When I considered adopting my Border Collie, Mack, I remember emailing the rescue a series of questions about him.
One thing I asked was whether he was people-focused. I wanted a dog who would be interested in working with me and would be loyal.
Their response said that Mack was a shadow and liked to stick close. That was the final answer I needed to make my decision — this was my dog!
Mack’s focus on people was one of the things I most loved about him, but it also came with some challenges. Many of the commands I taught him first were things to help his lack of boundaries and independence.
Mack learned a healthy level of independence over time. Although he would always lie down where he could keep an eye on the greatest number of people in our home, and was at the baby’s door when she cried before I got there most nights, he also learned how to stay at home by himself, give me space when asked and quickly adjust to new places.
Mack became exactly what I had hoped he would be: my trail dog, lounge buddy, vigilant family guardian and quirky friend. We both worked hard to get there.
Velcro dogs and shadows are dogs who tend to follow so closely, so often, that they practically stick to your leg or mimic your movements like a shadow.
While having your pup tag along can be endearing at first, it can become a problem when they’re following you into the bathroom, into the baby’s room at night, or they are so underfoot that you worry about tripping over them and not being able to do everyday tasks.
This becomes an even bigger problem when their following is rooted in anxiety or behavior problems.
Why Does My Dog Always Follow Me?
Dogs follow us for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are normal and healthy, and some are symptoms of an underlying behavioral problem.
Here are 5 possible reasons your dog keeps following you around — but keep in mind that this list is not all-inclusive:
1. Puppy Development
Most healthy puppies naturally follow their people around. In the absence of their mothers, puppies are dependent on us to keep them safe and teach them about the world around them.
Puppies tag along to gain security from being with us, to learn how to interact with the world around them through exposure and observing us, and simply because they enjoy being with us.
A young puppy following you is normal and not an issue at first. Actually, you should make a point of taking the pup with you to new places to help them become well socialized to the world they live in.
During puppyhood, they do need to learn how to be alone, though — to prevent separation anxiety as an adult.
Many puppies are left at home while their people go to work, but if you are home all day with your puppy, you will need to make a point to teach them how to handle being by themselves.
Some dogs are bred to do jobs that require them to work closely with people.
In order to do those jobs, a dog needs to be close enough to their person for them to watch how a person acts and reacts to things. So staying close might be a breed characteristic in your dog.
While staying close and keeping a careful eye on you can help a dog perform amazing tasks, these dogs might need extra help coping with being alone. Teaching them independence from an early age can be especially important to prevent anxiety later in life.
Speaking of which …
Many dogs follow their people because they are anxious and insecure.
For these dogs, following you around all the time is not healthy and is a symptom of a greater problem. These dogs often need their confidence boosted and independence taught to help them cope with their anxieties.
Allowing them to stay at your feet all the time can not only cause issues for your mobility but can also be unhealthy for the dog.
Some dogs follow because they associate you with good things and enjoy being with you. These dogs might expect a fun game, a pet, some food or interesting things to happen when they are around you.
Dogs are social animals. Many dogs will follow people around at least part of the time simply because they enjoy being with them.
Pay attention to your dog’s body language, how closely they follow and how often they follow:
- Are they content to be in a room without you some of the time, or do they always have to be by your side?
- Do they seem anxious and overstimulated, or relaxed and happy?
Paying attention to body language and the frequency of the following can help you determine whether their need to follow you around is healthy or too much.
Finally, some dogs follow because they haven’t been taught what else to do. They learned while young — or due to rewards like physical affection, praise and treats — that they should stick close.
Staying close became a habit, and now they think that’s what they are supposed to do.
This situation is simply a case of insufficient training. They need to be shown that there are options other than following … which is exactly what we’ll discuss next.
What You Can Do If Your Dog Keeps Following You — And It’s Bothering You
Almost all dogs can benefit from a bit of structure and independence training.
Some dogs, such as anxious dogs, might need to learn more independence for their health, but even a secure dog can benefit from training. There is no shame in wanting your dog to give you more space to function.
If your dog is so underfoot that you are worried about tripping over them or stepping on them, safety can be another good reason to teach them to follow less, too!
The following commands and methods are great to practice with a dog who always follows:
- Crate train
- Arrive and depart calmly
- Set boundaries
Now let’s go over each of these tips in detail.
“Place” is one of the best commands to teach any dog — especially a dog who always follows you.
A place can be a dog bed, a towel, a cot, a mat or even a designated chair that your dog can fit comfortably on.
With the “Place” command, the dog is required to have all 4 paws on their “place” and to stay there until they are released. Unlike “Stay,” the dog can choose to sit down, lie down or stand — they just can’t get off the place.
Because the dog can move about on the place, this is a good command to practice for longer periods. Because the place is something your dog can see, this command also tends to be easier for them to understand.
Practice sending them to the place when you need some space once they have learned the command. Go about your normal daily activities and work up to them staying on place while you enter and leave the room.
The end goal should be for them to be able to stay on place even while you are not in the room for 1–2 hours at a time. You can also give them a food-stuffed chew toy (like a KONG toy) on place to keep them entertained.
How to Teach “Place”
- Set up the place, such as a dog bed, cot, mat or towel. Choose something your dog can fit their entire body on while standing and lying down.
- Attach a 4- or 6-foot leash to your dog’s collar or harness.
- Grab some treats and lead your dog over to their place with the leash.
- As soon as your dog steps at least 2 paws onto their place, praise them and toss a treat onto the place.
- After they eat the treats, tell them “OK!” and encourage them to get off the place.
- Repeat walking them toward the place and praising and rewarding them as soon as they step onto it. Do this until your dog starts to move onto the place before you lead them completely to it.
- When your dog starts to walk onto their place on their own, drop the leash while you are still a couple of feet away from the place. Praise them and toss treats onto the place when they move onto it on their own.
- When they learn how to go to their place on their own from a couple of feet away, gradually practice dropping the leash while they are farther and farther away from their place — so that they walk to the place on their own.
- Practice the “Place” command until you can send your dog to their place from across the room without a leash on.
- When you can send them to their place from across the room, practice leaving the room for a few seconds. Listen from around the corner to hear if they get up from place.
- Take them back to place each time they get up. If they remain on place the entire time you are gone, reward them by placing a treat on the place when you return.
- Practice until your dog consistently stays on place while you leave the room for a few seconds. When they can do that, gradually leave for longer and longer periods, until they can stay on place for up to an hour whether you are in or out of the room.
The “Out” command generally means to leave the area. (It’s also sometimes used in place of the “Drop It” command — but when it’s used like that, the meaning is different. In this article, “Out” will simply mean to leave the area.)
“Out” is a wonderful command for teaching dogs to respect personal space and not to follow so closely. It can also be used to teach pups to be more respectful of guests and to communicate to the dog that they should not follow you into a room or a certain space.
If your dog also struggles with pushy, demanding behavior, this command can be helpful to teach respect and boundaries as well.
How to Teach “Out” to Your Dog
- Grab several large treats and go somewhere where your dog will be able to see the treats easily when you toss them — white carpet, tile or wood floors, or a driveway while your dog is on a long leash usually work well for this. Avoid areas where the treats will be buried, like grass or thick carpeting.
- Call your dog over to you, show them the treat and slowly toss the treat 5–10 feet away from you while also pointing your index finger in that direction — so that it looks like you are pointing to where you just tossed the treat as you toss it.
- When your dog goes over to the treat, praise them and encourage them to eat it.
- If they do not walk toward the treat, use bigger treats or slowly toss another treat — less far this time, and be sure they are watching you the entire time.
- After your dog finishes the treat, tell them “OK!” and encourage them to come back over to you.
- When they return, repeat the treat toss and “Out” command.
- Practice until your dog starts to walk to where you point when you say “Out” before you toss the treat. As soon as they start to walk away from you, toward where the treat is being tossed, toss the treat past them, for them to find.
- As you see improvement, wait until they get farther away before you toss them a treat. Practice until they will walk 10 feet away without being shown a treat when you tell them “Out” and point to where they should go.
- Once your dog is at least 10 feet away and waiting there, you can toss them a treat.
- Practice “Out” in various locations throughout your home and yard until your pup gets good at it in a variety of locations and various situations.
- Once they understand “Out” and can perform it in a variety of locations, when your dog becomes pushy — such as nudging you, trying to climb onto your lap uninvited, barking at you for attention, pawing at you or following too closely — tell your dog “Out” in a calm but firm tone of voice and point to where they should go.
- If your dog obeys, reward them with a treat if they stay out of the area for at least 5 minutes. At this point in the training do not reward them as soon as they leave, though — wait until they stay away for a few minutes.
- If your dog disobeys your command and doesn’t leave, firmly but calmly walk toward them, making them back at least 10 feet away. Don’t be afraid to bump into them slightly if they are not moving, but be careful not to step on their paws or tail. If your dog has issues with aggression, do not use this command because it involves moving into their space.
- Once your dog is out of the area, walk back over to where you were previously standing or sitting. If they follow you, repeat walking them out of the area.
- When you are ready for your dog to come over to you again, tell them “OK!” If you want to pet them, give them a command first, such as “Sit.” When they obey, you can give them your attention again.
- If your dog is too close to someone else, such as your guest or a child, and they ignore your “Out” command, you can enforce the command yourself so that your guest doesn’t have to. Get between your dog and the other person and walk toward your dog until they are at least 10 feet away from your guest or child. When your dog stops trying to return to the person, walk away from to see if they will give that person space.
- If your dog tries to go back over to the person without being invited, repeat walking them out of the area. Do this until your dog gives space to that person unless invited over.
“Down-Stay” is a wonderful command to use in a variety of situations:
- Help with socialization
- Teach manners
- Teach impulse control
- Teach calmness
- Deal with respect issues
- Manage your dog in daily life
When your dog always follows you, “Down-Stay” is a great command for teaching independence, too.
This command requires them to remain self-controlled, to cope with being separated from you, and to willingly obey a command that requires separation from you.
Although crates and physical separation can also be good, a dog will learn more when they are required to choose obedience and exercise impulse control even when it means separation.
How to Teach “Down-Stay”
- First, grab some treats or a bit of dog food and go to a calm location with your dog.
- Hold a treat against their nose and slowly move the treat over their head, toward their back. Move the treat slow enough that your dog can continue to sniff or lick the treat as you move it.
- When the treat is moved above their neck or back, your dog should sit to keep the treat in view. As soon as they sit, praise and reward with the treat. If you wish to teach the “Sit” command at this point, tell your pup to “Sit” right before they place their bottom on the ground.
- If your dog tends to back up instead of sit when you move the treat, practice this command with their back against the wall or in a corner.
- Once your dog is seated, hold a second treat against their nose. Slowly move that treat toward the floor and then away from them along the floor. Move the treat slowly so they can continue sniffing or licking the treat while you move it.
- If they stand up, pull the treat away and get your dog back into the seated position before trying again.
- Repeat luring your dog to the ground with a treat until they move into the down position with their chest against the ground. Tell your dog “Down” when they begin to move toward the ground.
- As soon as your dog’s chest touches the ground, praise them and give the treat.
- Give an additional treat every 3 seconds that they stay in the down position.
- If you can’t get your dog to lie down by moving the treat along the floor away from them, move the treat along the floor toward your dog so that the treat is going underneath them.
- Repeat luring your dog to the ground with a treat and rewarding them with additional treats every 3 seconds that they remain in the down position. Do this until they can stay down for 1 minute.
- When your dog can remain in the down position for 1 minute, gradually increase the amount of time between treat rewards. For example, give treats every 5 seconds, then 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, 1.5 minutes, 2 minutes, 3 minutes and so on. Gradually work up to a 30-minute “Down-Stay” overtime.
- When your pup can remain in the down position for 10 minutes without getting up while being rewarded with treats, attach a leash to their collar and practice down with your foot on the leash. Keep the leash slack enough that your dog will not feel any pressure from the leash while they are staying down but will be prevented from standing up if they break the “Down-Stay” command and move.
- At this point in the training, only reward your dog for staying down for longer periods, without trying to stand up. Do not reward them for attempting to get up and returning to the down position when the leash prevents them from standing. The leash should serve as an automatic correction and reminder to stay down when they move out of position.
- After each practice session, say a release word before allowing the dog to get up. The release word might be “OK,” “Free” or another command such as “Stand.”
For puppies, dogs with separation anxiety and dogs with destructive chewing habits, crate training is essential for your dog’s safety — not to mention your sanity and financial well-being.
When used correctly, a crate can teach greater independence and calmness to dogs. You can also use it to prevent separation anxiety in a puppy.
How to Crate Train
- First, if your dog is not yet house-trained, buy a crate that is large enough for them to lie down, stand up and turn around, but not so big that your dog has extra space where they can go potty in the opposite end of the crate and avoid the accident. Otherwise, your dog’s natural desire to keep a confined space clean will not motivate them to keep the crate clean. Do not put anything absorbent in a crate with a dog who chews or is not yet house-trained.
- Leave the door to the crate open. Sprinkle your dog’s food or treats in front of the crate and inside the crate. Show your dog the food several times throughout the first 2 days and encourage them to eat the treats each time.
- Once they know there is often food near the crate, frequently replace the sprinkled food that your dog eats, but now allow your dog to go over to the crate on their own to explore instead of leading them to it.
- When the dog is willingly entering the crate to eat the food, sprinkle treats inside the crate and close the door with your dog inside it for 5 minutes.
- If your dog stays quiet or gets quiet for at least 1 second while in the crate, sprinkle in more food without opening the crate door. This is easiest with a wire crate.
- After a few minutes of being inside the crate, while your dog is quiet, open the crate door again to release them. If your dog will not stop crying, make a strange noise or use another form of interruption to get their attention so they will become quiet briefly — then open the crate door while they are quiet.
- When the crate door opens, if your dog tries to rush out, quickly close the crate door again. When they are waiting inside the crate calmly, open the crate door partially again. Each time they try to rush out of the crate, close the door. Repeat this until you can open the crate door completely and your dog will wait inside.
- When they are waiting for permission to exit and is calm, happily and calmly say, “OK” and encourage them to come out.
- When your dog can remain quiet for the entire 5 minutes, place a food-stuffed, durable, hollow, chew toy in the crate with them when you put them into the crate.
- Gradually work up to your dog staying in the crate for longer and longer periods. Space treat sprinkles farther and farther apart as your dog adjusts to longer periods in the crate.
- Do not let your dog out of the crate while they are still crying unless there is something truly wrong, such as needing to go potty. If your dog does not become quiet on their own eventually, use an interrupter to stop the barking briefly, then release them while they are still quiet from the interrupter.
Arrive and Depart Calmly
Many dogs who lack independence and self-soothing skills become overly excited or anxious when their pet parents arrive or depart.
Once a dog is anxious after your departure, it can be hard for that dog to calm back down while you are gone. Also, when your dog expects an exciting arrival home, they may not relax in anticipation of your return.
The tension surrounding arrivals and departures may be accidentally encouraged when pet parents make their departures drawn out and emotional, or they get overly excited and affectionate with their pup when they arrive home.
How to Arrive and Depart Calmly
- The goal of arrivals and departures is boringness. You want your arrivals and departures to be so boring that your dog takes little notice. This may not be very emotionally satisfying for us — who doesn’t love an excited dog when we get home? But it’s healthier for your dog and can mean less anxiety for them while you are away.
- To make your departures boring, practice varying your leaving routine so that the dog gives up on anticipating when you will leave. A dog who is anticipating that you will leave 30 minutes before you walk out the door because your routine is predictable may spend that 30 minutes becoming increasingly anxious and struggle to calm back down.
- Practice leaving and returning often to desensitize your dog to your absence. If you are constantly walking outside for 2–10 minutes and then returning, your dog learns that not every departure will be 8 hours long, and they can feel calmer about your absence.
- When you arrive home, ignore your dog for 10 minutes if you know they can hold their bladder for that much longer. Do not acknowledge your dog or release them from the crate during this time. Instead, busy yourself with other routine activities around your home.
- When it is time to release your dog, practice slowly opening the crate and closing it again if they try to rush out. Repeat opening and closing the crate until they will remain inside with the crate door open. Once your dog is waiting calmly to be released, say “OK” or “Free” in a calm yet happy tone of voice. By making them wait, you are asking them to think and to be calm, both of which can help them be in a better state of mind during future arrivals once they form a habit.
- Once your dog is out of the crate, keep interactions with them calm for another 5 minutes. Calmly take them potty during this time if they need to go.
Many dogs lack boundaries and do not know how to give space because they have never been taught.
Most dogs do very well when given boundaries. Dogs who struggle with anxiety or other behavior issues are especially in need of structure, boundaries and consistency in our interactions with them.
How to Set Boundaries
- Decide what commands will help you interact with and communicate with your dog. Commands such as “Out,” “Place,” “Down-Stay,” “Crate,” “Sit,” “Leave It,” “Quiet” and “Off” are all great or communicating boundaries clearly to your dog. Don’t expect your dog to respond to a command unless you have spent time teaching them what that command means first. Training needs to be proactive in order to see results.
- Decide what behaviors are off-limits for your dog and enforce those rules consistently. For example, do not tolerate nudging, barking for attention, climbing into your lap uninvited or other pushy behaviors. If your couch is off-limits, consistently enforce the rule. If the dog is not allowed to jump up, do not tolerate it while you are playing with them.
- Deal with aggression and resource guarding issues as soon as they become apparent by contacting a trainer in your area who is very experienced with the behavior you need help addressing.
- Once your dog has learned a command, get into the habit of giving a command only one time, then enforce that command if they’ve heard you and aren’t obeying. Enforcing a command does not have to be harsh, but it does need to be consistent so that your dog learns to respect what you say.
Here are a few more reasons a dog follows you everywhere:
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Having a dog who wants to be with you and who pays attention to you can be a wonderful thing.
By teaching your dog a healthy level of independence, boundaries and the skills needed to be by themselves when needed, you can enjoy the wonderful characteristics of a “Velcro dog,” while encouraging your dog to be calm and less anxious.
You can also ensure that your people-centered pooch isn’t tripping you in the middle of the night every time you go to the baby’s room — which is better for both you and your pup.
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This article was originally published in 2011 and is regularly updated. It was last reviewed and updated March 9, 2020.