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 necessary, improve it with socialization and bonding exercises. Problems can occur if you are not sensitive to your dog’s internal state and try to push your dog too quickly, or fail to realize that your dog is anxious, scared, or nervous. (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, we highly recommend you dedicate time to these exercises, as now is the easiest time to influence your dog’s temperament, improve the bond and teach them to be comfortable with your home, family, and lifestyle.
Best 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.
Raising a dog to be loving and confident with people is easy. All it takes is patience, treats, and a little bit of Zen.
A young puppy is dependent on their mother for nurturing, protection, and food. When you bring your puppy home he will be confused and try to mouth, bite, and suck on fingers, hands, hair…anything he can get his little mouth on.
We recommend starting training right away, rewarding outdoor bathroom behavior and teaching your puppy their name with positive reinforcement. The trick is to make sure you say “Yes!” in a positive voice BEFORE giving your dog a treat to ensure treats are a reward and not a bribe!
Also, young children and friends should participate, by playing games and giving your puppy treats. This will help your puppy bond and associate people as his new family.
Teaching your dog to take treats from your hands has some very nice side effects. Hand feeding games reduce unwanted play biting and nipping. Ideally, your puppy is learning to gently (and patiently) take food from your hands. Treats makes training fun for your dog and can improves obedience. Imagine daily play sessions where your puppy learns to gently take food from you and your children’s hands instead of trying to nip, chew clothes, carpet, or the couch!
Note: You still should feed a majority of your dog’s meals out of a bowl. Just take 1 meal-a-day to dedicate to training and bonding games.
Rewarding and Socializing
In addition to rewarding good behaviors with positive reinforcement, use treats to socialize your puppy to new people, places, and things. Simply hand-feeding your dog outside on walks, or in and around your house will boost your dog’s confidence! This is especially important with getting your puppy comfortable with meeting new people, loud trucks, and other city noises.
On walks, by remembering the treats, you can reduce how much stuff your dog eats from the ground. Instead of constantly searching the ground for things to put in their mouth, they are rewarded — “YES!” followed by a treat — by looking and focusing on you! (See: Name Game)
Can you give too many treats?
Many people worry about using too much (or any) food during training. However, you really can not overdo the treats and rewards. Think about how you feel when you get a raise or bonus at work. It may make you feel better about your job and boss to be recognized and compensated. Would you be more motivated if your salary was doubled? Tripled?
Food is one of your dog’s primal needs and a strong motivator. To really take training to the next level, we recommend that in addition to treats, you use some of your puppy’s daily food for training.
Most owners waste an opportunity twice-a-day by giving their dog bowls of food in exchange for nothing. At Zen Dog Training we recommend you use regular meals and kibble during obedience training, socialization exercises, and taking treats from your fingers and hands. Your dog will learn to expect good things from people!
Young children should be included but supervised and especially encouraged to move on to obedience games as another great way to improve the bond. Toddlers and those too young to participate can be included too. During socialization exercises adults can toss treats or place them at the feet of toddlers or baby carriages to create positive associations.
Remember: 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.”
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!