No matter what species they occur within, relationships are prone to change. If asked, many pup parents would probably describe their relationship with their dog as characterized by unconditional love and loyalty. After all, that’s why dogs are called “man’s best friend,” right? We may know the quality of friendship our canine companions offer us, but what kind of friends are we in return? Even friendships with longevity require change and rededication to make them stronger than ever. The same goes for your relationship with your pup. With presence, patience, and practice, you can build a better bond with your dog.
With some states’ COVID-19 stay-at-home orders lifted, many owners are headed back to work or school after months of working from home. The result is less time to spend and interact with your dog. Your pup may experience separation anxiety when you are gone. One way to prevent that from happening is by building trust so both you and your dog will achieve a deeper overall bond.
What are some signs of bonding strengths and weaknesses?
The human-canine bond is rooted in dependability, emotion, mutual support, and understanding. The bond is all about a desire to be loved, to feel safe, to belong, and to be useful. Here are some qualities to look for in a dog who is part of a healthy human-canine bond:
- A love and desire for physical interaction
- A high level of focus on you, especially when the dog is off-leash
- Your dog matches her pace to yours on walks
- A willingness to protect you from threats
- Wanting to be near you
- An ability to communicate her wants, needs, and worries to you
- Listening to you and coming when called, even with distractions present
What exactly does a weak bond between owner and pet look like? You can be a loving, caring pet parent yet still have a weak connection with your dog. In fact, if you have recently adopted a rescue dog, especially one from an abusive or neglectful situation, these weaknesses will be expected. In that case, work to strengthen that bond, but understand it will take some time for your rescue to feel comfortable enough to trust you. Here are some signs of bonding weaknesses in dogs:
- Uncomfortability with being handled
- Lack of eye contact or poor focus
- Lethargic behavior or depression
- Attempting to run off on multiple occasions
- Failure to respond to commands
- Lack of interest in play
- Exhibiting aggression toward you
- An emotional indifference to you or people in your family
The causes of the above issues are not the fault of the dog; it is instead a sign that you, the pup parent, need to improve the relationship from your end. For example, your dog may exhibit a failure to respond to you if you use a raised voice or harsh training techniques. Changing your approach can make a world of difference in how your pup views and responds to you.
Don’t fret if you recognize one or more of these weaknesses in your relationship with your pup. There are some simple actions you can take to make the ties between you and your dog healthier.
Stay calm and live in the moment
One of your dog’s most admirable qualities is an ability to live in the moment. Too often, people are not able to do the same. Think of the number of times when you’ve taken your dog for a walk, but weren’t mentally present. Maybe you were checking your phone, or perhaps you were mentally running through the rest of your day. Meanwhile, your dog is at your side, wondering why you are there, but not present.
Make an effort when you walk your pup to experience everything that she is experiencing. Watch when she lifts her head to smell the fresh air or feel the breeze ruffling her fur. Take a moment to do the same and make that connection with your dog.
Also, if you’re stressed or anxious, your dog will pick up on those emotions and react accordingly to them. Practice mindfulness and never let negative feelings spill over into your interactions with your pup. Dedicate the time you spend with your dog as a peaceful, reflective point of your day.
Create a physical connection
Petting your dog --- not just a pat on the head --- can do you and your dog a lot of good. Research shows that by taking just ten minutes to pet your dog, you can reduce your stress and anxiety levels. That physical connection provides similar benefits for your pup, as petting your dog releases oxytocin, the “feel-good” hormone, in both of you. Oxytocin also helps us to decide whether or not to trust someone. Petting your pup lowers blood pressure and anxiety levels for your dog, too.
Dogs often enjoy being pet in specific locations, including the chest, ears, stomach, shoulders, under the chin, the hips and butt, and the back. Take time to pet your dog in these areas, but be careful not to overstimulate your dog. Also consider substituting praise with petting, as dogs respond more positively to touch than just a phrase like, “Good pupper.”
Head back to doggie school
One of the best ways to strengthen the bond with your dog is to train together. You can work with a professional trainer for guidance on how you and your pup can become a better team. However, you can also watch videos and television shows on training and practice some of those methods, too.
Some useful training commands to continuously work on include “sit,” “stay,” and perhaps most importantly, the recall command. However, don’t limit yourself to just basic obedience. Challenge your brain --- and your pup’s mind --- and try training with something new. Consider setting up an agility course in your yard or try trick training and let the bond between you and your pup continue to strengthen. Remember to always stay positive in your tone and body language when training with your dog.
Take a road trip
You don’t have to travel cross-country to find new places to go with your dog; even driving to a local park or trail can be a refreshing experience for both of you. Watching a dog happily sniffing and exploring in a new or rarely visited location is enough to lift anyone’s spirits.
Take a brief or lengthy road trip with your dog, and do your best to make it a solo excursion. Give both of you the time together, without other people, pets, or distractions, so that you can relax, connect, and bond.
Play a game or two
Remember when you played games as a child? Well, your pup still has that mindset. Games and fun are a natural way to release energy and stress. Spend time playing with your dog; tossing the ball once or twice into the yard isn’t going to do it. Set aside some part of your day just for playing a game with your pup. Whether your dog likes to play tug-of-war with a wand toy or a rousing game of fetch, there are easy and affordable ways to make playtime fun for both of you.
Toys aren’t necessary for fun games. Use your imagination to create interactive fun in your yard or neighborhood. Take your pup on a sniffari around the block or at a local park. Let her sniff whatever she wants, and you follow along to join in the adventure. You can let your dog be a dog, and you can channel your inner pup and enjoy the moment, too.
Strengthen your bond with your pup
There are so many ways to deepen the love and loyalty between you and your dog. Open your mind and heart, see things through your pup’s eyes, and look for places where your relationship could be stronger. The bond you have with your dog is already unique, and with some time and effort, you can make this beautiful connection even better.
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