You’re sitting on the sofa, and there’s your dog, right at your feet. You stand up? He stands up. No surprise, considering it could be time for “walkies,” and you know your dog is always up for getting you out the door to exercise. You head into the kitchen? He heads into the kitchen, which is no surprise either considering how much he likes being anywhere near where food tends to appear. Learn the 53 mistakes every dog owner makes.
But then you head to the bathroom, and guess who comes with? Why, your dog, of course. But why? Why does your dog follow you like a shadow, no matter where you go? “When dogs follow their owners, there can be several scientific explanations, depending on the dog and the individual situation,” according to Mary Burch, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist. These explanations include:
- Positive reinforcement: When your dog follows you, good things happen. Think treats, tummy rubs, and traipsing around the neighborhood. Your dog’s no dummy. And one his many talents is learning from experience, aka “reinforcement.” So if your dog keeps getting good things from following you around, he’s going to keep following you around. By the way, you can also use reinforcement theory to try to train your dog not to do things you don’t want him to do. For example, if your dog freaks out during thunderstorms, you might want to consider not reinforcing his freak-out with tummy rubs and extra attention. Here’s why dogs freak out in thunderstorms in the first place.
- Natural instinct to be part of a pack: Domesticated dogs are descended from wild canines that live in cooperative family groups, writes Kathryn Primm Dvm, a veterinarian practicing in Tennessee, in her Ask A Vet column. As such, it’s within his DNA for a dog to try to fit into your pack (i.e., with you and your family). In fact, a study out of Princeton University that was published in the journal, Science Advances, demonstrates that your dog’s drive to follow you around (as well as watch you intently and seek physical contact from you) is literally in his genes.
- Feel good chemicals: Your presence causes your dog’s brain to release “feel good” chemicals, Dr. Primm explains, citing this study. Considering how much we as humans enjoy those feel-good chemicals, it’s no surprise your dog likes them too—and will follow you around to get some!
- Bonding: As dogs have evolved as domesticated animals, they’ve become “bonded” with humans, according to Laurie Santos, PhD, a professor of psychology and director of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale University. In other words, bonding with humans has helped domesticated dogs to survive and reproduce, so this trait has become virtually universal in domesticated dogs.
- An obligation to help: Dr. Primm notes that “dogs naturally place value on resources in order to survive,” and one of the most highly-valued resources is territory. As you move about your home, your dog might feel that you are patrolling your territory and feel obligated to assist you.
- Curiosity: Dogs are naturally inquisitive, points out Dr. Primm. When you move about, your dog naturally wonders what you’re doing.
Want to create an even stronger bond with your pup? Stop doing these 14 things that every dog hates.