Shadow Effect: Is It Closeness Or Anxiety?

I share my home with two English Shepherds, Bones and Hero, who, as herding dogs, follow me everywhere. If I’m in the shower, both dogs are within eyesight of the door. After all, I might need help. Some people consider this constant companionship annoying, but I’m used to it and even enjoy it.

Herding dogs aren’t the only ones who like to shadow their owners. Many breeds, especially those bred to work for or with people, prefer to be close. Doberman Pinschers and Rottweilers, both large, imposing breeds, are usually found within arm’s reach of their owners. Other breeds, including Pugs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, were bred to be companions.

Companionship Should Be Comfortable

A dog who is your shadow wants to be close to you. They are usually in the same room with you and will follow you as you move around the house. If you go outside to do some yard work, they will follow you there, too, although they may move to the shade to take a nap.

There are varying degrees of closeness, depending on the individual dog and person. For example, as I write this article Bones is asleep on a dog bed behind my desk chair. Hero is asleep, too, but under my desk. Both dogs are with me, but neither is touching me.

A shadow dog prefers to be with you and will follow you from room to room. Many will keep an eye on you and are great at anticipating your actions. They want to be in the middle of any activity. However, if left home alone, they are fine and don’t stress.

Close, Closer, Clingy

Some dogs take closeness a step further. They want to reach out and touch someone. A friend’s Doberman Pinscher likes to have a paw on her foot, or a nose touching her hand. If she’s relaxing on the sofa he’s curled up next to her. That’s normal for him, but sometimes closeness becomes clinginess. These dogs may seem dependent, anxious, or worried.

If a dog who is not normally clingy suddenly becomes so, there is usually a reason. Many dogs become clingy around holidays that are normally noisy; Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve are two common anxiety-producing holidays. If you’re hosting a party and a number of strange people are coming in and out of your house, your dog might be worried and become glued to you.

Ill and injured dogs often seek out their owner for comfort as do adolescent puppies in the throes of hormonal changes. Older dogs experiencing physical changes such as vision and hearing loss often become clingy. A dog who likes to be your shadow is seeking your companionship, but a clingy dog needs you for reassurance, protection, or stability.

The clingy dog is always with you, like the shadow dog, but is more often touching you or on your lap. He may walk under your feet almost to the point of tripping you. Rather than simply watching you, he may stare, trying to make eye contact. Whining for attention is common.

To help the clingy dog, try to figure out what he’s trying to communicate, especially if this behavior is new. A visit to the veterinarian for a complete examination is usually a good first step. If he checks out healthy, refresh his training and challenge his brain to help build his confidence. Play games, use food-dispensing toys, and increase his exercise if appropriate. Teach him some tricks.

Separation Anxiety Is A Bigger Issue

While shadow dogs want to be close to you and clingy dogs want to be even closer, dogs with separation anxiety panic when not with you. Shadow dogs are showing normal behavior for many dogs, and clingy dogs are normal depending on the cause of the attachment. Dogs with separation anxiety, however, have gone beyond that.

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety are unhappy, worried, anxious, or fearful when separated from their owner. They may pant, drool, bark, or howl when left alone. Some dogs will urinate or defecate in the house when alone. Pacing is common, as are efforts to escape from the house or yard, including tearing out screens, chewing on doors and door frames, and more.

If your dog displays these characteristics, contact a veterinary behaviorist for help. Separation anxiety rarely gets better on its own and, in fact, often escalates.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.