How to Bond With Your Dog or Puppy

Speed up the bonding process with your dog or new puppy by being proactive with socialization exercises that build your dog’s trust and confidence. 

Trust between you and your dog is earned with positive experiences. Your dog must make a positive emotional connection with you, your family, and other people. When your dog is bonded to you, they are playful, eager to interact with people, but know how to be calm and relaxed around you and your friends and family.

Bonding is especially important with new puppies, shy dogs, and if you have children. Daily socialization exercises to all people, new places, things, and other experiences are an important part of the bonding process. 

Evaluate your dog’s temperament and if they seem timid or shy, you can quickly build confidence with socialization and bonding exercises.  Remember your dog might not listen to you or bark because they are anxious, scared, or nervous. Try to be sensitive to your dog’s internal state and not push your dog too quickly. (See: Six Common Mistakes to Avoid When Training a Shy or Fearful Dog

The solution to ensuring your dog is bonded to you and your family goes beyond just exposing your dog to new people, places, things, and situations. Each exposure must be associated with positive experiences to help your dog learn to be calm and relaxed. 

Being proactive with bonding and socialization exercises will help your dog learn to accept and be comfortable around you and everyone in your family including children, elderly parents, friends, and extended family.


Best Time to Bond With Your Puppy

The best time to bond and socialize your puppy is during the socialization period. When your puppy is between 3 to 14 weeks old they are the most impressionable and open to new experiences. You can improve the bond and socialize dogs at any age, however, it is easier to socialize a puppy. 

If you are lucky enough to have a puppy, dedicate time to socialization exercises. Remember: Now is the easiest time to (1) influence your dog’s temperament, (2) improve the bond and (3) teach them to be comfortable with your home, family, and everyone in your life. 


Exercises to Improve the Bond 

While bonding happens naturally with dogs of all ages, focused training will speed up the process and even deepen the bond you create with your dog. We recommend you dedicate time (and lots of treats) to creating positive associations to your touch, eye contact, attention, voice, actions and mannerisms. 

The fastest way to help your dog learn to trust and bond with you is to use:

  • Food, including high-value treats
  • Gentle touch, petting, holding, and body handling
  • Attention, praise, and rewards   

Food & High Value Treats 

The biggest opportunity you have when bonding with your dog is their regular food. The kibble you give them for meals is a golden opportunity to train your dog to bond with you. Food and treats should be used both for bonding and to set boundaries. Taking some (or all) of your dog’s regular meals to use for training can turbo charge the training process. 

Hand feeding is one of our favorite ways to get your dog to bond with you while setting rules (below). Every time your dog eats a treat from your hands they are simultaneously bonding and learning to engage without nipping, biting, jumping, or acting demanding. 

High-value treats are another way you can quickly speed up the bonding and training process. Dogs learn by making habits and with repetition. Therefore, the tastier the treat, the more fun and exciting training becomes for your dog. Having lots of tiny, really delicious treats can be the trick to keeping your dog’s attention and make them more likely to want to work with you. (See: Our favorite treats and equipment)

Taking treats gently is one of the first games you should teach your new dog or puppy. These kinds of games where your dog learns to be gentle and careful taking treats from your hands can effectively set boundaries while you are socializing and bonding with them. This way, reward-based dog training can be a part of the bonding process.


Touch, petting, holding, and body handling

Your dog should look forward to seeing and interacting with you. They should want to be close to you and let you touch, pet, and groom them. Smaller dogs and puppies should learn to accept being picked up, and sometimes held, groomed, and examined. 

You can help your dog enjoy being touched and handled by using treats and gentle touch to get them to understand they are safe around you. By watching your dog’s body language you can learn what they like and play with them in ways they enjoy. Softly petting their ears, neck or belly, and playing with your dog in calm and relaxed ways will help them learn they can let their guard down around you. (See: Socialization to Touch) 

If you tend to play rough with your dog and encourage rough-housing type play and interactions with people, it will be hard for your dog to learn to become calm and settled. Not everyone likes dogs, especially dogs that jump up, bark at people, or act crazy when people come over, so encouraging gentle touch, petting and body handling is essential to raising a Zen Dog.  

Encouraging calm interactions is especially important when it comes to play biting. Without hands, dogs naturally use their mouths to experience the world, so they want to mouth, nip, bite, or lick everything they see. Teaching your dog how to peacefully interact with you without play biting is another aspect of bonding and socialization that needs to be mastered. (See: Play Biting Solutions)


Attention and Praise

Moving beyond treats is one of the most important aspects to advanced dog training. Using your eye contact, voice, attention, and praise will help you go beyond needing treats all the time. 

The positive associations your dog makes with your eye contact, voice, and attention are established with reward-based training, treats, gentle touch, and petting.

Once your dog is deeply connected to you, they will respond with just a glance or a quiet word. 

Training to improve the bond you have with your dog avoids using harsh commands and stern eye contact. Instead, you want to build the expectation that good things happen when your dog hears your voice. Reward-based training includes praise before rewards such as treats and petting are given to build positive associations to you, your eye contact, and attention.


Hand-Feeding Exercises

Hand-feed your dog for training, socialization, and bonding. You should still feed your puppy from the food bowl. However, taking one meal-a-day and dedicating that food to bonding, training, and socialization games will foster the kind of trust that is essential in having a confident “Zen Dog.”

Young children should be included with careful supervision. Focus them on just being able to give a treat gently is a great way to set the stage for future obedience and another great way to improve the bond. Toddlers and those too young to participate can be included too by having adults toss treats or place treats at the feet of toddlers or baby carriages to create positive associations.

Check out our Free Puppy eCourse that includes many of our Zen Dog Training plans and solutions to: house training, preventing separation anxiety, and more!