or shredding
  • Accidents in the house
  • Excessive whining or barking
  • Inability to settle or relax
  • Attempting to escape even if they get hurt in the process

What’s The Difference Between A “Clingy” Dog and Separation Anxiety?

While “clingy” dogs and dogs with separation anxiety share similarities, it’s important to note they’re not the same thing. The biggest difference is that separation anxiety causes symptoms when you’re not there. 

Dogs that are described as clingy can be at peace when you leave (although they may still suffer from some level of anxiety). On the other hand, dogs with separation anxiety experience intense stress and panic when left alone.

If your dog exhibits any signs of separation anxiety, seek the help of a canine behaviorist. Separation anxiety is a serious behavioural problem that needs professional guidance.

Tip: It’s a good idea to film your dog when you’re out, as this is the only real way to know how they behave when alone. Many people assume their dog is fine because they are quiet when returning, but this isn’t always the case.

Are Some Dog Breeds More Likely to Become A Velcro Dog?

While every dog is different, some dog breeds are genetically more likely to become clingy. 

For example, dogs who are natural herders, like Shetland Sheepdogs and Australian Shepherds, are predisposed to becoming stuck to your side. Having been fortunate enough to raise several Shelties myself, I know first-hand that the term “velcro dog” is extremely fitting for this breed!

Examples of other dogs that are more likely to become a velcro dog include: 

  • Labradors
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Doberman pinschers 
  • Italian Greyhounds
  • Pugs

Regardless of breed, puppies are also more likely to follow you constantly. This behaviour usually reduces as the puppy grows up and becomes more independent.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Won’t My Female Dog Leave Me Alone?

Female dogs can become clingy when they are in heat. As her hormones change, a female dog will seek companionship, particularly with those she trusts. If your dog is pregnant, she may also become more attached right before she gives birth.

What Causes A Dog To Become Clingy And Protective?

Dogs with velcro syndrome can sometimes become protective of their owners. This is often due to fear or anxiety. Seek the help of a behaviorist if your dog shows signs of defensive or protective behaviour.

Summary

Dogs can become clingier for many reasons. These include pain, vision loss, routine change, stress, boredom, and illness.

If you notice your dog has become stuck to your side, it’s important to take them for a vet checkup. Once health issues have been ruled out, it’s a good idea to speak to a canine behaviourist, as clinginess is often a sign of anxiety.

Does your dog need more mental stimulation? Check out our Best Puzzles Toys for Stimulating a Bored Pup!

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About The Author: Kathryn Byrne

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has loved dogs from a young age. She has over 20 years of experience in training her own dogs and is passionate about positive training methods that deepen the bond between people and their pups. Outside of writing, Kathryn is always on the hunt for the best dog-friendly hiking trails in her home state of Vermont.

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