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Bonding with Your Dog

By Kathy Diamond Davis
Author and Trainer

People often insist that the new dog they adopt must come to them in puppy hood in order to bond with the family. The confusion over this idea comes from a study, often borne out by real-life experience, which puppies that do not have any human handling at all during a critical socialization period will grow up with poor socialization skills or sometimes no ability to bond with a human.

What people don't understand, though, is that the human in the puppy's early life does not have to be you. It's the ABILITY to bond that is formed through this early experience. Dogs routinely form new bonds with humans at all stages of life.

For example, a dog who will work as assistant to a disabled person or as partner to a police handler will typically first form a bond with a breeder, then with a puppy-raiser, then with a skilled trainer, and finally with the disabled person or the police handler. Dogs are in their fourth home when they form some of the closest human-dog bonds possible. Clearly bonding does NOT require that you adopt a dog as a puppy.

In fact, adopting a dog as a puppy and expecting a bond to form automatically is a big mistake. Creating a good bond, or relationship, with your dog requires that you consistently take the right actions. It's work-but it's a labor of love.

One-on-One

Bonding happens in times that you and your dog focus on each other. A relationship is between two individuals. Each person in the family will have a relationship (good or bad) with the dog, and if you have more than one dog you'll have a relationship with each dog as an individual. It is essential to spend daily time one-on-one with each dog you have.

Some of this time needs to be spent away from the house. If you have multiple dogs, take them on individual outings whenever possible instead of always taking them out as a group. If they always go out together, training will not be as good and bad habits and fears can rub off from one dog to the other. Most of all, you'll be missing important bonding opportunities.

Management

Certain things you do and don't do in the day-to-day management of your dog make a great deal of difference to bonding. Instead of reacting when something goes wrong in your dog's behavior, it's much more effective to manage the dog so the right behavior occurs in the first place. One example is getting your dog to the potty area frequently so that the dog is able to hold it until the next chance. If you wait until the dog has an accident and then try to train the dog by reacting to the accident, you're doing it the hard way!

People who reliably meet their dogs' needs develop dogs who trust them. The dogs have steadier nerves because they're free from worry about not getting fed today, being left outdoors during a scary thunderstorm, or waiting too many hours in a crate.

Until the dog is past puberty and you know the dog's temperament is mild, it's optimum for bonding to have the dog sleep in your bedroom but not on your bed. Later the dog may prove suited to sleeping on the bed, but it's best to leave that for later, and the same goes for letting the dog share the sofa with humans.

Until you're sure the dog will chew only dog toys and otherwise use good house manners, don't leave your dog loose unsupervised in your house. Some dogs are comfortable resting in a crate when you can't be home, while others will do well confined in an area of the house. This is important management for bonding because it avoids so many situations of people coming home to find things torn up by the dog and losing control of their temper. Besides protecting your dog from your anger, sensible confinement protects the dog from chewing something dangerous.

Bonding Mistakes

Three errors sometimes made in training and managing are:

1. Tricking the dog into making a mistake and then punishing the dog. Practice success, not failure. Set the dog up to get it right so you can praise and reward. Doing this enough times creates a confident dog who habitually does the right things. It also creates a dog who values your praise and approval, when you have repeatedly paired that praise with tangible rewards such as a food.

2. Confrontational corrections. People want to see a dog "look sorry." To accomplish this, it's common to stretch out a correction, which is distressing to dogs and can result in aggressive reactions. Humans don't realize how significantly this handling can interfere with the dog's ability to learn. A good correction with a dog is so quick that it's over before the dog has time to get upset, and ends with the dog doing the correct action and being praised and rewarded for it. In other words, a good correction ends with the dog and the handler both behaving correctly!

3. Punishment that inflicts pain or fear. Nothing is gained by treating a dog in this manner, and much is lost. Certainly it doesn't create a dog who trusts you and can face the world confidently.

Routines that Build Powerful Bonds

Three things you can build into your dog's schedule have enormous power to bond the two of you together:

1. Take your dog on regular, one-dog outings. A dog views a person who does this as a leader. It's also a perfect time to work on training and socialization.

2. Train with your dog daily for several months. Some of this training needs to be done away from the house, such as on walks or in training class. Certain exercises are particularly good for building your bond with your dog:

  •  Gentle stay training, including a month of leadership exercises as explained in the book "Dog Training for Dummies," by Jack and Wendy Volhard.
  • Come-when-called, for great rewards that you vary so that the dog knows it's always worthwhile to come to you.  
  • Walk on a loose leash
  • Eye contact, attention exercise
  • Retrieving, taught with a gentle method, a simple play retrieve if the dog is not training for competitive dog sports

3. Daily grooming. Comb out all tangles from your dog's coat daily if the fur is long, or give the dog a full-body rubdown if the fur is short. It is impossible to overstate the benefits of this few minutes a day of conditioning your dog to human handling and to your touch in particular.

A True Family Member

When you create and maintain a good bond with your dog, you make the dog a real member of your family. This is the role in which dogs probably enrich, lengthen and even save more lives than in any other job dogs do for humans. It's great for you, and great for your dog.

 

 

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