The Importance of Bonding With Your Dog
Updated: Sep 2, 2020
You may be thinking that this is a given. Of course I have a bond with my dog. He loves me and I love him. Or maybe my dog is a people person, he loves every person he meets. And while it may be true that you have a great relationship with your dog, understanding that bond, how it effects training and knowing how to reinforce it, can make a big difference in the way you interact with your dog.
Understanding the Human/ Dog Bond
Humans have a bond with dogs that is unlike that of any other animal. Ever since we domesticated dogs, somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago depending on who you ask, humans and dogs have co-evolved together. And that has lead to genetic traits that have been passed down in both species that further cements that bond. Both get a rush of hormones when they look into each others eyes, or cuddle with each other, just like you do with your partner, family or friends. And dogs are the only animals that instinctively understand when a person points to something. Think about it, have you ever dropped a treat or toy for your dog and they missed where it landed and pointed to it just for your dog to go search the area near where you pointed? So the bond we have with our dogs is more than just thinking they are cute, it's genetic. And that means that if we nurture and reinforce that bond, our dogs will do some pretty amazing things for us. It is also critical for their well-being. Dogs are social animals, just like people, and that means that they are going to want to have relationships with their family. And by building and reinforcing that bond, you will help your dog live a more rewarding life.
The Bond and Training
Imagine the most highly trained dog you can think of. Do you picture a seeing-eye dog? Lassie? A drug detecting dog? What all these dogs have in common is a strong, trusting and devoted bond with their handler. When you have a strong bond with your dog, it makes training and maintaining training a breeze. Your dogs respects you, they focus on you and they WANT to work for you. Sure, any well trained dog will sit for a stranger if they have a treat, but it won't be with the same gusto as they would for their owner or handler and not in the situations with lots of distractions. On the flip-side, the same dog will perform that same sit for their owner in the middle of dog park. A strong bond means your dog is also likely to get excited when the training tools come out and be eager to learn from you. This means that even when you go somewhere new and exciting, you will be able to catch and hold your dogs w, because you are the most exciting thing for your dog. This means that common problem behaviors such as leash aggression, door dashing and selective obedience can be more easily overcome. A dog who has a strong bond with their handler is always going to be a better trained dog than one who doesn't. It is for this reason that when I start training a new dog, I spend a lot of time in the beginning developing and strengthening that bond.
Developing a Bond
There are many different techniques that can help whether you are trying to develop a bond with a new dog or strengthen a bond with a dog you have had for years. I use these techniques with my dog and every dog I train and encourage you to do the same. I allow each dog to time ans space they need to build trust, being a fair and consistent leader, and making myself the center of their world. By doing these, we develop a strong bond even when I only have the dog for a few weeks
The first technique is to give the dog the space and time that they require to trust you. Every dog is different and forcing a bond before the dog is ready will only breed mistrust. Gentle encouragement is appropriate, but forcing yourself into a dogs space will only cause problems. Some dogs will immediately want to be your best friend and be with you all the time, others take some time to warm up and trust you. When you are approaching a new dog, ignore them. Allow them to make the decision to come up to you. If the dog seems very eager, you can start petting almost right away, but if the dog is more timid, let them sniff you for a few minutes before you try and pet them. And when you do, pet them in a non-threatening place, like their side. Do NOT try to pet a fearful dog on their head or reach over them until they trust you. After that initial contact, continue to take it at the dogs pace. If they are still a little unsure, I may sit down a few feet away from them with their food to encourage them to approach. I will speak calmly in my normal tone of voice and simply place myself near them so that they learn that I am not threatening. I will also use some of the techniques I'll go over when I talk about making myself the center of a dogs world. It is also important to maintain that trust once you have it. Which means not raising my voice outside of emergencies, not over correcting or hitting the dog, and protecting the dog from it's fears while we work on overcoming them in a structured way. For example, if you have a dog that is terrified of other dogs and they see you preventing a loose dog from approaching, your will reinforce the trust your dog has in you. Then to help work your dog through their fear, you will start by letting them see other dogs at a distance with both dogs on leashes and as they learn to remain calm, slowly decreasing the distance at your dog's pace.
Becoming the Leader
The second is to be a fair and consistent leader. To give an example, lets say that you just got a dog and don't want them on the couch. To be fair, you don't want to discipline your dog for getting on the couch until they understand what the rule is. If you jump straight to yelling or some other form of discipline, your dog is likely to be confused and distrust you because in their eyes, you have just scolded them for no reason. Instead, take the time to teach them what you want. So every time your dog gets on the couch, you calmly tell them no and guide them off until they understand that they should not be up there. Once your dog knows the rules, then you can add in discipline as your dog knows what is expected but chooses not to. This leads into the importance of consistency. Failure to respond appropriately when your dog ignores known rules, leads to confusion on your dogs part. Pack-leaders set rules and enforce them, so if you don't enforce, then your dog will have trouble settling into their role in your family pack. They may be confused about who the leader actually is, or feel that you are not a good leader and therefore take over the leadership position. A power struggle between you and your dog will not lead to a strong bond, it will lead to a confrontational one, which will affect your dog's obedience and behavior.
Being the Center of Your Dogs World
The last thing I do with a new dog is to make myself the center of their world and the source of all the good things in life. So I make sure the dog knows I am the source of food by hand-feeding the first few days and then feeding on a schedule as opposed to free-feeding. I also only allow access to one chew toy or puzzle toy when left alone, but the really fun toys are brought out only for playtime with me. So instead of leaving a dog to play with a ball on their own, they play with me using the ball. Interactive toys like tugs, balls, and stuffed toys are only brought out when we are playing together so that they associate me with fun things. Physical affection is also really important depending on the dogs personality. That means setting aside time throughout the day for cuddles and petting. You should also introduce mental exercise in a way where they associate it with you. For example, instead of letting a dog run around a field, sniffing to their hearts content, I will walk him around on a leash in that same field or through the neighborhood where he can sniff, yet still interact with me. Other examples of good activities are training sessions, interactive brain games, scent work, hide and seek, or various dog sports. By combining all these activities and doing them throughout the day, the dog learns that I am so much fun and have tasty treats, so they love to be around me. When we are not actively interacting, most dogs simply nap since they are all worn out from all the fun we have had.
No matter where you are in your relationship with your dog, there is always room to strengthen your bond with them. And doing so is a win-win. Your dog will be more fulfilled and balanced, their training will be sharper, and it's just fun to interact with your dog in ways that strengthen your relationship. If you need help with building a bond with your dog or any other training issues, contact me for a free consultation.