Much like parents of human children, all pet parents know that having a dog means you rarely go to the bathroom alone. For some strange reason, dogs love to follow us to the porcelain palace, where they sustain the most uncomfortable kind of eye contact ever. (Well, maybe the second most-uncomfortable, right behind that time you accidentally locked eyes with your mother while you all watched “Superbad.”)
That’s certainly the case for dog mom Leigh, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based marketing and PR professional whose roughly 10-year-old rescue Chihuahua, El Vez, has been following her into the bathroom ever since she first brought him home.
“We have excellent conversations and brainstorming in the bathroom,” she says.
The morning chats are nice and all, but why do dogs follow you into the bathroom, taking a seat right beside the toilet every time we do our business? It’s apparently not because they’re returning the favor, after watching us stand beside them while they do their own thing outside.
In fact, it’s kind of our fault.
“We’ve bred them for hundreds of years, if not thousands, to want to be near us,” says Kayla Fratt, an International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)-certified dog behavior consultant and the owner of Journey Dog Training in Missoula, Montana. “It absolutely makes sense for them to follow us from room to room, and there’s no real reason for them not to follow us into the bathroom.”
So, it’s not because they’re being little creeps who like to watch us poop. Actually, Fratt says there’s “no indication” that they even know what a bathroom is—or what we’re doing in there.
“Even if they ‘know’ what you’re doing, why would it matter to them?” she says. “It’s certainly reading too much into things to assume that your dog is being gross or weird. He just wants to be near you. It’s really that simple.”
The same goes for whether they’re watching us relieve ourselves or take a shower or do our makeup. The fact that SO MANY DIFFERENT THINGS can happen in the bathroom just might be part of the reason why our dogs are so curious about it.
“Sometimes you go in there for a minute or two, and sometimes when you take a bath, it might be for an hour,” says Paul Sheinberg, CPDT-KA, founder and primary dog trainer of Pawsitive Paul’s Dog Training in Baltimore, Maryland. “Because of that uncertainty, dogs tend to follow you when you’re going toward that direction, if you have that type of dog that sticks by you or gets nervous when you leave.”
On the flip side, if your dog doesn’t follow you into the bathroom (or anywhere else in the house), that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them—or with you.
“Some dogs are just more Velcro-y than others. They follow and shadow their people more,” Fratt says. “It’s more common in some shepherding breeds than in some more aloof breeds, but it’s not abnormal dog behavior at all.”
If you’d prefer to have a few minutes to yourself, it’s not difficult to train your dog to let you walk down the hall and into the bathroom without them.
“By far, the easiest way is to teach them a basic ‘stay’ and when you’re done with your business, give them a treat or some praise for being so brave on their own,” Sheinberg says. She suggests teaching the stay command without the use of the bathroom, first, just to get your dog used to it. Then, once they’ve mastered the command, transition to the bathroom area for small durations throughout the day to practice. “It should be rectified in a positive and fun way within days.”
So, there you have it. It’s perfectly normal for dogs to follow you into the bathroom—and perfectly normal if they don’t. The only cause for concern would be if your dog gets seriously anxious about being alone while you’re in the bathroom, even for a few minutes. It could be a sign of separation anxiety in dogs.
“If not following you into the bathroom makes your dog distressed, it’s time to get help,” Fratt advises. She suggests calling a certified dog behavior consultant or another behavior expert—rather than an obedience trainer—to work through the issue.
Back in Pittsburgh, Leigh says El Vez has actually been giving her a little more space lately. “I will say, since quarantine, I’ve noticed that it’s happening less and less,” she says. “He actually seems to be actively trying to find time to socially distance himself from us humans.”
8 Reasons Your Dog Loves Following You Everywhere
There are several reasons for why dogs follow us everywhere, ranging from enjoying the strong bond you share to seeking stimulation or comfort through a stressful event. Dogs are very social animals, so being close to their preferred people makes sense. Your dog’s preference to be with you is likely instinctual, especially if you raised your dog from their puppy years.
Most commonly, dogs want to be around you because they are curious, says Meaghan Thomas, DVM, an East Ridge Animal Hospital veterinarian. Then there are velcro dogs, who prefer to stick close to “their person” in every scenario. However, she adds that this velcro behavior, when paired with certain symptoms, can signal underlying stress or anxiety. Is that the case for you?
Below, we explore the main reasons your dog’s unwavering loyalty exists, and whether the behavior encouraged or slowly addressed.
Dogs are known for forming strong bonds with their human caregivers. If your dog sees you as their favorite person, they will naturally want to be by your side as much as possible. This behavior is a testament to their deep emotional connection and attachment toward you. Got your dog younger than 8 weeks? There is a high chance your dog has “imprinted” on you.
Tip: If you reward their desire to be around you with additional pets or treats, this will only strengthen their bond towards you.
Dogs are social creatures that thrive on interaction and mental stimulation. Dr. Thomas says if your dog is bored or lacking entertainment, they may follow you, hoping to find something interesting to do or engage with.
Tip: For young puppies, you may want to give into those begging eyes before other behaviors escalate. Often when younger dogs are left to their own devices, you’ll see them escalate towards chewing, digging, or barking. And once it starts, the barking can be very hard to stop.
Dogs are social animals by nature. They may follow you around because they exciting is going to happen—or they simply don’t want to be alone or miss out. More curious and confident dogs may also like to follow you everywhere because of the opportunities to experience new things.
In this instance, you may find it fun to train your dog to do tasks while they follow you around the house.
Also for every dog who fixates on only one person to follow, there is another dog who fixates on the newest person in the house to velcro themselves to.
Dr. Thomas also explains that pet parents can accidentally reinforce the velcro behavior. “If you talk to your dog as he or she follows you, give them treats as you walk by the kitchen with them, etc., you are actually enforcing this behavior to be normal,” she says.
Your dog may not even realize they are following you “everywhere” because they are just following a routine you’ve built. If you want to calm your furry shadow down, try rewarding your dog with a treat for staying put, rather than following you.
In some cases, dogs can be clingy because they feel unwell. They may stick to your side for comfort or to communicate their distress. If your dog’s following behavior is sudden or accompanied by other signs of illness or pain, see a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues.
Do not treat your dog’s pain at home without prior approval.
Most dogs will “follow the leader” in the sense of following the human who gives them the most treats, attention, affection, or all the above. However, if this is a new behavior, especially in a senior dog, you may want to get your dog checked out by a vet.
Sometimes a dog that suddenly does something new can indicate an underlying condition. They may not necessarily be sick, but they could be losing their hearing or sight. As a result, they may feel more anxious and want to be around you.
Have you ever heard Border Collies referred to as “Velcro dogs?” Some breeds are more inclined to follow humans than others. Herding breeds like Border Collies, Shepherds, and Cattle Dogs may want to keep the whole family rounded up.
Additionally, working dogs like Doberman Pinschers and Boxers may want to stick close to keep an eye out for danger. Lastly, sporting breeds like Labrador Retrievers and Pointers might enjoy sticking close to their favorite person.
Your dog may be a service dog or just very emotionally attuned to your needs. Dogs can be very compassionate, alert creatures, and a dog you raised is no exception. You may notice your dog following you around while you’re feeling unwell or pawing at you to break your focus because whatever you are doing is stressing you out.
In this case, it could be a good sign for you and your pup to take a break together. Go on a walk for both your mental healths!
Sometimes your dog doesn’t follow you everywhere except the bathroom. This is common, especially if you have a history of reinforcing your dog for coming to the bathroom with you! Reasons dogs follow you to the bathroom range from curiosity to temperature of the room. They could be:
- Curious about the smells or sights in the bathroom
- Excited about getting a bath or playing with water
- Feeling a need to protect you in a scary room
- Practicing the habit you developed when they were a puppy of taking them into the bathroom with you
- Enjoying the safety and acoustics of the tiled bathroom
“My dog follows me to the bathroom all the time now because I would bring her in there when she was a puppy. I wanted her to get used to the sound of water while I showered,” says Christal Yuen, manager of editorial team at Rover. “And also, when I didn’t bring her into the shower, I would often have to rush out to stop her from barking or chewing on things.”
After a few months of persistent bathroom visits of closing the door to prevent being followed, the behavior eventually subsided.
There are cases where persistent following can become problematic and unhealthy. First, if this is a new behavior in your dog, make an appointment with your vet to rule out any underlying issues. As mentioned above, sickness and changes in senses during old age can lead to behavior changes as well.
Other signs your dog’s velcro behavior is unhealthy include:
- excessive anxiety or distress when separated
- destructive, aggressive, or possessive behavior
- resource guarding of you or your belongings
- reduced or loss of appetite without you
- vomiting or diarrhea when you’re gone
- non-stop barking
These signs also suggest a level of separation anxiety. One study suggests that dog who do not have their needs meet or experience reliable responses are more likely to develop a separation-related disorder. This doesn’t mean paying attention to your dog will resolve their anxiety though. You will need to work with a vet behaviorist to develop a plan to desensitize your dog to triggers and habits they may have developed overtime as a coping mechanism.
Rest assured, Dr. Thomas says that most of the time, when your dog follows you around, it’s nothing to worry about; it’s generally a sign of love, loyalty, and a desire for companionship. Understanding the reasons behind your dog’s behavior can help strengthen your bond and ensure their well-being and happiness.
If your dog is able to be alone, you don’t have anything to worry about. Instead, enjoy your dog’s love for you!
However, if you want to balance your dog’s clinginess with independence, try these tips:
- Practice and reward behaviors like stay, relax, and place. Stay is a neat trick because you are teaching your dog to wait for the reward. By giving them the treat when you return, your dog will be less inclined to follow you around.
- Share your dog’s responsibilities. If you are the sole caretaker of your dog in your family, consider redistributing your tasks so that your dog has a chance to bond with everyone. This might look like having the kids play with the dog each day or be responsible for meal times.
- Meet your dog’s needs before asking them to be alone. Often your dog is following you because they want something. That something could be a walk, food, playtime, or games. Before you dismiss your dog, ask yourself if you’ve met their needs for the day.
- Move around the house. It’s not just about getting your steps in! If your dog is used to seeing you move around the house—and coming back to them—they may eventually get the point that not all activities are a big deal. Pair this with a reward for staying while you’ve moved around and your dog may just get the point to stay put.
- Be consistent with your rules. If you don’t want your dog to follow you everywhere, don’t call them to come whenever you move. Remember a dog is mostly responding to their environment and building on learned habits. Many times you will come to realize that your dog’s behavior is because you accidentally taught them it!