Last updated on February 18th, 2023 at 06:04 pm
If you have just adopted a new rescue dog from a shelter, you may find that once in his new home, he literally clings to you. Where you go, he goes. If you sit down, he is right there at your feet looking up at you. He may follow you from room to room or out to the yard every time you take out the garbage or water the lawn. At first, it may seem sweet, but you may eventually begin to wonder why your new rescue dog is so clingy.
There can be many reasons for this, and it is not unusual for shelter dogs to stay close to their new owners. They are in a brand new environment and will naturally be a little anxious at first. Additionally, they may have been abused or abandoned in the past and are looking to you for protection and care. With the right approach, you can help your new furry friend feel safe and comfortable in his new home.
Shelter Living Can be Intimidating
First of all, think about what it may be like to live in the dog pound or a rescue facility for several weeks or months. Abandoned or rescued dogs who suddenly find themselves in this strange new environment can develop fear, anxiety, timidity, and dependency. Here are some of the factors that rescues have to deal with:
- Shelters can be extremely noisy
- Most dogs are kept in cages or runs for most of the day/night
- They interact with a multitude of staff, volunteers, and visitors
- They are usually surrounded by cement and chain link
- Interactions with other dogs during playtime may be stressful
- Shelter dogs do not have one “special person” to relate to
- Life in a shelter is isolating and does not allow a dog to be part of a “pack”
- Other dogs are always coming and going
Certainly, most shelters do their best to provide a decent life for their wards. But as with institutional life for anyone, dogs or humans, it is less than ideal. It is no wonder that your new pal may follow you around everywhere to ensure that life with you will be good. To learn more about helping your new dog settle in see my post How to Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog.
What Clingy Behavior Looks Like and Why it Happens
Sometimes a clingy rescue dog is referred to as a “Velcro Dog” — a dog who sticks to you like glue!D. Euritt
Just You and Your Shadow
Once you have your new dog home, he may follow you from room to room. He may whine if you go outside without him. You may feel like you have a new shadow who never leaves your side!
When I first brought my two rescue dog siblings home, I found that I was constantly tripping over them. Every place I walked they were right there, always underfoot. This was especially annoying when I was in the kitchen trying to get dinner ready. I had to continually step over them as I moved back and forth. If I went out into the garage they would stand at the door and whimper or bark. If I went out into the backyard or another room, they would follow me out. When I sat down on the sofa, they sat by my feet.
Additionally, resource guarding may become an obsession initially if your new dog is feeling insecure. This can be leftover from his time at the shelter or due to prior experiences in which he needed to protect himself. It can involve guarding you and getting jealous if anyone else gets close. Or this behavior may turn into fighting with other dogs over toys and bones. See my post about Why Dogs Fight Over Bones and Chew Toys for more insights into this
Another interesting behavior that I wrote about in another post was waking up to a dog licking my nose every morning! In my post, I describe several reasons for this behavior, but initially, it seemed to be a way to connect with me. And she also seemed very concerned about making sure she was going to get breakfast soon! I think both of my dogs watched me a lot in the beginning especially around breakfast and dinner time, to make sure they were going to get something to eat.
Sometimes a clingy rescue dog is referred to as a “Velcro Dog” — dog who sticks to you like glue!
When this happens, it is most likely that your dog is looking to you like the new pack leader. Your new pup is probably also feeling uncertain about who you are and how you will treat him. He is learning new routines, rules, and trying to figure out what his new environment will be like.
My dogs were re-homed at five years old after being raised from pups. They spent 9 months in a shelter and were returned at least twice by potential new owners who took them home on a trial basis.
It was no wonder that they were probably feeling a little insecure and needy when they first arrived. Was this to be their new forever home or just a brief reprieve from the shelter? See my post The First Day in My New Home through A Rescue Dog’s Eyes to better understand what a dog may be feeling when adopted.
Other Reasons Your Dog May Stick Close
Neediness is not the only reason dogs stick close to us. Some of it may be a characteristic of their breed. Herding dogs, as an example, are bred to be loyal and to watch over their flock and handlers. Australian Cattle Dogs are a prime example of this type of working dog with an instinctive goal and purpose. My dogs are part Cattle Dog and they stay very focused on what is going on with me, which seems to go beyond their initial insecurity.
Additional reasons that dogs stay close to us and keep a watchful eye:
- Boredom and interest in any activity on our part that may lead to something fun
- Food–every time I go to the kitchen my dogs follow me in hopes of getting a snack
- On the alert–if we jump up suddenly, this may signal that something new is going on
- Fear of being left alone–are you coming back home soon?
- Resource guarding — you are your dog’s most important resource as the giver of all things
- It is natural for a dog to follow the leader of their pack
Most of the above are fairly natural behaviors for dogs. Unless they lead to excessive or extreme problems, they are usually not problematic. But they may be a clue that your dog needs more exercise, training, or attention.
What if Clinginess Turns into a Bigger Problem?
Excessive clinginess and fear can lead to or be a sign of separation anxiety, which can range from mild to severe emotional issues for your dog. This may become a problem for dogs who suffered past trauma or abuse. Or even the fact that they were re-homed can trigger fears of abandonment.
Symptoms of severe separation anxiety can result in destructive behavior, peeing in the house, whining, howling, moping, not eating, or drinking. If time does not help, you probably should check with your vet and get a referral for an animal behavioralist. The American Kennel Club website, AKC.org, has a great article that addresses Velcro dogs vs. Separation Anxiety. They distinguish between your dog merely missing you from being in an absolute panic that you are gone.
In one of my posts Separation Anxiety–Mine and My Dog’s, I describe how one of my dogs used to literally grasp onto me with both paws when I dropped her off for daycare or at the groomers. But eventually, she began to realize that I always came back to get her and became less anxious over time.
How to Help Your New Pooch Settle In
A rescue dog who seems clingy will benefit from having a set routine. Getting meals at the same time each day as well as having a consistent bedtime and exercise routine will go a long way to help relieve his anxiety.
When you first bring your new dog home, try to take at least a week off from work or your normal routine, so you can spend as much time as possible with him. Hang out with him, play, go for walks and let him know you are his friend.
Make sure he can eat his meals and not be disturbed. Create a separate space for him to retreat to and sleep. He may sleep a lot at first. After weeks or months of living in a noisy shelter, he may finally have a chance to sleep peacefully through the night. The safer he feels, the more independent he can become.
In summary, the more secure your dog feels, the less clingy he will become. Provide a safe, pleasant home environment for him with consistent routines. And, let him know you are his friend, pack leader, and caring, human parent. Your clingy rescue dog will eventually turn into a loyal, independent, and happy pooch!
Deanna Euritt is a dedicated dog enthusiast with over three decades of experience in raising and training a diverse range of dogs, including many rescue pups. Her practical expertise is rooted in real-life experiences, where she has successfully navigated the challenges of nurturing rescue dogs into confident, well-adjusted companions. Residing in Northern California, Deanna’s days are filled with adventures along trails and beaches with her beloved dogs, Charlotte and Georgia. In her writing, she offers insightful, compassionate advice to fellow dog lovers, leveraging her extensive personal journey in the world of dog care and training. See About Us.