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Clingy

When a Poodle Acts Clingy

Overview

While we all want our Poodles to be close to us, to interact and be part of the family, it can be troubling if a Poodle puppy or older dog acts overly clingy. 

You undoubtedly want your Poodle to have self-confidence, to be able to play independently and to know that when you cannot be by his side, that your Poodle will be alright. Since it is normal to be close to their humans, but being overly clingy and constantly shadowing may point to other issues, this section will try to answer all of your questions regarding this subject.

We will discuss:
  • When a young Poodle puppy acts clingy
  • What to do if a Poodle is tightly bonded with only one person in the house
  • Issues of sudden clinginess from a dog that never showed issues like this before
  • Senior dogs that develop problems
  • How to react when a dog seems insecure or anxious
  • Steps you can take to help your Poodle learn to be a bit more independent

When a Poodle Puppy is Clingy

When a puppy is brought to a new home at the age of 8 weeks old, generally it is the first two months that the pup is referred to as a 'new puppy'. This is a time of great transition and the behavior that a puppy displays at this time is not always indicative of how he will behave as an adult. 

However, if a Poodle puppy is overly shy and clings to an owner, how that owner reacts can play a role in shaping the Poodle's personality.  

We must remember that to a 'new' Poodle, he or her entire world has suddenly changed. Gone are the dam and the littermates and the only home that the pup knew. In the blink of an eye, the puppy is now in a new environment and needs time to adjust. Usually, one of two things will happen with a young Poodle… either he will appear to be distant and distracted, not immediately bonding with his new humans or he will act skittish, nervous and cling like a shadow. 

It will be your job to teach your Poodle puppy about the world and that world will be as small or as large as you allow it to be. Until the Poodle has had all of his puppy shots, he should be kept out of public places. However, one way to help a puppy stop clinging is to teach him all about the house, the various places that are available to him and also the safe, outdoor area that he is brought to.

Pups should have their own gated off area and inside of this should be a quality canine bed and a fun toy collection. The entrance to this area can be kept open when you are home to watch the puppy and closed when he is home by himself and at night. In this way, he can become accustomed to his special spot and does not only associate it with a negative event such as being home alone.

Not only should a clingy puppy be encouraged to learn about his area, he should also be led to all other areas of the house that he will be allowed to visit. Young puppies often need reminding about where their food and water is… and having a second toy collection in the family room (or other room where humans gather) can be helpful.

Each day, do a tour of the house and also a tour of the yard. Once the bathroom area is visited and a dog has urinated or eliminated in the appropriate spot, he can be lead around the perimeter of the home. Several weeks of both indoor and outdoor exploring will give a Poodle a better sense of what he should consider to be his territory and once he is house trained, he will feel more secure leaving his owners side and freely moving from room to room. 

Once all puppy vaccinations are given, a Poodle can start to learn about other aspects of the world. As a Poodle matures and learns of his expanded environment, becomes attached to favorite toys, has a full day with walks, exercise, being taken places (parks, stores, outdoor markets, to visit friends), and feels at peace in his home, he will usually outgrow clinginess and act more self-assured. 

Unexplained Clingy Behavior

Sometimes, it may seem as if a Poodle simply has an overly shy, dependent personality. However, there is often a reason for this and even nervous dogs can learn to come out of their shell, given time. 

You'll want to do 3 things:

1) Slowly socialize your Poodle to events, situations and elements that cause him to cling. Some owners deal with clingy Poodles by avoiding the elements that tend to make him cling. And this leads nowhere.

It never gives the dog the opportunity to learn new ways of coping with things. Dogs can be skittish regarding just about anything… cars, other dogs, crowds of people, visitors to the home, etc. 
Poodle in owner's bag
Lolo, 7 years old
Photo courtesy of Lisa
And they often tend to keep being so until they are gradually exposed to that trigger enough times to learn that there is no real threat.  
2) Ensure that the household is offering a pleasant and secure environment. It's most likely impossible to find a happy, well-adjusted dog in a house that is chaotic and loud. Some elements that can make a Poodle insecure include: foot traffic near his food and/or resting spot, yelling, loud TV's or music blaring and not having a comfortable area with a bed and toys to retreat to if things are overwhelming. 

3) Evaluate how much time you actually spend interacting with your Poodle. This breed bonds quickly with his owners and is not typically a dog that is happy just 'being'. If a Poodle is essentially ignored due to owners being busy, this feeling can build up until it really affects the dog's behavior. 

Setting aside time for two daily walks plus even just 10 minutes twice per day for one-on-one interaction such as playing fetch can make a dog feel satisfied with his 'social life' and be more at peace when he is left to his own devices. Even just speaking out loud to your Poodle can make a big difference. 

If a Poodle is Clingy with Only One Owner

Problems can arise if a Poodle tends to cling to just one particular person, having an overly close bond but is then distant with others in the house. This is not that uncommon and this sort of behavior usually manifests if that one person is the main caregiver. This breed can make quick attachments and then cling to the person who they first established a relationship with. 

In cases like this, you will want to start to include other family members in the daily activities related to the Poodle, even if the dog ignores the others at first. Humans should take turns feeding a Poodle and this should be done in a way that teaches hierarchy. For anyone who does this task, the dog should be given the 'Sit' command before the dish is placed down.

When a dog truly learns that his meals depend on all people in the house, he will be often begin to see them in a different light, having a more balanced bonding, not clinging to just one person.

Taking the Poodle for a walk, brushing him, giving a bath and giving treats are also tasks that everyone should share. There are many instances of a Poodle being exceedingly clingy with one owner but that same dog ends up being super close and loyal to the other once care tasks are shared. 

Sudden, Intense Clingy Behavior

There are several issues that can cause a Poodle to suddenly act extremely clingy. 

Having been startled- If a dog has had a scare or has otherwise been emotionally jarred, he will often then stay very close to his owner, cling to their side and may act scared long after the event is over. What scares a dog into acting this way can vary, though with many dogs this will be either a very loud noise (including thunderstorms) or an encounter with an aggressive dog.

Most Poodles will cling for a while; however will gradually return to normal behavior anywhere from minutes to several hours. 

Teasing/bullying - If a Poodle is consistently bothered, this may cause him to be clingy whenever he is free from that situation. Common cases include a young child that may be handling the Poodle incorrectly (pulling his tail, picking him up improperly, swinging the dog, etc.) or another pet in the house that is harassing the Poodle.

If this appears to possibly be the case, steps should be taken to stop this sort of treatment. Children must be taught proper care techniques and if another pet is bothering a Poodle, intervention will be needed including possible separation until they can learn to get along. 

Illness/ Injury - When a dog is not feeling well, he often does one of two things: He may become very clingy, always wanting to stay by his owner's side and not be alone or he may retreat. If a Poodle that is normally very self-sufficient and happy is suddenly overly clingy, a health issue should always be considered. 

Developing Issues of Clinginess with Senior Dogs

Older, senior Poodles may start to become clingier as age-related issues begin to develop. This includes health issues and also includes both decreased hearing and vision. A Poodle may be feeling vulnerable and depend on his owners more as he grows older. With both hearing and vision, simple things such as approaching from the side and flickering lights before entering a room can help.  

Senior dogs are also very set in their ways and any changes to the environment can cause a state of unrest; a Poodle may react to new people, a new pet or even a change in furniture placement by acting clingy. 
If at all possible, limit changes in the household. You will want to reassess an older Poodle's sleeping area, toy collection and diet to make age-appropriate modifications. 

Never assume that any notable changes in behavior are normal and simply a part of 'old age'. Sudden mood swings including clinginess may be related to health issues that can be resolved or controlled with proper treatment. 

How to React When a Poodle is Clingy

You will first want to evaluate things to see if any triggers can be removed that may be causing the behavior. If there are no obvious reasons and all health issues are ruled out, the best method to deal with clinginess is to offer your companionship without being overly soothing. 

Dogs in general are very smart and the Poodle is one of the most intelligent breeds in the world; this means that acting clingy can be inadvertently reinforced and for some, it can become a game of sorts.  

If a clingy Poodle is coddled and overly soothed, this can 'teach' him that he is correct in seeking out comfort and that his need for constant reassurance is warranted. However, you certainly do not want to ignore your dog or make him feel that he cannot go to you. It is best to speak in a matter-of-fact manner, pet him for a bit and then offer a distraction.  

When you move his focus and in doing so, he receives some sort of reward, this can build self-confidence. You can lead your Poodle to an interactive toy (a maze puzzle that has treats works very well for this) and teach him how it works… as he learns how to push the levers with his nose, he will begin to focus on the reward. 

Each day, lead him to this, however help less and less, allowing the Poodle to take over more… within just a week or so, a Poodle may enjoy this so much that he goes to his new favorite toy instead of clinging to your side. 

Another good method is to hide new and interesting toys around the home. At first, you will need to lead him around with an enthusiastic voice to imply that there are treats to be searched for. It helps to choose a word such as 'Find'. In time, a dog will learn that if he stays busy looking for something, he is sure to eventually find it. 

At that point, you can hide just one treat-release toy in a hard-to-find spot. If the Poodle is acting clingy, you can give the command word of 'Find" and usually he will be off in search of his reward.    

When a Dog is Clingy After You Return Home

After being left home alone all day, it is normal for a puppy or dog to be very excited to see their owner. 

However, since transitioning from work to home usually also means you now have household chores and cooking to do, it can be hard to find a balance between paying attention to a dog that is overwhelming begging for attention and doing taking care of household tasks. 
In following guidelines regarding separation anxiety, you will want to arrive back home in a nonchalant way. However, afterwards it can be very helpful to offer your companionship for a good 45 minutes before tackling what needs to be done in the home. Dogs left in the house for the day need a good bout of exercise to release all of their pent-up energy and to interact with their owners after hours of isolation. 

Typically, if a Poodle is walked for 20 to 25 minutes, played with afterwards for 10 to 15 minutes (playing catch, etc.) and then is brought into the house, he'll feel as if he has gotten his fill of attention for a little while.

He may follow you around the house, perhaps asking for a pat here and there… and this is normal and expected. After all, why have a canine family member if you expect him to be invisible? 

One of the great aspects of having a dog is to have a companion that wants to spend time with you and be part of the family.
Poodle hugging a toy
Sophie, 9 months old
Photo courtesy of June Nelligan

5 Steps to Help a Clingy Poodle be More Independent

1) Do not ignore a dog that is seeking your attention; rather do acknowledge him and then offer a distraction. 

2) Take time to teach your Poodle how to play interactive games such as treat mazes that will keep him busy and offer a reward. 
3) Take a good look at the house and the level of comfort that is provided. Make changes if needed so that things are peaceful and that the puppy or dog has a safe area to play and rest.

4) No matter how busy you are, schedule time each day to spend with your Poodle. Dogs can get very lonely and be craving companionship so badly that they overact when someone finally pays attention to them.  

5) Make a concerted effort to slowly socialize your Poodle to as much as possible. When a shy and clingy dog is exposed to all sorts of pets, people, situations and events, he is sure to become a more confident, well-adjusted dog. 
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