The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

How to Bond with Your Dog

By Liz Palika

Man Bonding with Dog

When I was a child, I devoured every book I could find on dogs at our local library. I loved those famous dogs: Rin Tin Tin, Lad a Dog, Big Red, and all the other dogs who were so special and heroic. I wanted a dog who loved me like those dogs loved their people. Unfortunately for me, my father was military and we moved often so he said nope, no dogs.

When I got my first dog in my twenties, a rescued German Shepherd puppy, I continued my reading, only this time I devoured ‘how-to’ books. One of the first answers I sought was how to develop a bond with my puppy like those owners had with their dogs.

What is this famous bond?

How-to books tell us that it’s important to bond with our puppy or newly-adopted dog, but the bond isn’t really defined – and I think this is because it’s such a personal thing. Every dog owner is an individual, as is every dog, so the process of bonding is going to be different each time.

Historically, though, this bond is what made domesticating dogs so unique. We have, over thousands of years, domesticated many species. People today have partnerships and friendships with their cats, horses, birds, and many others, but the connection we have with dogs is different. Be it stronger, more emotional, more mutually supportive, or whatever; it’s different.

When training students ask me about bonding with their dogs, I say that my five-year-old English Shepherd, Bones, would jump through fire to save me as an example of that bond. Not that I would want him to, certainly not. But that desire he has to work, care, help, and be with me is a sure sign of his bond with me. When I look at Bones and know that I’m happiest when he’s close by, I know I share that bond with him.

When talking to other dog trainers, one said, “I know I’ve bonded with my new dog when he follows me from room to room all day long.” Another said, “When he looks at me when I speak, even if I’m talking on the phone, I know we have it.” Someone else said, “When I see him try hard to cooperate with me, even when he doesn’t quite understand what I want, I know we’ve bonded.”

One day, while talking to a stock dog trainer, a big, tall, strong, serious man, I watched his dog zig zag through a group of people and gently put his nose in the man’s hand. The man looked down at his dog, smiled, and turned to me, “That is the definition of a bond.”

How to Create a Bond with Your Dog

Since each dog, owner, and bond is different, so too will be the technique for creating that bond. However, there are some shared characteristics that can help build it.

First of all, time shared with the dog is important. Time to go for walks, play games, do some training, and even just hang around together at home. Time shared is vital.

Building a sense of cooperation is also important. Remember that historically, dogs were domesticated for mutual benefit. Dogs helped us hunt and warned us of predators and trespassers, and we provided them with food, companionship, and security. We worked together then, and that sense of cooperation should remain a part of our partnership.

Training builds cooperation as well as better communication and understanding. The dog doesn’t have to be an upper level obedience competitor or a law enforcement working dog, but every dog needs a good foundation of basic obedience. Training must be fair, and so must the training expectations. Harsh, overly-demanding training can weaken your relationship and bond.

Last, but certainly not least, for a good bond the two of you must respect each other and genuinely like each other. Not every dog and every dog owner will be the right match for each other and sometimes when the fit is wrong, a bond won’t be there. But when the fit is right; it’s right!

Sometimes it Takes Time

Occasionally I’ve been able to look into a puppy’s (or newly adopted dog) eyes and know right then and there that we were bonded. When I picked up Bones it was that way. Boom! We were a team.

It doesn’t always happen that way though. One of my Australian Shepherds, Sisko, was bonded to his breeder and when I brought him home at six months of age he was grieving. It took several weeks before I felt that we were even beginning to build a relationship. But we did.

Be patient, spend time with your dog, work with them, build a cooperative relationship, and the bond will come. And you’ll know. One day you’ll look at your dog and smile, and they’ll look back, wagging their tail saying, “What’s next?” and you will know.

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