We love spending time with our pooches, but let's be honest, some of our furry friends need to learn a few things about personal space! Some take up all the room on the couch, others see you as their doggy bed, while a few will even follow their humans to the toilet, sitting outside the door until they’ve done your 'business.'
Does your dog follow you to the bathroom?
Dogs are pack animals. This means they're hard-wired to operate in groups with a distinct hierarchy and set of clearly defined rules. In fact, this kind of environment is critical for a dog's physical and mental health. It's also an essential part of keeping everyone else safe, including other pets, other dogs, and humans. If a dog doesn't understand its place in the pack or can't identify a 'strong' leader, it may start to compete for dominance, resulting in some very worrying behaviours, including aggression.
Ideally, your dog should see you as the pack leader. This doesn't mean you should try to dominate your dog, but a firm and consistent approach is really important during their early years. As the pack leader, you're the source of food, affection, discipline, and walkie time. As a result, your dog grows incredibly attached to you. They want to keep you safe and follow you everywhere, even if you're going into the bathroom for an intimate moment!
Why does my dog follow me into the bathroom?
Dogs love their favourite humans. In fact, they can even love us too much! OK, so not's really true, but they can become overdependent on us, leading to issues like separation anxiety. This is when a dog starts to feel distresses and anxious whenever their humans go away. As we already discussed, dogs are pack animals. Still, they need to form their own distinctive personalities and have a certain amount of independence if they're going to be truly happy.
Separation anxiety can be a perfectly natural response, especially if these sociable animals are left alone for long periods. However, if they haven't been properly socialised or suffered some serious trauma, dogs may develop extreme (and unhealthy) types of separation anxiety. This is when they can't stand to be away from you for even a few minutes and will follow you everywhere, including to the toilet. You can spot the more extreme versions of separation anxiety by observing your dog's body language. For example, if they sit patiently outside the toilet door like a good boy or girl, them they might just really, really love you! However, if you can hear them pacing, panting, or whining, then they're probably suffering from a severe case of separation anxiety. Other signs to look out for include excessive yawning, avoid eye contact, and folded back ears.
Does your dog wait at the bathroom door for you?
Thankfully, separation anxiety is treatable. It just takes time, patience, and the right approach. For milder cases, try some distraction therapy, using treats or toys to keep your dog occupied while you go to the bathroom. Alternatively, start leaving your dog in a room on his/her own for a few minutes, gradually increasing the amount of time day by day. Just don't forget to give them lots of praise and cuddles when you come back. This is how dogs know they've done an excellent job!
For more extreme cases, you might need some help from the professionals, especially when it comes to retraining a rescue dog with a troubled past. Trauma creates ingrained patterns of behaviour that can take a long time to rewire, requiring a very particular approach that is way beyond the average pet owner. For more information, visit the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. The APBC is a network of experienced and qualified pet behaviour specialists who work on referrals from veterinary surgeons to treat behaviour problems in all kinds of domesticated animals, including dogs.
Remember, not all instances of this rather strange behaviour is a sign that something is wrong with your dog. In most cases, it's completely normal. It's your pets ways of displaying their natural group behaviour, including their instinctual desire to keep their fellow pack members safe. However, if you do notice other negative expressions, then it's time for some separation anxiety training. Patience is key and always aim for slow, incremental improvements. And if you ever need some extra help, speak to a local vet.