Anyone with one of these very friends already knows, dogs tend to follow their owners around everywhere. But have you ever wondered why they do this? Why are dogs often our second shadow? Actually, there are a number of reasons for this.
Let’s delve deeper into why dogs watch and follow our every move.
The term “Imprinting” is often used when referring to ducks or geese. And imprinted duck is one that was raised by a human from the moment of its hatching. The human caretaker becomes imprinted as the parent. The animal aligns its behavior around human-centered activities and routines.
Now that you understand imprinting, understand that a form of imprinting can also happen with your dog. Puppies between three and 12 weeks old are the most likely to be influenced by imprinting. If the dog latches onto your imprint, it sees you as a source of both security and companionship. Consequently, you just acquired a second shadow!
It’s common knowledge that dogs on the descendants of wolves and share many of the same traits. Wolves are pack animals and have social dynamics within the pack. Wolves are social animals and so are dogs. One of the social dynamics of wolves is pack leadership. Wolf packs have a pack leader which is typically the alpha male.
When it comes to your dog, if your dog follows you everywhere, it’s because your dog sees you as the “alpha dog” and the leader of the pack.
A “friend with benefits” means an entirely different thing when we are talking about dogs vs. humans! Benefits to a dog falls under: Food, toys, playtime, attention or other activities. If a dog knows it’s going to acquire such things from a certain human, then they are inclined to follow that person around.
As mentioned earlier, dogs are social animals. They have a natural instinct to be with “the pack.” Here’s where it gets interesting… Dogs may want to spend time with other dogs, but some dogs actually prefer the companionship of humans more. Domestication has had its part in shaping dogs to desire human companionship and to bond with them.
Just like humans, dogs also release the feel-good chemical oxytocin. This chemical gets released when the dog spends time and interacts with humans. Another strong motivator for your dog seeking your companionship is simply that your dog really and truly loves you!
Certain specific breeds have inherent traits as a result of what was bred into the dog for centuries. Some dogs were bred to work alongside humans. These breeds naturally connect to humans and want to be by their side.
Dogs are curious creatures by nature. As you wander off, your dog naturally becomes curious about what you’re up to. Are you going for food? Treats? Going for a walk? In your dog’s mind, all kinds of pleasurable possibilities exist. Naturally, your dog wants to follow along and find out what’s up. Whatever you’re up to, your dog simply wants to be part of the fun or adventure.
Let’s face it, you’re the alpha dog. You lead the pack, provide the food and water, as well as, security and protection. In fact, security is the keyword. For your dog, its entire world basically revolves around you. That is one strong reason that your dog sticks to you like Velcro.
As mentioned previously, certain breeds were bred specifically to work alongside humans. Your dog may be following you around because it believes it’s part of its job. Your dog may believe following you is part of being on patrol or performing some other duty. All dogs are naturally protective of the home and their territory.
Another common reason some dogs follow their human around is due to separation anxiety. Unfortunately, this is not a reason you want your dog to be following you for. With separation anxiety, the dog follows you everywhere because it is obsessive about being separated from you. This is not good and is a behavior in your dog you need to help it break.
The first step in turning separation anxiety around is you reinforcing your position as the pack leader. Your dog needs to learn that it’s okay to be separated from you at times – and understand that it will be just fine without you for a little while.
Another way you may be reinforcing separation anxiety without realizing it is by allowing your dog to sleep with you. It’s important to crate train your dog and have your dog be comfortable with sleeping in its crate, or at the very least a designated bed. By asserting yourself as the pack leader and claiming your bed as your space, that’s one way to reinforce boundaries between you and your dog that will help it become more comfortable in being separated from you.
There are different levels of separation anxiety and some can be problematic. It can be displayed by behaviors such as: whining, barking, scratching at walls/doors/floors, attempts to escape a room or its crate, excessive salivation, or at worst – destroying items.
Experts in dog behavior say there are two types of separation anxiety: True and a learned type of behavior, which they call simulated separation anxiety. With simulated separation anxiety, the dog has learned that a certain type of bad behavior will result in being rewarded with what it wanted.
This reward may be as simple as gaining attention. The dog can even come to see negative attention as a reward.
Cesar Milan says there are 3 important steps to correcting simulated separation anxiety: Exercise, discipline, and only then – affection.
One way to get started is to train your dog to learn to accept being separated from you for very short intervals. You can start with just a few seconds. Over time, increase the length of time you are away from the dog. The idea is that your dog will get used to being away from you for longer stretches of time, until eventually – your absence no longer bothers the dog.