Have you ever heard the term “Velcro-dog”? It means exactly how it sounds… a dog that clings to you like Velcro. It’s where your dog is never more than a few inches from your side (often touching you), follows you from room to room, stands up when you stand up, always under foot, constantly looking to you for direction… “What’s our next move, Mom?” A “clingy” dog is not to be confused with a dog who has separation anxiety, even though both terms are often used interchangeably. Separation Anxiety is a true dysfunctional attachment disorder that may require professional help. Dogs with separation anxiety will panic when their owner is away from him. Velcro dogs would not necessarily panic in your absence, but may be seriously “apprehensive”. Ideally, your dog should be “interested” in where you are, but relaxed and self-sufficient when you’re not in the room.
A Confident Dog, Not a Velcro Dog
Having a clingy dog is not necessarily a bad thing. Many people wouldn’t have it any other way. I personally love having my dog by my side, but I can’t help but question just how mentally healthy it is for him to be so clingy. I see a lot of dogs come to Camp Holiday Barn for the first time with confidence and assuredness… able to calmly separate from their Mom or Dad in the lobby and happily seize the new adventure. Then there are those who whine and whimper … fearing having to face a new experience on their own. I WANT my dog to be the strong, secure, independent one, and I’m sure you do too.
Guilty as Charged!
Rex is a rescue. From the moment he came into my life, I wanted to prove to him that he was loved. I wanted him to feel secure so that he wouldn’t fear being given-up to a shelter again. I wanted him to know this truly is his “forever home”. I coddled him, I let him sleep with me from day-one, I praised him constantly and never passed him without showing him some type of affection. Unfortunately, that is exactly the kind of conduct that can cause Velcro tendencies. If he had some abandonment issues to begin with, I just added fuel to the fire. Did I create an unhealthy dependency on me? Can I fix it?
Steps for Increasing your dog’s Confidence
If you fear you are the cause of your dog’s insecurity and over-dependency on you, there are steps you can take to help him to be more self-assured, without breaking the precious bond between the two of you. Increasing his confidence and independence is one of the nicest things you can do for him.
- Give him his place. His “climb”. Place some familiar toys there, maybe even one of your t-shirts so he feels you are near. Teach him to go to his climb on command and stay while you go about your daily routine. Start with short stays, so as not to create anxiety. Increase to longer stays over time.
- Sometimes Velcro dogs are such because of the rewards they get from being close to you. You need to kind-of make yourself “boring” to him. If you’re not constantly reaching down to pet his head, talking to him, giving him things, he should eventually lose interest and begin to wander off. Don’t neglect his need for affection, but, rather, try not to constantly “dote”.
- Get some of his favorite toys or treats and then spread them around the house so that he has to leave you to go find them. He may try to attempt to resist temptation for a while, but, hopefully, abstaining from his favorite treat may become more than he can handle!
- Doggy Day care. I know… it tugs at your heart-strings to leave your dog when you drop him off for Day Care. When being led away by his escort, he is straining to get to you and has that wide-eyed “oh no!” look. Tug… But we know it is in his best interest to teach him that it’s okay to be separated for short periods of time. He will learn that you WILL come back to get him! Let our camp staff know what you’re doing and know that they will be there to reassure him, encourage him, and make sure he has an enjoyable time despite your absence. Start with half-day stays, and increase to full days as he becomes more comfortable.
- Create distance between you. Does he know how to sit? If not, teach him. After he masters sitting, put him in the sit position and take a step back. If he tries to follow you, get him back into the sit position and start again, gradually stepping back and creating space between you. Praise him for his accomplishments! Fetch is also a great way to create space between you. Throw his favorite ball and tell him to go get it. Praise him when he goes for it.
- Okay… you’re going to hate this, but if his clinginess is really a problem, it may be best not to let him sleep with you. Put his cot by your side of the bed…close to you, but he’s not actually in your bed. When he learns to sleep comfortably in it, gradually move it a little further out from your bed. Just a few feet will be helpful.
We can help!
If you are struggling with these steps, or if your dog does not seem to be becoming more confident, please contact one of our Trainers for help. Please know that you haven’t “ruined” your dog, and don’t fret over the fact that he’s a certified Velcro dog. Your awareness of the potential problems with being clingy is a great first step in helping your dog overcome his insecurities.
For a little levity on the subject, check this out this great article from BarkPost about velcro dogs.