It’s normal to love your dog so much that you treat him like a member of the family; as another sibling or child who deserves all of the affection you have to give. He eats when his human counterparts dine, attends family vacations and is regularly doted on for just being plain cute. But could showering your dog with constant love and affection actually be smothering him?
“Pet parents forget that dogs are animals, and while the dogs themselves become a family member because we love them so much, they’re still animals who can’t say when they’re afraid or angry,” says Terri Bright, animal behaviorist and director of behavior services at MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center.
If you’re unsure whether or not your pet is appreciating all of the ways you show him love, check his body language. “If there is one posture that can signal your pet is uncomfortable, it is called ‘whale eye,’” says Bright. Whale eye is when you can see the whites of your dog’s eye and he appears to be looking at you but his gaze seems empty. This can mean your dog is afraid or overwhelmed and that whatever you are doing—even if it is being done out of love—may be scaring him. Tense muscles, growling and snapping are some other signs that your love may be coming on a bit strong.
Here are five common signs that you may be loving your dog a little too much, along with some ways to adjust your behavior:
Sign #1: You Take Your Dog Everywhere
Believe it or not, while your dog is a loyal companion, he might not always want to be by your side. It’s not that he doesn’t love spending time with you, it is just that he may prefer to have a little alone time in place of being toted around while you complete your daily errands.
“You may love your dog and want to take him everywhere, but your dog probably wants to stay home,” says Bright, “He doesn’t want to go to work with you every day [and may not] want to be in a crowd. Some dogs will tolerate it, but that doesn’t mean they like it.”
Try to remember that the average dog also sleeps 12-14 hours a day, according to the National Sleep Association—so your dog wanting a little quiet time to rest is natural.
Sign #2: Your Dog Has a Full Schedule
You may think that filling your dog’s day, week or even month is showing your dog that you love him because you are keeping him active and entertained. But most dogs don’t care to keep a schedule, in fact what they want—and need—is some free time to simply be a dog.
“Some pet parents have a little appointment book for their dog,” says Bright. “They have a weekly play group, on Saturdays they go to grandmas and, while they have everything planned for them, what they really need is some free time to stick their nose in the grass.”
While dogs need a routine when it comes to their feeding schedule and bathroom breaks, filling out a calendar with activities is not recommended.
Sign #3: Everything is Handed to Your Dog on a Silver Platter
Do you fill your dog’s bowl with food so he has little bites available all day long? Are his dog toys neatly piled in their regular place? Do you fill his bed with all his favorite things? While that is nice of you, it may not be entirely necessary. Instead of having everything ready at your pet’s paws, he may want to do a little hunting for them – and that can be good for him.
“Pet parents should give their dogs intellectual stimulation,” Bright says. “Dogs need to be able to think and problem solve in order to stay smart.” Bright suggests that instead of filling your dog’s bowl with food twice a day, let your pup use his brain to find the food in a toy. “Respect that he is an animal; respect the fact that their ancestors looked for their food and let him do the same.”
Sign #4: Treats are Given Out Freely
You may think that throwing your dog a treat for simply looking cute while standing near the treat bowl shows your dog you love him, but it’s important to remember that one of the ways we love our family members is to give them what they need and not what they want, Bright says.
So while he may want those dog treats, give your dog what he needs by stimulating his brain and make him work a little for it. “Reward-based training, whether through agility, nose work or obedience, builds a fantastic bond and it helps the two of you become a good team,” she says.
Sign #5: You Take The Same Walking Route All the Time
Exercising your dog and taking regular walks is great for the both of you, but sometimes when it comes to your dog’s happiness, it’s less about the destination and more about the journey.
“People think that their dog loves to take a walk and march for two miles, but [dogs want] to be a dog and to follow a scent,” Bright says. “What pet parents can do is recognize that their dog wants to follow a scent instead of staying on their regular path.”
Try to take new routes and let your dog lead on hikes so that he stays simulated and becomes tired from not only exercising but from tracking and thinking, too.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with loving your dog. But if you think you may be pouring it on a little too thick, remember to show your dog the kind of love that increases the bond between you both instead of overwhelming him with constant attention and affection, Bright says.
Caitlin Ultimo is a writer and editor who has been published on PetMD. Her work specializes in pet, family and beauty writing.