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Bonding with your dog - tips and mistakes

Bonding with your dog - tips and mistakes

Pet Psychology

Creating a strong and positive bond with your dog is vitally important, and affects the happiness of both you and your pet in the long term. How difficult or easy it is to deal with your dog on a day-to-day basis, as well as how easy your dog finds it to deal with you, comes down in large part to bonding, and how you and your dog view each other, communicate and understand each other’s feelings and intentions.

What is bonding?

Bonding is the process by which people or animals or a combination of both build up the process of a mutually beneficial love, affection and reliance. Bonding is different to simply liking or enjoying the company of another dog or person, and forms the basis of a symbiotic relationship where both the dog and the person gain from the relationship, and become emotionally connected to each other. Bonding does not have to be unique to one dog and one person, as of course an entire family can bond with their dog, and one owner can be bonded with multiple dogs at once.

Is it truly possible to bond with an adult dog as a new owner?

People often assume that in order to create a strong, meaningful bond with a dog that they intend to keep for life, the only way to do this is to get a puppy rather than an adult dog. It is often perceived that becoming the first and only person or family to build a relationship with the dog in question is the only real way to cement the bonds that will support your relationship for life. However, this is not the only way to bond with a dog, and there are no barriers in a dog’s later life to keep them from loving and accepting a new owner or family! While puppies learn about bonding and friendship while they are still young, it is important to differentiate between their learning the ability to bond, and the bonding process itself. When raised and trained correctly, a new puppy will come to learn how to form meaningful ties with their human family; a skill that will set them up for life and enable them to make future bonds with additional caregivers or new owners. If a puppy has had a bad start to life or has been mishandled, neglected or inappropriately trained, they might find it harder to bond with new people and handlers later on. This does not mean that creating a bond with the dog is impossible, but simply that like any other form of learning and training, you will have to go back to basics and teach your dog about bonding and love by means of your interactions with them, instead of assuming that healthy bonding is already familiar to your dog.

Building a bond with your dog

Whether you have just got a new dog or puppy or have owned your dog for several years, it is important to not only build up the initial bond between you but to work on maintaining it for the duration of your lives. As with any relationship, your relationship with your dog will only thrive and endure if you keep working at it, and take the time to establish the kind of routines and behaviour patterns that will keep your relationship with your dog happy and healthy in the long term.

  • Spend plenty of quality time with your dog, and ensure that they receive interaction and attention from you or your family on a daily basis. When you walk your dog, take the time to play with them, explore with them and really connect with what they are doing, rather than simply taking them out on the lead while you talk on the phone or think about other things, or letting them out to play in the park without interaction with you.
  • Talk to your dog and give and receive affection with them when you are going about your day to day life and just relaxing in the house; do not banish your dog to other rooms for no reason. Simply sitting in the same room as your dog while they rest or play with a toy and you read a book or watch TV helps to build and maintain the affection and respect that your dog should have for you.
  • Make sure all of your dog’s needs are met; this includes feeding, grooming and veterinary treatment, and the ongoing process of training and communication.

Some mistakes that can hinder bonding

  • Make sure that your interactions and how you communicate with them are consistent and unambiguous. Confusing your dog or not making boundaries clear not only cause unhappiness and stress to your pet, but can create obstacles that can hinder or break down the bonding process. For instance, do not let your dog sit on the sofa one day and forbid him from doing this the next day; to you, sitting on the sofa may be a special treat that is not normally allowed, but to your dog, you are simply sending mixed and inconsistent messages that they cannot decode.
  • Never take out your bad moods on your dog; shouting or acting aggressively in the presence of your dog can be confusing and distressing, even if the dog is not the target of your anger. Similarly, be conscientious of how your mood affects your interactions with your dog, and ensure that you are not being uncharacteristically harsh or snappy with your dog due to external influences.
  • When you get a new dog, it can be tempting to overdo treats and allowances in an attempt to make them feel more at home, assuming that later going on to change their routine or how you interact when the dog has settled in will be easier. However, in reality, this is likely to prolong the length of time that it takes for your dog to bond with you, and cause them to take longer to settle down as the boundaries that are presented to them are constantly changing.