Helping Dogs Who Are Too Attached to Their Owners

Dogs That Are Too Attached to Their Owners

There are two kinds of separation anxiety in dogs. You have those who get stressed when the owners are away, but if they are with somebody, they are able to cope. Then there are those who get hyper-attached to just one person and no matter who they are with, they will be stressed and unable to effectively cope with the separation.

This article is about this latter category, those "one-person" dogs who bond completely to just one individual. The bond they form for their human can be compared to that of Velcro. When these dogs are left, they will still be stressed no matter what, even if there is another person they know well in the home.

What Dogs Are Prone to Velcro Attachment and What Causes It?

There are certain breeds that tend to over-attach to only one person and remain aloof towards others. In general, those in the herding and working category may be prone to this quality, as several have a history of being selectively bred to work with a human, like herding dogs, who often develop a unique bond with the shepherd from whom they take commands. You will often see German and Australian Shepherds and Australian cattle dogs bond with one special person. Akitas, Chow Chow, Shiba Inu, and Jindos, all breeds with an ancient Asian descent, have a predisposition for this as well. The Dalmatian is another Velcro breed that attaches strongly to only one person, and so is the great Pyrenees. And of course any other dog, including mixed breeds, can develop separation anxiety.

But natural predisposition is not the only culprit. Some become Velcro dogs through learning or negative experiences. Those who were abandoned, who lost their owners and were then re-homed, may live in fear of abandonment and may therefore develop an over-attachment. Others learn to become clingy because their owners, often unknowingly, reward clingy behaviors. Many owners are flattered by these anxiety displays, as they feel it's a sign of loyalty and proof that they mean the whole world to their pet.

Still, it must be remembered that these dogs are truly suffering, and one of the kindest things to do is to encourage more independence and help them increase confidence.

How to Help Alleviate Stress from Over-Attachment

There are several steps that can be taken to make their lives less miserable. Acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step. Over-attachment is dysfunctional when the dog gets anxious and exhibits signs of stress when a particular owner is away. They are like half dogs who are lost because their owner is their other half. They feel as if the owner is their anchor, their security blanket, and the only thing that lets them feel safe and secure. Without the owner they most likely won't eat, play, or do anything that normal, healthy, confident dogs do. They will likely mimic whiny vocalizations from puppyhood, manifest barrier frustration by destroying points of exit, and perhaps eliminate (pee or poop in random places) from distress. Here are some tips to help:

  • Rule out Medical Conditions

Sometimes, excessively clingy behaviors may be caused by an underlying medical condition. Some dogs may lose hearing or eyesight as they age and this may cause insecurity which causes them to depend too much on their owners. Cognitive dysfunction in elderly pets may also create behavior changes. It's important to get a check-up to rule out medical causes.

  • Become Less Valuable

If you have other people in your household, let them bond more with your dog. Give others the tasks of feeding, training, playing with, and walking. Let them pamper your pet with cuddles and let them become a source of high-value treats during training. Have others give rewards of praise and treats.

  • Ignore Attention-Seeking Behaviors

Most likely, your dog will often approach you during the day asking for cuddles and attention. Ignore these requests. If it barks or whines for attention, ignore this as well. This doesn't mean you shouldn't cuddle him, it just means that it will be on your terms. Call your dog to you and pet him—afterward, signal that the interaction is done by saying something like "that's enough," and withdrawing your hands.

  • Prevent Excess Monitoring

Most likely, your hyper-attached pet will constantly try to monitor every movement you make. He'll likely want to sleep by your feet so he is always aware of your movements. It helps to encourage the dog to sleep at a distance from you. Also, using baby gates can help teach him that even if he doesn't follow, you'll be back. Teach him to be patient when you go in another room and close the door. Don't come back when he is whining, otherwise you will reinforce the behavior. Wait till he stops and reward him with your return. If you are walking towards him and he whines, go back out of sight. Advance in his direction only when he is quiet. Also, train the "stay command." For more tips, read How to Stop a Dog from Following You Around the House.

  • Reduce the Contrast Between Your Presence and Absence

If you are always showering your dog with attention, there will be a very big difference the moment you leave home. This is true especially if you make a big show of attention and affection when you are about to leave and when you come back home after being away. These contrasts feed separation anxiety. Make greetings very low-key when you come home and don't make a big deal about going out. Keep the radio on when you are home and leave it on when you leave (if you only put the radio on when you are leaving, or if you always turn it off when you leave, it will just become another cue signaling your departure). The book Behaviour Problems in Small Animals: Practical Advice for the Veterinary Team by Jon Bowen and Sarah Heath refers to this lack of contrasts as "homeostasis."

  • Desensitize and Counter-Condition to Your Departures

Most likely, your observant pet gets anxious when you grab the keys, as it signals you are about to leave. Start working on making grabbing keys, putting your coat on, or tying your shoes irrelevant by performing these actions every few minutes and then sitting on the couch. Work on counterconditioning by making great things happen when you perform these actions. Disconnect the trigger from the fear: For instance, grab your keys, toss a high value treat, and then close the door and leave for one second. After awhile, you can gradually increase that amount of time. At some point your dog will no longer respond to these triggers. See video below for a program on desensitizing and counterconditioning your departures through clicker training.

  • Promote Self-Rewarding Activities

Give the dog something to do while you're away. Teach him to enjoy solving puzzles on his own. (For a list of suggestions, see my article on dog foraging.)

  • Use Calming Aids

Over-the-counter DAP diffusers (dog-appeasing pheromones which you can spray) may help those who are quite anxious, but some may need veterinarian-prescribed drugs to help them learn how to better cope with their anxiety. These drugs should be accompanied by behavior modification employed by a knowledgeable trainer or behavior consultant. This leads to the last tip, which is:

  • Consult with a Behavior Expert

A behavior consultant who is knowledgeable in cases of separation anxiety can prove helpful. He or she will help you implement behavior modification correctly so that you can up your chances for success.

Alexadry© all rights reserved, do not copy.

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Comments 14 comments

DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

I had a dog and he was attached to me when I left South Africa he had a new owner and did not see him again. It was hard for me to leave him but had no choice . I don't want to have any pets. It is too much to cope with and too much hurt. Great hub.

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 2 years ago from Deep South, USA

My dog (aged 9) is very attached to me, and even when family members or friends she likes are visiting, she will hunt for me and stay close by. This behavior increased after she went blind a year ago, and the fact that I'm retired and home nearly all the time probably adds to her 'clinginess.'

When I'm gone for a short period, she doesn't do anything destructive, but she knows that she's not allowed to lie on the sofa back, so guess where I find 'sunk-in' evidence of where she spent her time without me there to tell her 'no?' Any time I leave the house for more than 1/2 hour, I either leave something playing for her on Netflix that she can listen to or play a CD especially made to comfort dogs, 'Through a Dog's Ear.'

I realize that I enable her by catering to her every whim now that she's blind (and bossy), but I feel that she has much less to make her happy. She doesn't want to play with her toys like she did when sighted, and she sleeps entirely too much. I try to spend time with her every day and stimulate her with puzzle toys, as well as walk her on leash around our large back yard, but she'd rather just sit in my lap and put her head and paws on my shoulder. That's difficult to resist!

I do know that if I were to die before she does, my son (whom she adores) would care for her, and she would probably attach to him in my place. (I hope.)

As people in my family jokingly (or not) tell me, I've spoiled her, and I realize it's true. But I don't know how much longer we will be together, and I love her dearly, so I make no excuses for pampering her. She doesn't seem to suffer from strong separation anxiety, but she shows that she's extremely glad when I return from even a brief absence by the high-pitched noise she makes and eager jumping on me. I don't let her continue to jump on me, but I do understand it.

Voted Up, Useful and Interesting


alexadry profile image

alexadry 2 years ago from USA Author

I hear you. I also sometimes debate with my husband if we should get anymore dogs after the ones we have. We are no longer able to travel thinking of leaving them alone as they do miserably, refuse to eat etc. I may decide to just foster dogs, train them and get them ready for adoption.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 2 years ago from USA Author

Jayewisdome, what a wonderful bond you two have! Several dogs become more clingy as they age, especially if they lose sight or hearing. In that case, closeness gives reassurance as they are frightened by their weakened state. Even with my dogs as they age, I allow them to get away with more things than when they were pups and give them much more pampering. They deserve it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 2 years ago from Philippines

I like the points that were brought up in this hub, and especially the video, which was very interesting. The owner was so patient in teaching her dog to be independent. This was a great hub!

alexadry profile image

alexadry 2 years ago from USA Author

Thanks you, yes, I love the method used in the video, and some times I also use the clicker for cases of separation anxiety. It works very well!

sangre profile image

sangre 2 years ago from Ireland

I know a lady whose dog behaves like that. He goes absolutely crazy when she leaves the room never mind the house. Unless you saw his behavior you wouldn't believe it. I will mention your advise in a subtle way. :)

lyoness913 profile image

lyoness913 17 months ago from Overland Park, KS

Our German Wire Hair had such bad separation anxiety, he once broke out of a Shoreline Kennel by ramming himself up against the side until he broke the metal molding on the side, and shinnied out of an envelope sized hole, basically ripping his sides off. This happened in the span of three hours! It was horrible.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 17 months ago from USA Author

I can't imagine the sheer panic this dog may have felt to do such a thing. Sadly, anxiety off the roof can cause them to even injure themselves. An owner once showed me what looked like the scene of a crime scene because her dog scratched the doors until it bled from it's nails and paws. It can get really out of hand.

lyoness913 profile image

lyoness913 17 months ago from Overland Park, KS

Yes, it definitely looked like a murder scene after he was all done. He needed 147 stitches, poor guy. We never crated him after that and for the most part he was fine- with the exception of tearing up and eating any visible food left out!

Grace weaver 4 months ago

I have a golden retriever pup n I'm very worried, I'm not sure if she is over the top spoiled or what the deal is. But I have noticed that she will NOT sleep if I'm not sleep at night if I'm not sitting right by her crate. I'm not sure if she is scared about something. But I don't know if this is something that I should be concerned about, or if she is going to grow out of it. Please help , look for advice.

Busterish 4 months ago

My GSD x Corgi has terrible anxiety when I leave him. Even if he is with my parents, who he gets on very well with, he won't play, and barely eats or drinks, he constantly paces and is forever looking for me. I will put these techniques in place but is there any advice for when I have to leave him with the parents how they can help reassure him. He is a rescue and rather a nervous one at that anyways but it is heartbreaking to watch him when he is in that state. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 months ago from USA Author

Grace Weaver, how old is your pup?

alexadry profile image

alexadry 3 months ago from USA Author

Get him used to your parents for some time before leaving so he has time to adjust. Let you parents be engage in certain activities such as playing with him, feeding him and walking him when you are still around. Then gradually, leave the room and gradually implement exercises where he doesn't see you for a bit. The day you must leave, pretend as if you are leaving him alone, but then, let your parents appear. Hopefully, they will be able to provide some comfort knowing that he's not alone and that there are people who will be taking care of him. He will adjust, the first few days are the most stressful, but then they fit in. I have watched many dogs like yours and they eventually settle when they see they will be taken care of. These dogs don' do well in kennels but in a home environment and company they cope better.

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    Adrienne Janet Farricelli (alexadry)1,687 Followers
    1,247 Articles

    Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of dog books.

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