My Dog Won’t Leave Me Alone! Help!
“What do I do when my dog won’t leave me alone? He’s extra clingy. He simply will not leave me alone!”
Imagine this: Towards the end of a long day, you’ve finished your evening meal, walked the dog, and put the kids to bed. Now it’s your alone time. Your turn to relax. Or is it?
It is not uncommon for people to have their evening relaxation completely ruined by an older dog which won’t leave them alone for a moment and persistently pesters them.
If you find yourself getting annoyed with your dog most evenings or shutting him out of the living room night after night so you can relax, this is for you.
Oh, dogs love guests!!!! Guests are exciting! Your dog probably hardly ever “truly” gets in trouble when guests are over visiting! The same goes for kids and guests.
I remember when I was a kid, I loved having company over for dinner. Usually, whoever it was, would fawn over us kids and we could talk and entertain and show off, and the dinner guests would love us. Even as I got to be a teenager, for the most part, I loved having new people over and getting to know them. Sure, we had to show good behavior, but our rules were also a little lax.
However, the big difference is that we, as children, had the mental capacity to understand that if we really screwed up and showed bad behavior of some kind, we would be harshly punished later when the guests had gone home.
Let’s say, for example, I wanted to go to a party at the end of the week at a friend’s house, and so I asked when guests were over. When my parents deny me, I cuss and tip the table and storm out of the room.
At my house, as a kid, this would have been a death sentence. I could have written my own memorial quickly. Because I knew my parents were strict, this never would have happened. I also had respect for them. And, 30 years ago, they would have backhanded me in front of guests.
I had the mental capacity to know that if I made a horrific mistake or showed terrible lack of judgment, I would be dealt with either then or later, or probably both.
Your dog doesn’t have that mental capacity.
You could correct him until you are both black and blue after an initial mistake and the dog would never put two and two together to come up with four.
He would think you are mean and insane and beat him for no reason or for whatever he had just done (like coming over to you).
Dogs live in the moment. Dogs do not live in the past!!
Dogs are not capable of planning into their future, and they are not capable of remembering a behavior that was done several minutes before.
So, What Must We Do?
We must train our puppies and dogs!!!! We must teach them how to visit and interact with our guests! What is more important than learning how to act, and react, when people come into your home? And, how do you expect your dog to know your expectations if you have never taught him?
Would you expect a child to know without learning? Certainly not!!! However, children understand and speak our language, so communication is easier with them.
Let’s say you had a child from another country visit who didn’t speak our language; would you expect him or her to know exactly how to act and react appropriately? Probably not.
You would likely take this child by the hand and teach him what your expectations of him were in those moments.
You would also likely do so with gentle, caring, compassion and patience. After all, the child doesn’t know, and you want him to learn.
Then why do we expect our dogs to simply spring from the womb knowing our expectations and why do we think losing our temper or ignoring bad behavior is acceptable? Either expectation is as detrimental.
Dogs that Won’t Leave You Alone
Some dogs become deeply attached to one individual person and follow them everywhere.
Other dogs are able to relax no matter what family members are doing. And may only wake up if a favorite person comes to the door.
Part of this variation in behavior is down to personality and even breed. And part is down to confidence and how secure the dog feels.
If a dog feels very insecure, he may seem excessively clingy. This type of dog is likely to get very upset when he is left alone and may need treating for separation anxiety.
Separation Anxiety is a label that is often applied to dogs that get upset when their owners go out. Some dogs are definitely scared of being left alone.
And as a result of this fear, the dog may become extremely distressed when their owner departs the house. This distress may be manifested by destructive behavior, soiling, and noise. A lot of noise. Other labs get very bored when the owner is absent and amuse themselves by chewing the furniture and barking themselves silly.
Clearly these are two different types of dog, yet the results are often the same. A damaged home, stressed owners and rather irritated neighbors, too!
The following scenario is not uncommon:
The owner returns from some time out to discover an angry neighbor in their driveway, threatening to call the environmental health department over the continuous barking they have been subjected too.
Upon entering the house with their ears still ringing, the first thing to greet the owner may be the smell of a dog that has messed on the floor… as well as the apparent aftermath of a tornado that has passed through the house.
Cushions ripped up, chair legs destroyed, plaster ripped off the walls - these are all possibilities.
These are signs of serious dog behavior problems, and this sort of situation isn’t only dangerous to your favorite throw rug; it’s dangerous to your dog, too.
How to Tell the Difference Between a Bored Dog and a Dog with Separation Anxiety
Oftentimes, a bored dog is one that is just flat out destructive.
The dog that gets up to mischief when you are gone will not show signs of distress as you are leaving.
He may be quite happy for some time after you have left. However, he will eventually get bored and look for some entertainment.
A dog with separation anxiety will be showing signs of instability as you’re leaving. You may hear him barking just outside of the house right after you leave.
If you leave it to a meal unsupervised, to may find that your dog won’t eat when it’s not with you.
Your dog’s behavior is even more concerning in this case.
Handling Separation Anxiety in Your Dog
Separation anxiety can be treated, essentially by rebuilding the dog’s confidence that every departure is not a final goodbye. But this process takes time and you will really benefit from some help. A professional behaviorist will save you a lot of heartache and support you through a program of gradually desensitizing your dog to being left alone, starting with tiny short periods of time and building up slowly to longer absences.
Not all behaviorists or dog trainers are equal. Your veterinarian should be able to refer you to a good one.
Separation anxiety is a tough condition for you and your puppy to live with. If you are worried that your dog is becoming distressed when you leave him alone then your best bet is to consult with an experienced behaviorist.
It will take time, but, with help, support and commitment you will both be able to get through the situation and move on to a happier life - both together and on the occasions when you have to be apart.
Keeping Your Dog Away from Common Areas
In their efforts to love and care for their dogs, people sometimes forget they have rights too. You have a right to relax in your living room.
In fact, you need to relax at times, in order to be a balanced human and a good parent to your pets and children.
Dogs need exercise, food, and company. If your dog has been exercised and fed, he needs to learn that sharing your company in the evenings comes with a proviso. He must behave appropriately in human company and allow you to relax.
When problem behaviors develop, his evening living room privileges may need to be rescinded for a while so that the dog is only allowed access to shared relaxation areas while he is relaxing too.
The best and easiest way to restrict your dog’s access into your living room until he has learned how to behave there, is with a dog gate or baby gate. You can also get extendable dog barriers to go across an open plan room.
If your dog jumps over the barrier you may need to crate him, or shut him in a different room instead. But this is pretty unusual.
Most older dogs do not attempt to get over this type of gate, and most puppies are physically unable to. And can still see and hear the family through the barrier
The settle is essentially a “down” command combined with a “stay” command, but where the dog can assume any position he likes as long as he remains calm and isn’t interfering with what you are doing.
There are a couple of key ways of teaching this.
How do You Get Control of Your Dog when Guests are Over?
So, how do you get control of your dog? How do you take him for a walk? How did you teach your dog the things that he knows? Many of you will say, “I put him on a leash.”
One way of teaching a settle is to have the dog on a leash. This prevents him from wandering off. Simply sit in a chair with a book and a pot of treats which you can reach but the dog cannot. Start to read your book, holding on to the end of the leash, and wait for the dog to lie down and settle. Then give him a treat.
NOTE: This first settle may take a very long time! Once he has grasped what triggers the treats, it will all go much more quickly
After being given the first treat, the dog will almost certainly get up and bug you for another treat.
You now have to ignore him again until he settles.
Then he gets another treat. In time, most dogs give up bugging their owner and learn that ‘settling’ is more rewarding.
Settle on a leash is a great method for a fairly calm dog, and for teaching dogs to settle outdoors or in public places.
Reward him for good behaviors (sitting calmly, laying down, calmly paying attention to you and not your guest), allow him to be rewarded for the good things he chooses to do. Just like you would reward the exchange student or child with praise or something he wants.
The Mat Method
This is not a suitable exercise for young puppies, but any dog over a year old should be able to lie down and relax for a good half hour or more. Training your dog to lie down and stay is not complicated. It’s important to pay close attention to increasing duration (the stay) before starting to train your dog.
Using a designated mat or basket for the stay/settle in your living room, means you can keep the dog in a position where he cannot interfere with family members and practice his licking and pawing behaviors. Nor can he pick up cushions or shoes or run off with the TV remote.
In fact, pretty much all he can do is lie down and sleep. And after a short period of training that’s exactly what will happen
If you don’t want a dog mat permanently in your living room use something cheap that you can cut up. Then you can make it smaller and smaller over time.
Some people use a square of vetbed in a contrasting color to the carpet Eventually the dog will simply lie down anywhere you point and say ‘settle’.
The trick is to start with a very short stay, then reward the dog on his mat/bed, then release him and reward again, then remove him from the room. (use a collar and lead to avoid spoiling your recall)
Reward your dog generously when you have removed him from the room so that he does not feel punished for being separated from you.
Shape His Behavior
Take this opportunity to teach him to sit or lay down to be petted. Show him what you want him to do.
At my house, I like my dogs to lie at my feet when I have company. They are close to me, and I have ultimate control of their behavior.
Plus, if they are lying at my feet, they are not jumping on or sniffing my guests, much less showing aggressive or protective behaviors that might get my guests bitten.
In the beginning, and likely for many months, my dog remains on a leash when company visits.
My dog is conditioned that when we have company, I like them to lay at my feet, and reward them (with tasty treats) when they do.
Eventually, my dog simply understands when guests come over to ignore them and to lie at my feet. It is simple. I shape the behavior I want.
Jumping on my guests and lying at my feet are incompatible behaviors.
What is the #1 mistake that you can make, and 99.9999 percent of people make?
The biggest mistake is allowing your dog to think that your guests are cooler, and more fun and important than you!!!!
DO NOT FALL PREY TO THE MYTH! There is a myth out there: give your guests treats to give your dog.
Okay, okay. I do this with dogs that have social anxiety, but I have a rule. Give your guests bland treats to give your dog, so the dog will think people are good… but you are better. Keep the steak in your pocket. I want my dog to know I am in control of the best things.
Sure, I want him to like and accept my guests. But I want him to CARE most about me! I want to be the BEST thing in his life, and his world. I don’t want him performing for my guests; I want him performing obedience for ME!!! I want him to show good behavior.
I want my guests’ minds to be reeling about how my dog is so well behaved when they leave. I want, when I visit my friends’ houses for vacation and ask to bring my dogs, that they have no hesitation. I want my guests to think my dogs are the coolest things on the planet while my dog KNOWS I am!
If I give my guests the steak and allow my dogs to jump wildly on them, I am teaching my dog that other people are more important. I am teaching my dogs to ignore me and reward themselves with bad behavior directed toward my guests!
I want the opposite. I want my dogs to think I am the most amazing thing to walk the earth. I control the best food, I play the most fun games, and I stimulate their mind through obedience! At that point I have not only won the battle; I have won the war!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.