There is no stronger bond between humans and animals than the relationship with man’s best friend. Dogs and humans have been living together for over 20,000 years.
We may descend from apes but our emotional connection with canines is that much stronger.
How was the human/dog bond established and how do we improve the bond with our puppies?
If you’ve got a rescue, bear with us here. You’ll be pleased to know that there are ways to bond with every kind of dog.
Follow these simple tips to bond with your dog.
The Root of Dog Affection
We have domesticated and bred dogs to work and live with us.
Their amazing work ethic and obedience have been used mainly for hunting, herding as well as protection and guarding.
Did you know that the Dobermann was used as a “tax collector” dog in 1890?).
Their desire to interact with us has created a “will to please”. Dogs love human interaction and they have their own ways to express love.
Spending time with us creates a bond that inspires confidence in the dog and will result in a loyal companion.
If a dog falls in love with his owner, he will stay with him forever.
Humans also fall in love with dogs and the aspiration to have a lifelong companion has inspired us to breed dogs only for companionship like the Yorkshire Terrier.
Beyond a basic need for love, dogs crave safety and the feeling of being wanted. What a lot of people underestimate is that dogs need to feel useful too which means a job to do for them.
That’s the reason why a lot of dog owners have problems with protective breeds, territorial livestock guardian dogs or with the hunting instinct of a dog that was solely bred for hunting.
Strong Bond Between Working Dog and Handler
Since our methods to produce and protect livestock are much more advanced and sophisticated, we found other purposes for dogs.
The recent surge in popularity for breeds like the Cane Corso demonstrates that families seek out guardian dogs to protect them, their property and especially their children if necessary.
Abilities of hunting breeds are now re-purposed to use in tracking, for example. Think of a Malinois in police work or the St. Bernard that roams snowy mountains just to find missing humans.
That is a level of commitment that stems not only from personal pleasure but from a will to please their handler if they make the right choices.
Sadly, some dogs are mistreated due to their owner’s lack of affection, leading to issues like separation anxiety or destructive and aggressive behavior.
Those people don’t understand that dogs demand our attention because that is what we actually bred them for. To avoid this conflict, here are some tips on how to improve the bond with your dog.
How To Connect With Your Dog on a Deeper Level
Nurturing or improving the bond with your dog should be prioritized in any dog training.
If playtime is of no interest to your dog, you might have to go at this from a different angle (adventures together, for example) but especially puppies and playful dogs are easily satisfied with playtime.
If your dog struggles with behavioral issues, bonding can potentially solve this.
Your dog will look more to you for direction and every tug-of-war game will become enjoyable instead of an annoying chore.
Recommended Reading: 12 Boredom Busters
1. Spend Quality Time
Take at least half an hour a day to spend quality time with your dog. Exercises like playing or walking release endorphins and there is no quicker way to create a bond than having a happy puppy.
When walking your dog outside, be aware of how your dog behaves and how he reacts to certain distractions.
I see too many dog owners just pulling their dog behind them and not paying attention at all.
Their lack of communication is deeply rooted but could easily be improved through practice.
Let your dog rest on your lap in the evening. Searching for physical contact is a way for him to show affection and if you offer it to him, then he will surely be pleased.
Think about what you can do to spend more time with your dog. Will you be able to take him with you to your office/workplace?
If not, you should think about a dog walker (preferably a family friend that’s know to your dog) or shell out the money for an interactive dog camera so your dog won’t feel alone when you’re away.
The time we spend apart from our dog is actually just as important as the time we do spend with them.
Hearing your voice can go a long way in making your dog comfortable and preventing any behavioral issues.
2. Take Your Dog on Adventures
As I already said, dogs love to spend time with us. So treat your dog once in a while and go on adventures with him.
This includes but is not limited to hiking, traveling, and visiting new parks, forests, or cities.
The best part about hiking with a medium to large-sized dog like my Rottweiler is that you can split the load with them and actually train their muscles in the process with a saddle bag.
Even if it just means that you take him with you to visit your relatives or friends, he will appreciate the moments you spend with him very much.
Every positive experience your pup gains with you accumulates to a much stronger bond.
New sights, sounds and smells will exhaust your dog (in a positive way if he’s used to all that and well socialized). Besides, a change of scenery won’t harm you either, so buckle up.
3. Treat Your Dog
Surprise your dog and buy him his absolute favorite treats. Or bake some dog cookies of your own (you can check out plenty of recipes on Pinterest).
Like playing, food releases endorphins and especially his favorite food will boost his happiness.
Amalia loves it when I treat her with bananas, coconut chips or sprats. Try out new things and really get to know your dog’s taste.
Treating your dog can also mean giving him a new toy to rip apart (or not if you buy a durable interactive toy).
Remember that it’s not only about the fun of playing but also the quality time with you.
4. Show Your Dog Some Support
We always expect our dogs to be looking out for us and protecting us from danger. Although many dogs show their affection by doing that, our role as humans should be the same.
If there is a situation that throws your dog off and scares him, you have to take the time out of your day to reassure him that you always got his back.
Then he will have the courage to approach new things with more confidence and self-esteem.
If you are at a dog park and playing gets too rough and your dog can’t get away, ask the owner if he could call his dog or try to block him with your body.
Stepping in before it escalates is the best way to prevent a dog fight and will show your dog that you are watching and supporting him.
5. Cuddle Up
Physical contact is very pleasant for many dogs and it’s a sign of true love.
While you don’t have to take him in bed with you, you can just cuddle up on the sofa and enjoy some intimacy. You might have asked yourself why your dog wants to sleep on your pillow.
Don’t get frustrated if your dog’s not a lapdog (which our Rottweiler certainly thinks she is) but rather enjoy little steps forward when he seeks out your affection.
Keep in mind that not every dog is cuddly, so never force your pet into your arms or your lap.
Some dogs just love to cuddle up while others are a tad more independent.
6. Build Great Communication
Getting to know your dog and learning what he likes and dislikes is very important. Nobody knows your dog as well as you do.
Your dog might show certain signs in specific situations where he may be
Learn how your dog communicates his needs and fulfill them. That doesn’t mean you have to feed him the pizza you are eating just because he demands it.
Your puppy might get nervous or restless when he is not feeling well or might bark when he is stressed.
Every dog of every breed is different and you only have to be able to perfectly communicate with your own companion. Also, be clear in how you communicate yourself.
Dogs don’t understand sudden anger or frustration so never yell at your dog. You cannot let your communication be influenced by negative emotions.
To further boost your communication, make sure sure that he doesn’t struggle with behavior problems such as separation anxiety, barking, chewing, jumping, etc.
Those are all symptoms of a dog that doesn’t have clear guidelines in his life and is not feeling secure.
7. Actions Speak Volumes
As dogs obviously don’t speak our language they communicate only with their body language.
We are used to telling our loved ones how important they are for us but that simply doesn’t work for dogs.
Actions are much more important to them than what you say. Every moment is a chance for teaching and learning.
What you choose to do with your dog will be remembered by him.
8. Teach New Tricks
Frequent training sessions not only satisfy your dog but will also improve your bond. Dogs crave mental stimulation and are eager to learn new things from you.
Even if you don’t notice it, your dog is watching you throughout the day and is truly aware of your behavior.
This can be as easy as training with a hula hoop or even getting a couple of Agility obstacles (or learn how to DIY in the article below).
You may want to check out my post 8 Easy & Unique Dog Tricks for Beginners which will give you many more new ideas for fun and quality training time with your dog.
Keep in mind to be patient, your furry companion is capable of much more than you might think.
9. Hand Feed
In nature, mealtimes are times for rivalry, dominance or fear. Hand-feeding builds an enormous amount of trust and prevents food aggression later on.
It shows your dog that you are the provider of good things like food and that you do not intend on stealing it from him.
You offer the most important source that canines have and it will set up a great basis for training.
10. Reward Desired Behavior
It is always nice for a dog to hear what a good boy he is. If he does something you like and appreciate, encourage it by praising him verbally or feeding him with treats.
It doesn’t stop once he has learned something. Every time my dog sits before she goes out of the door, I praise her for that although she has done that a thousand times before.
Every time I like how she walks on the leash, she gets a little pet.
11. Be Positive
Always be positive when interacting and talking to your dog. Especially puppies love to hear a high pitched voice and respond very well to that.
If you train with your dog all grumpy, he probably won’t enjoy the experience. Have some fun, dogs are such happy and worryless creatures and we could learn something from that.
12. Dog Yoga
Doga has experienced a surge in popularity.
Doing yoga with your dog is quite simple and will improve your own flexibility, reduce stress, and strengthen the bond you have with your dog. Besides, the “exercise” can never hurt you or your dog.
Make sure to check out popular doga positions and dive into this wonderful form of stress-relief.
13. Rules Are Rules
Your dog needs to be fully sure of his position in your home. He needs to know what he is allowed to do and what not.
Setting boundaries is extremely helpful and they need to be clear and consistent otherwise your dog will live in constant confusion.
Set some rules as soon as you can, at best before you even get a puppy. You have to sit down with your whole family and discuss what he is allowed to do and what should be permitted.
Everyone has to always stick to these rules to avoid frustration. If you agree that your dog is not allowed on the bed, then the kids cannot secretly let him sleep there.
14. Line Out a Schedule
This also applies to schedules. Puppies thrive for routines in their daily lives.
They give them comfort and assurance because they know what a typical day looks like and what to expect. Stick to this routine as close as possible.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Where will my dog eat every day?
- Where will my dog sleep every day?
- Is my dog allowed on the couch or on the bed?
- Will I crate him?
- When will we go for a walk and for how long?
- How often does he need a potty break?
- Where is his potty spot outside?
- When will he go to bed?
Signs of a Weak Bond
It is no shame if your dog shows signs of a weak bond. You can work on your bond and establish more trust over time. Signs of a weak
- Your dog won’t be very interested in you, especially on walks or at dog parks you are pretty much invisible to him. When you’re about to leave, he seems to have forgotten his recall.
- If the door opens or if you let him off-leash, he might attempt to run off.
- When you talk to him, he will try to avoid eye contact and get distracted very easily.
- Also, when you pet him, he will try to keep his distance
- He doesn’t mind sleeping alone in another room and doesn’t get up when you’re leaving (or returning).
- If you scold him, there’s pretty much no reaction (except maybe fear).
- He can be pretty tired most of the time and doesn’t engage in play with you.
Signs of a Strong Bond
The following points are, of course, only examples. Don’t be worried if your dog, for example, won’t greet you at the door that doesn’t have to mean that your bond isn’t strong.
My dog never gets up when I come home just because she is so comfortable with being alone that she will be so sleepy when I open the door.
Keep in mind that an untrained dog won’t interact with you as much as a trained one. After all daily training is a big part of bonding and will help in improving it.
Also, some independent dog breeds or dogs that have been recently rescued won’t require your physical contact as much. More on that below.
- Your dog loves being around you and always pays attention to where you are going and tries to match your pace. Your dog’s recall is pretty strong, even in distracting environments.
- He won’t bolt through the open door. Off-leash he will stay close to you and won’t attempt to run off.
- Eye contact is no problem for your dog and he will hold it intensely.
- Physical attention is a must-have for your dog and he regularly seeks your attention without bothering you.
- He is very happy around you and always gets excited when he sees you. His tail wags and his body is full of joy. If you leave the room, he gets up to see what you are doing and where you are going.
- Scolding is the worst for your dog. He can read every slightest change in your behavior.
- When you play hide and seek, he won’t stop searching for you until he finds you. He will try to initiate playtime with you.
- If you speak to your four-legged friend in a friendly manner, you will receive positive feedback in form of tail wagging or something similar.
- Your dog trusts you when you have to perform uncomfortable actions such as cleaning his ears or pulling out a tick.
Long story short: Your dog has a strong need to interact with you on a daily basis. He is very happy to perform commands for you and puts real effort into it. You have strong communication and always know what your dog needs and wants.
How To Bond With Your Rescue Dog
Even though your rescue is probably not a puppy anymore, it’s definitely possible to bond with your dog.
Bringing home a rescue is a very exciting time. Unlike puppies, they have a history which includes negative experiences and we wonder if this dog will ever be able to bond with us or any human at all.
You haven’t raised that dog and you might think that you missed out on great opportunities there.
While it’s true that bonding with a puppy is easier, once you establish a bond with an adult rescue dog, it will feel so much more earned. There’s an intimate understanding between you two.
First and foremost this includes accepting your adult rescue dog as he is.
Sometimes, there’s just no way to change a 7-year-old dog that has never demanded physical attention in his life (though that may change if he just never had that opportunity).
Give Your Dog Time and Space to Bond With You
Establishing a bond with an adult dog doesn’t happen overnight and it’s important not to get frustrated as this will impact your bonding process negatively.
If you start from a place of acceptance, it will be much easier to give your dog the time and space necessary to establish a bond. He will come to you once he’s ready.
This includes not forcing physical love on your dog. Don’t hug a rescue dog before he feels at ease with his new people and the new environment he’s in. Understand his warning signals and don’t punish him for these.
If you follow the steps above and give your dog time, you’re set up for success. A great rule-of-thumb for getting rescue dogs is: If you can’t accept that the dog will stay like he is right now, don’t bring him home.
This will prevent him from painful re-homing because he just doesn’t meet the owner’s criteria who thought they could completely change the dog.
They often do come out of their shell but we have to accept that some behavioral issues can only be managed, not eliminated.
How To Bond With a Dog That Doesn’t Like Me?
This feeling is often observed with first-time puppy owners or with older rescue dogs.
If your dog is still a puppy, it’s probably due to you being stressed out in the first weeks or even months.
Puppies want action around the clock and that can be very demanding of us, triggering all sorts of negative thoughts.
“What if I’m not the right fit for him?” or “What if he’ll never like me?” are common thoughts.
But fear not, this will probably pass as your puppy gets older. We all just gotta pull through this phase.
Your pup doesn’t listen to you right now, chews on everything, whines a lot and so on but that’s all part of growing up for them, just stand by their side and be the best leader you can be.
On the other hand, we have a grown-up dog that might not like your affection at the moment and you wonder if you made a mistake bringing him home because it just doesn’t click between the two of you.
This often happens due to false expectations and because we tend to anthropomorphize dogs (meaning we attribute human traits, emotions and intentions to them).
While they do have preferences (especially when it comes to other dogs and their playstyles), dogs are not humans and unlike us, they don’t judge by random criteria.
If your dog doesn’t seem to be thankful although you rescued him from the streets, it could be that you’re just disappointed at how this particular dog expresses himself.
Manage your expectations and look out for signs that your dog is enjoying your company which can include: Initiating playtime, looking at you for direction, and last but not least, an increasing demand to cuddle up with you.
Repeat the steps mentioned above to keep strengthening your bond.
I hope that these few tips helped you to form a better picture
I am sure there are plenty more points I haven’t talked about but you can let me know about them in the comments down below.
Wednesday 22nd of February 2023
Hub's & I adopted 1 yr old pap/Chihuahua in 2016 when Hub's was diagnosed with cancer. Hunter spent time snuggling/sleeping with Hub's, who passed Nov 2021. Hunter follows me everywhere around my apartment, loves travels as well as walks. He (won't) snuggle with me even though I've been the only person to ever feed or walk him. He has never enjoyed toys. Any ideas?
Sunday 26th of February 2023
Hi Karen, I'm sorry your husband passed, hope the time he spent with your pup was awesome! Regarding your question: Not all dogs love snuggling and if your pup did before and doesn't now, it could be that his preferences changed over time or maybe he was just used to snuggling with your husband. You can try to make play and snuggles fun but ultimately, it needs to be up to the dog. Make the space inviting, positively reinforce, but don't force physical contact. Some dogs come around more than others.
Wish you both the best, Danielle
Saturday 30th of April 2022
Danielle, What a lovely and informative post. I stumbled on this while looking for some advice for a friend. I do rescue fostering and training and you are spot on. I use a lot of the same guidelines when working with my fosters to help them decompress and prepare them for their new homes. Thank you for helping others understand their dogs and manage expectations. So important. ~Molly
Sunday 1st of May 2022
Hi Molly, awesome that you're doing rescue fostering/training and I'm glad you found the article helpful.
Monday 11th of April 2022
Thank you for an excellent post. I rescued a 7 year old from a rescue association that took her from a private puppy mill. She does get happy when I return home and she is a very good dog. She now tentatively licks my hand, but she doesn't like to be cuddled or kissed. I do try scratching behind her ears and a little kiss but she seems a bit nervous. Getting better. She always flops over for a belly rub and loves humans. I wonder if the belly up comes from them checking her during her pregnancies -- she has had a lot of babies apparently. She loves to walk with me and I plan on some adventures this spring and summer.
Monday 11th of April 2022
Hi Diane, glad you rescued her and hope both of you will have lots of fun on many adventures to come! It's definitely a process to get a rescue dog comfortable - give her time and space, lots of positive reinforcement, playtime, training and it'll get better and better over the next weeks and months!
Wish you the best, Danielle
Monday 3rd of January 2022
Danielle, you are a gem I share your ideas on bonding and training. I've trained 3 service dogs with affection and consistency. Thanks for this article I know it will help a lot of dog owners and dogs. Blessings to you for your great work.
Monday 26th of July 2021
Wonderful article. We recently adopted a Greyhound, who is very timid and shy. Working on creating that bond with him and getting him socialized. Appreciate all the tips and insight you have provided.