Why Does My Dog Follow Me Everywhere?
Ever get the feeling you're being followed? Odds are, you have a dog. Here's why your canine companion follows you everywhere you go.
Let’s say you’ve spent the past three hours binge-watching a true-crime documentary, as one does, and have finally paused for a popcorn refill and bathroom break. As soon as your feet hit the floor, your dog is up too. Your pup joins you in the kitchen and trails behind you as you hit the restroom. And look, it’s great to have a canine companion after hours of grisly murder investigations, but a lack of bathroom privacy probably has you wondering, Why does my dog follow me everywhere?
As you return to the living room with your four-legged, waggy-tailed buddy by your side, you might eye it with another question on the tip of your tongue: Is it normal for your dog to follow you everywhere? To that, dog experts say you’re most definitely not alone. In fact, these questions are as ubiquitous among dog owners as why does my dog stare at me? And what does my dog’s facial expression mean? These are all fundamental aspects of dog behavior, just like how dogs circle before they lie down, get the zoomies or chase their tails for no apparent reason.
In other words, it’s not just your dog that follows you everywhere. Everyone’s dogs play a canine version of follow-the-leader too. So let’s unpack this doggy behavior and dive into the reasons your pup may be following you at any given time.
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Why do dogs follow people everywhere?
Domesticated dogs descended from wild canines (aka wolves) that lived in cooperative family groups, according to Tennessee veterinarian Kathryn Primm, DVM. As such, before dogs even began evolving into man’s best friend more than 10,000 years ago, they were already predisposed to pack living, which by its very nature demands a certain level of social interaction.
Over many millennia, the dogs that survived in domestication tended to be those best able to interact with humans in ways that benefited both themselves and their humans. Since dogs are naturally predisposed to protect their resources, Dr. Primm explains, early dogs likely followed their human companions around as they guarded their shelters against other humans and other animals.
The food and companionship dogs received in return would have motivated them to keep doing what they’d been doing (following their humans around) and to do it more often and in a greater variety of circumstances. Dogs who fit into this rubric became accustomed to good things happening when they followed their humans, which motivated them to continue following those humans around.
And that brings us to what we would wager to be the biggest explanation for the question, Why does my dog follow me everywhere? That is, someone trained it to.
1. For a reward
When you ask, Why does my dog follow me everywhere? it might be best to do so while looking in a mirror. As much as it’s in your dog’s nature to follow you around, it’s also very much on you—not that there’s anything wrong with that, as we’ll get to in a bit.
Through a continuous stream of positive reinforcement, you’ve trained your dog to follow you everywhere. It’s a dog-training mistake you may have even made unintentionally. Just like ancient dogs, modern dogs recognize that when they follow humans around, good things happen. You toss your pup a treat, give it a tummy rub or take it on a walk around the neighborhood.
Your dog’s no dummy. And one of its many talents is learning from experience. That’s reinforcement. So if your dog keeps getting good things from following you around, then of course it’s going to keep following you around.
2. For food
Your dog may have a specific reason for following you around at any given time. In fact, that’s pretty much a given, though the reason will depend as much on context as it does on science.
For example, does the question, Why does my dog follow me everywhere? always seem to arise at dinnertime? If so, your dog could be following you because it’s hungry and it’s time for you to pour a bowl of dog food.
3. Out of boredom
“My dogs follow me everywhere in the house” is a common refrain among pet owners who are up to their elbows in housework. If that sounds like you, you may be dealing with a bored dog, says Claudine Sievert, DVM, a Kansas-based veterinarian with dog training and boarding company Stayyy.
4. For a potty break
Sure, your furry pal could be dealing with boredom, but there’s another reason your dog may be staring at you and following you everywhere: Your potty-trained pup needs to go outside for a bathroom break. Consider what’s going on at that moment to determine whether your dog needs some mental stimulation or outdoor time.
5. Out of anxiety
The question of whether it’s normal for your dog to follow you everywhere will depend on the context in which you’re asking it. For example, if your dog tends to follow you everywhere after you’ve been gone all day at work but not so much on non-work days, your dog may be experiencing some level of separation anxiety, according to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.
That could also be the case if your dog has been your shadow since you returned to the workplace after a long span of working from home during the pandemic.
What if your dog follows you—and only you—around?
“Why is my dog so attached to me?” can feel like such an ungrateful thing to utter. After all, one of the things dog lovers love most about dogs is their affectionate nature. But sometimes a dog gets extra attached to one member of its family.
It’s not uncommon for a dog to choose a seemingly favorite person, according to Jamie Freyer, DVM, a veterinary technical support manager for dog DNA test company Wisdom Panel. Sometimes it’s for the simple reason that the “favorite” person spends the most time with the dog. But dogs might also gravitate toward people who tend to be the most generous with snacks.
In some cases, it’s not about what the “favorite” person is doing so much as what Dr. Freyer refers to as personality alignment. “Just like for human relationships, the more you have in common with a dog, the more likely you are to become close friends,” she explains.
Hard as it may be to reckon with, dogs sometimes pick a favorite person and follow them everywhere for no discernible reason. “Dogs, just like people, can get favorites without any real rhyme or reason to it,” according to PetCoach veterinary tech Jessica Desrosiers. And despite the fact that dogs are highly motivated by food, their “favorite person” may not necessarily be the one who puts dinner in the bowl every night.
Likewise, their favorite person to follow into the kitchen may not necessarily be their favorite person to sleep with. “Most dogs will sleep with the same person each night if given a choice,” says veterinary surgeon Linda Simon, BVMS, MRCVS. “In some households, this is whoever will let them in their bed. In others, it may be children because they feel a duty and a biological need to protect and guard them.”
According to Dr. Sievert, dogs may even choose their sleeping partner based on smell and who they perceive to be the “pack leader.”
When should you worry about your dog following you everywhere?
Since it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion, from a genetic standpoint, that your dog will spend some chunk of their waking hours following you around, it’s not generally something to worry about—unless, of course, it makes you uncomfortable. Not everyone appreciates having a fur ball underfoot at all times.
Whether your dog following you around is truly problematic may hinge on other behaviors you may be witnessing, according to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. These include biting and other forms of aggression, destructive behavior and signs of depression, like a lack of energy, a change in appetite and withdrawal from social interactions.
If you’re seeing other worrisome behaviors, it may be time to take action. That means consulting with your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues. It also means making sure your dog is getting enough exercise. A tired dog is less likely to follow in any situation. It can also be helpful to look at what you might be doing to reinforce your dog’s behavior.
How to stop a dog from following you everywhere
If you want some separation from your beloved pooch, try these strategies that can encourage independence and keep them busy.
1. Give them something to do
Try encouraging your dog to get a good solo play session in. Chrissy Joy, a celebrity dog trainer and live performer, recommends using puzzle toys to keep your pup physically and mentally stimulated. “When you are home, fill a puzzle toy in another room and allow your dog to learn some play away from you,” she says. Just check on your dog while they’re playing to make sure they aren’t chewing up the puzzle itself. Joy also stresses the importance of properly exercising your dog with activities like hiking and scent work.
2. Set boundaries
Joy says using simple boundaries can teach your dog to be more comfortable when they aren’t close to you. She recommends setting up a space with some pet-friendly gates to start. “Place some of their favorite toys, chews or even a puzzle toy in their area,” she advises. “Start from a distance where they can see you, and work on increasing distance and duration.”
3. Establish a special place for your pup
If your dog follows you from room to room, create a spot just for them in each room. This gives them a special space that’s still in the same room as you, but encourages healthy space. The key to making that spot special? Rewards, rewards and more rewards. “You can pair it with a favorite chew or treat-filled toy,” Joy explains. “For me, I like to use a bed as their safe space in a room. I will often give my dog treats for remaining on the bed.”
Next, find out the answer to this interesting question: Do dogs watch TV?
About the experts
- Kathryn Primm, DVM, is a veterinarian in Tennessee and the author of Tennessee Tails: Pets and Their People. She also hosts the podcast Nine Lives with Dr. Kat and travels across the U.S. to teach other vets how to create the best visits for pets.
- Claudine Sievert, DVM, is a Kansas-based veterinarian with Stayyy, a community for dog lovers looking to train their beloved pups. She’s assisted more than 1,000 cats and dogs during her career as a pet-care specialist.
- Linda Simon, BVMS, MRCVS, is a veterinary surgeon and a consultant with Five Barks, a dog-care website created by loyal pup owners and industry professionals. She’s also contributed to Woman, The People’s Friend and Wag!
- Jessica Desrosiers is a veterinary technician with PetCoach, a platform where people can get pet advice from veterinarians. She holds a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences and spends her free time volunteering at her local animal shelter, where she helps train special-needs dogs.
- Chrissy Joy is a celebrity dog trainer, live performer and International Trick Dog Champion who has been featured on PIX11 and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, as well as in USA Today. Her goal is to inspire others to develop their bond with their pup through activities like trick training.
Additional reporting by Kelly Kuehn.