How to Handle a Needy Doberman: A Simple Guide

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A clingy Doberman laying on a bed and refusing to get off.

If you have an overly needy or clingy Doberman, you may have realized that you can’t go to the bathroom, eat, sleep, or even browse the internet to learn how to deal with a needy Doberman without them on top of you (admit it, your dog’s head is in your lap right now). Luckily, there are some proven techniques for dealing with this that are fairly effective with Dobermans.

Are Dobermans needy dogs? Dobermans are often described as overly needy dogs due to their tendency to be hyper-focused on their owners. They have earned the title “velcro dogs” due to their desire to be close to, or even on top of, their owners at all times. 

There is a difference between an overly needy Doberman and one who suffers from separation anxiety. A needy Doberman won’t let you eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom alone. They might chew their bone on your lap or refuse to eat unless you’re sitting with them. They’ll be well behaved while you’re gone, but ecstatic to see you when you arrive back home.

A Doberman who suffers from separation anxiety, on the other hand, will destroy objects, dig up the yard, chew your furniture, or howl and bark incessantly when you’re gone from the house. Sure, needy Dobermans are more prone to separation anxiety, but “needy” is fairly common for most Doberman (that’s why their called “velcro” dogs after all⁠—they want to stick to you all the time) whereas separation anxiety isn’t as common and is the sign of a bigger issue that needs to be addressed.

Needy or Clingy Dobermans

Let’s be honest here, almost every Doberman I’ve known can be described as needy or clingy, depending on your perspective. They need 1 to 2 hours of exercise every day, they need tons of interactions with their owners and lots of socialization. The list of “needs” goes on. But there is such a thing as a Doberman who’s too needy or clingy.

A Doberman who’s “overly needy” will take things to a whole other level. They may do things such as:

  • Frantically trying to get into the bathroom as soon as you walk in (crying, scratching, chewing at the door, etc).
  • Forcefully chewing his or her bones or toys on your lap.
  • Refusing to eat meals if you aren’t sitting next to him.
  • Constant crying, yelping, or barking when he’s next to you but isn’t getting enough attention.
  • Inability to be potty trained due to never wanting to leave your side (urinating or defecating in the house).
  • Repeatedly, and forcefully getting in your face or nuzzling you.
  • Acting out in negative ways to get attention,⁠ such as stealing clothes or destroying things in the house so you’ll interact with him.

Hopefully, you can see where your typical attention-loving Doberman ends and a needy Doberman begins. I’ll admit that it can be a fine line at times since all Dobermans are (to varying degrees) on the clingy side.

Dealing with Neediness

As we talked about, all Dobermans are somewhat needy. But when it becomes extreme and interferes with your daily life then there’s an issue. Every time I’ve seen this problem, it has been due to either a lack of training by the owners to establish boundaries, a lack of basic needs fulfillment (usually a lack of time spent interacting with the dog), or a combination.

I’m not here to be harsh, and I’m not here to judge you in any way—I’m only here to tell you the truth. Just about every Doberman I’ve ever met would eventually become what I described as “overly needy” if boundaries were not set, and enforced, by their owners. Put simply, this issue almost always has to do with a lack of obedience training or boundary setting by the owners.

If you want help training your Doberman for all the most common obedience commands and behaviors, have a look at my article How to Train a Doberman: The Complete Guide.

Of course, there are other factors too, like not providing your dog with enough attention in the first place. You do need to give your dog attention or they will simply continue to demand it. But there should be a limit to where the attention demanded becomes unreasonable. 

If your dog is overly needy or clingy, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Enroll your Doberman in obedience classes. Obedience classes are a great way to mentally stimulate your dog and instill some obedience. Since being clingy and needy is almost always at least partially related to a lack of obedience training, this is a great first step. The key is to channel your dog’s extra energy into completing obedience challenges.
  • Keep your dog physically and mentally fit. Dobermans require a lot of exercise and mental stimulation. Provide 1 to 2 hours of exercise per day, as needed based on their stress levels. Also provide mental stimulation such as puzzle toys, hide and seek games, or training. Enrolling him in agility classes are a great fun way to do both.
  • Take charge as the owner. You need to be seen as the alpha in your relationship with your Dobie so that you’re able to set boundaries. An alpha is strong, consistent, and in control. Harsh punishments or yelling at your dog is not being in control. Clear, firm, directives that are consistent are the best way to establish yourself as the one in charge. Don’t forget the positive reinforcement either.
  • Teach “space” and “off” commands. Spend time teaching your dog commands to alleviate some of the neediness issues. I taught my dog that the command “space” meant to walk away from me. While the “off” command I used to get him off the couch, bed, or any other object he was on. The key to training these commands is to stay extremely consistent. After your dog knows these commands, if you give it and he doesn’t do it, you need to correct him by making him do it. Always act calm and in control. Then praise your dog once he’s done what you’ve asked.
  • Distract your dog when he’s being needy. Distract your dog with a treat, toy, or other distraction. A favorite of Doberman owners to accomplish this is by using a Kong toy filled with peanut butter or a frozen treat. Your dog will likely walk off on his own and work on it for a while. It helps to show your dog that it’s ok to be apart from you for a while.
  • Teach “go to [place]” command. Another great approach is to spend some time teaching your dog a command where when you give it, your dog needs to go to a certain place. My Dobie knew the command “bed”. When either my wife or I would give it, he would go to his bed which was located in the corner of the living room and lay down.

The most important advice I can give you about getting some relief from the clinginess of your Doberman is to establish boundaries. Consistency with Dobermans is absolutely key because they’re just too intelligent.

The problem with smart dogs like Dobermans is that they will always push the boundaries as far as they can. If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. Then if they can’t push the boundaries any more they will look for a different way to accomplish the same end goal—laying directly on top of you for example. The way you stop this is to establish boundaries and to be incredibly consistent in enforcing them (usually through the use of commands).

My Doberman Cooper on my lap.
My Doberman Cooper demanding some attention by climbing up onto my lap while I’m on the couch. A little neediness is ok with me.

The Difference Between Being “Needy” and Separation Anxiety

If your dog’s neediness gets to extreme levels or starts to affect him when you’re gone from the house, then it may not just be a needy Dobie anymore. It might be a Dobie who’s suffering from separation anxiety.

Needy Dobermans are certainly at more risk to suffer from separation anxiety, although these are two entirely different things. One’s a sign of something bigger wrong (separation anxiety), while the other one is a sign of boundaries not being enforced (neediness). Separation anxiety primarily occurs when you leave the house, neediness occurs when you’re home.

Separation Anxiety

Obviously, Dobermans like to have lots of interactions with their owners. This means that they’re very prone to separation anxiety. Even leaving them alone for a short period of time, like getting the mail, can result in anxiety and destructive behaviors in an affected dog. 

Separation anxiety takes its toll on your Doberman. It can lead to serious behavior problems if left unchecked. It will also be incredibly stressful on your dog. This is a more serious issue than the all-to-common Doberman neediness. See this helpful guide for more information on how to spot separation anxiety, and what to do about it: How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Dobermans – Proven Method.

If you feel like you have no choice but to leave your Doberman home alone for long periods of time (due to work, school, etc), then take a look at my article How Long Can You Leave a Doberman Home Alone? for some help on how to deal with this.

Identifying Separation Anxiety

The symptoms of separation anxiety can actually start before you leave the house—when your Doberman realizes that you’re just preparing to leave. 

The behaviors that are indicative of separation anxiety include:

  • Pacing or Crying Before You Leave A Doberman suffering from separation anxiety may start crying, pacing back and forth, and sticking close to your side while you are getting ready to leave (like grabbing your car keys, getting dressed for work, etc).
  • Destructive Digging – A Dobie may frantically attempt to escape their yard or enclosure to get to their owner once they’ve left. They may try digging through doors, windows, or in the dirt in the backyard. Sometimes they’ll just dig holes in the backyard as a means to burn off the extra anxious energy.
  • Chewing on Things They Shouldn’t – They may also chew on things that they shouldn’t around the house, including doors, door frames, carpets, and even walls. The chewing can be an attempt to burn off the anxious energy or another attempt to escape.
  • Climbing or Jumping Boundaries – In another attempt to get to you, they may try to jump their fencing or enclosures. Dobermans are incredibly intelligent and they will look for multiple ways out of your yard.
  • Excessive Crying, Barking, or Howling – You probably will only know that this is happening when you’re gone because your neighbors will tell you. It can be loud, annoying, and get you in a lot of trouble with people in the neighborhood. For more help with this, see my article 6 Steps to Get Your Doberman Pinscher to Stop Barking.

If you’re in doubt whether a behavior your dog is exhibiting is separation anxiety or just some other bad behavior, ask yourself if it happens when you’re home or only when you’re gone. If it doesn’t happen when you’re home, then it’s more than likely related to separation anxiety.

Causes of Separation Anxiety

The underlying cause of a Doberman’s separation anxiety is the fear of you leaving the house and not returning. Doberman puppies will often show this the first time they are left home alone. But, this doesn’t mean they will develop true separation anxiety. True separation anxiety is often triggered by changes in an older puppy or adult dog’s life.

Dobermans do not always adjust well to changes in their lives. Major disruptions can be upsetting to them and lead to separation anxiety. Changes in family schedules or housing are two common triggers. Changes in their primary caregiver, being overly isolated, or being abandoned can also trigger the onset of separation anxiety.

Treatment Options

There are things you can do if your dog has gone beyond needy or clingy, and is now in separation anxiety territory. Below are some of the approaches that many Doberman owners take which seem to produce fairly good results.

  • Increase the exercise your dog gets. Increasing the amount of exercise your dog gets throughout the day may be necessary to help him calm down while you’re away.
  • Provide plenty of good chew toys. Leaving plenty of good chew toys including puzzle toys to keep his mind occupied is also extremely helpful at relieving your dog’s stress while you’re away. Some owners have one, very special and very loved toy, that they only bring out for their dog when they are about to leave. This keeps the toy exciting and begins the association of good feelings when the owner leaves.
  • Decrease stress in the home. Dobermans are very sensitive to stress in the home. If your home has many conflicts, you need to spend time and effort resolving those.
  • Be calm yourself. When leaving for the day, you should say a casual goodbye to your dog but don’t do an over-the-top “I’m never seeing you again” long hug and kiss session. Also, when you get home, make it a casual hello. Making either of these things too extreme will tell your dog that you leaving is a big deal, which is the opposite of what you want him to feel. 
  • Music or Television. Research has shown that certain music can help calm most dogs. Calming solo-piano seems to have an effect of reducing heart rate due to the slow rhythms and simpler arrangements. Try playing this calming music 20 minutes before you leave. Also, sometimes just putting on the television before you leave will break the silence and can help calm your dog—just be sure the channel you pick won’t have an action movie on later in the day or a show with barking dogs.
  • Desensitization training. This is a more in-depth approach that involves a series of steps which helps your dog to gradually accept more and more separation from you. It takes a large time commitment and cannot be rushed.
  • Calming devices. The research is varied, but these do appear to help some dogs. Some of these things are body wraps, mutt muffs, or calming pheromones  
  • Anti-anxiety medication. I would consider this a last resort for only the absolute worst cases. Talk to your veterinarian if you’re considering medications for this purpose.
My Doberman refusing to let me go to the bathroom in peace.
My Doberman Cooper refusing to let me go to the bathroom alone. Forcing their way into bathrooms to be with you every second is a typical Doberman move.

How Desensitization Training Helps

Desensitization training helps your Doberman accept your absence. It’s a fairly in-depth approach and I won’t be able to cover it in detail here. But basically, it’s a step-by-step process where you gradually increase your Doberman’s confidence and train him that he does not need your constant touch and affection. It will also help him learn that you will always return.

The basic steps are to teach your dog to: 

  1. Sit for 60 seconds or longer, 
  2. Have them stay while you move away, still in sight, and finally, 
  3. Have them sit and stay while you’re out of sight for increasingly longer periods of time. 

The main key is using treats and praise as positive reinforcements. The other key is to have small expectations, such as sitting for five seconds and moving forward gradually. The steps cannot be rushed. 

Negative reinforcement should not be used as it will only increase your dog’s anxiety. Moving forward in this process should only happen after consistent success is demonstrated in the current step.

Final Points

It’s important to remember that, by nature, a Doberman can be a very needy dog. That’s not always a bad thing and can be quite normal. However, early training and socialization can help prevent the neediness from getting extreme or becoming separation anxiety. 

Remember, to give them plenty of attention, put some time into training every day (even if it’s just a few minutes), provide plenty of exercise, and show them by your attitude that it’s not a big deal when you leave the house.

Also, establish personal space boundaries and train your dog with commands that you can use when they test those boundaries. Lastly, and most importantly, be consistent. I know you won’t want to get up off the couch and make them sit in their bed once you gave the “go to bed” command and they ignored you, but trust me, your future self will thank you if you do. And you do need to do it every-single-time, without fail. Dig deep! Good luck!

John Walter and Cooper, his Doberman Pinscher.

About the author

John Walter is a Family Doberman Specialist, holds a CPD certification in Canine Communication, and is an active dog trainer specializing in the Doberman Pinscher breed. He's been quoted in Doberman Network Magazine, Bark Magazine, Doberman Dispatch, and he's the founder of Doberman Planet. Learn More

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