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  • Why am I being followed?

    You’ve fallen over it. You’ve tripped over it. You’ve accidentally rammed your chair into it. We’ve all done it, it being your dog. So why do dogs want to be right up close and personal with us so much of the time?

    If you believe it’s because of your sparkling personality, you may be right. But it may also be that your dog has come to the realization that by being close to you means the likelihood of getting a treat is greater. Sorry to burst your bubble!

    Laura DeCesare writes in “Wag!”: “Experts say the underlying motivation is even simpler and possibly sweeter than you ever expected. Your dog is attached to you. In a recent study conducted at Emory University, animal cognition experts used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to measure the reaction in a dog’s brain when the researchers exposed the dogs to the smells of people and other dogs. The researchers found that the caudate nucleus, the reward center of the dogs’ brains, activated more when exposed to human smells and that the smell of the dog’s owner generated the strongest response. In addition, neuroscientist Atilla Andics of Eotvos Lorand University found in his own work that dogs seek out comfort from their owners when they are distressed, in the same way that young children rush to their parents when they are hurt or scared.”

    In the same way that dogs may be looking for comfort from their owners, the acute awareness that dogs show of sensing when a human needs help or comfort plays a role at times as to why dogs want to be near us. Anyone who has suffered severe stress or discomfort will bear witness to how their dog helped nurse them by simply being with them through their ordeal.

    DeCesare writes: “Working dogs tend to have a more intense need for human company since they are bred to work side-by-side with people. For other dogs, it is their experiences and not their breeding that makes them want to stay close to their people. Dogs who are getting older may want to stay close to their owners, if only because they hear or see less well and are less comfortable moving around on their own. A dog may also follow his or her owners around for comfort if he or she is not feeling well or is stressed out by a life change such as a move to a new home.” 

    So, when should you encourage your dog to stick by you, and when do you need to create some distance? If your dog is always following you around asking to play, it is more important to meet that need than to keep your dog close. Mental and physical stimulation is an important canine need, so consider taking some time out of your day for a romp in the backyard or even just a walk through the neighbourhood. 

    If your dog has started to become more clingy, try to analyse what has changed to trigger this new behaviour. Are there new people in the home? Has someone spent more time away from home recently? Has your dog recently been involved in an accident or a negative situation at the dog park? There are a number of factors that could explain the change in behaviour. By being able to pinpoint why the change has occurred will give you a better chance of understanding and allowing for the new desire to be close to you.

    No one gets a dog because they want more alone time. Dogs’ love for human companionship is one of the things that make them man’s best friend, and that kind of unconditional love is certainly something to celebrate. If your dog seems happy when he’s with you, and not too unhappy when you part, feel free to revel in the puppy love!