You’ve had your German Shepherd for a few months now and he’s adjusting well to your family life. He has a set routine, his own big bed, and a yard to roam in. Everything’s been going great. But he’s suddenly becoming your shadow. You move from your bed to the bathroom in the morning; he’s there. You mosey to your coffee pot; he’s right behind you. You sit down to eat your breakfast and his face is staring at you. As you complete your morning routine, you can’t shake him. He’s stuck on you like glue. It’s kind of nice to have the company, but this big loving dog is a bit much to have next to you all day.
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The Root of the Behavior
German Shepherds are a breed known for their loyalty and intelligence. German Shepherds are great at completing tasks and are committed to their jobs. They are full of energy and often work as police dogs or people with disabilities. Their strong noses, determination, and desire for exercise and mental stimulation give them excellent qualities for these roles.
However, German Shepherds weren’t always helping humans solve crimes or safely guiding them across the street. Your German Shepherd can be following you for a few reasons. He might be trying to herd you and your family members since German Shepherds were bred to herd livestock. These dogs know how to round up sheep and other animals by simply chasing, circling, and staring them down. If he has nothing else to herd, the two-legged creatures standing in different rooms of the house are the only targets he has, and his instinct tells him to round you up.
Dogs are also pack animals and respond well to the alpha, or the one in charge. Dogs will follow the alpha’s command and respect the hierarchy in the pack. Your pup might identify you as the alpha, which is a good thing because it means you’re in charge. But with power comes responsibility and you are now in charge of where he goes and what he does. His need to be part of the pack and follow you is intuitive and your German Shepherd knows he wants to be part of yours.
Your German Shepherd might follow you for emotional reasons. He might miss you, feel insecure, or have separation anxiety issues. If you adopted him as an adult, his history might be troublesome, and he may come with some emotional baggage. It can take time for him to develop a sense of security, and until then, he might feel like trailing you is the best way for him to be safe.
Encouraging the Behavior
It’s a welcomed compliment when anyone wants to spend time with you, but there is a point where it becomes overwhelming. If your German Shepherd isn’t leaving your side, even when you tell him to play outside or do something else, it’s time to curb this behavior. Identify why your dog is following you around-is he herding you, part of the pack, or anxious? Discovering his reason for following you will help guide you to a solution.
If your pup is herding you and your family, try giving him a job. German Shepherds like to contribute to the household. Giving him a job to do, like get the newspaper in the morning, move toys from the floor to the basket, or other tricks that result in praise to your dog and inclusion in the family make your dog feel good. This might distract him from herding you and he’ll focus on his task at hand rather than rounding up his human friends.
If your dog is anxious, reflect on how much exercise and playtime he is getting. German Shepherds require 30-60 minutes of exercise each day. They also enjoy companionship and being part of the pack. Is your German Shepherd alone most of the day? Does he not have enough exercise and playtime with you?
The ultimate question for any dog owner: are you the alpha? Dogs, especially German Shepherds, instinctively follow the pack leader, which is you. Your dog should listen to your command and when he follows you around, he might just be waiting for one. Be firm in your tone, don’t make your commands a question, and keep commands consistent. You can train him to sit and stay so that you have your personal space back.
Other Solutions and Considerations
While you might think of your dog following you as simply flattering, he could be trying to tell you something. If he doesn’t typically follow you around, it’s possible he’s sick, so keep an eye out for other symptoms, such as whining or stomach issues like not eating or drinking or eating or drinking too much. When in doubt, call the vet, who can diagnose and treat your dog. Your dog might also follow you around if he thinks you’re going to drop him some scraps of yummy table food. If you’re constantly feeding your dog snacks when he’s at your side, he’s going to stay at your side. Reduce the number of table scraps and treats you issue or designate them for tricks or other rewarded behaviors.
Your German Shepherd is probably following you because he knows that one is the loneliest number and he doesn’t want you to be alone. Keep an eye on him for other symptoms indicating health problems, but remember, you’re the alpha and you’re in charge. Designate playtime for him and personal space for you.