By Victoria Schade
Although they might seem like the same thing, loving your dog and bonding with your dog are distinct parts of the human-pet relationship.
The love between dog and pet parent develops naturally. Love is what makes your dog joyfully leap on you when you get home at the end of the day, and why he wants to snuggle up to you on the couch every night.
The bond takes all of that love a step further. A bonded dog-human relationship is one that’s steeped in equal parts of mutual trust and respect. A strong bond is essentially the glue of your relationship. It’s what keeps your dog from running away without a backwards glance when you forget to shut the front door, and it’s the reason he listens when you ask him to do something. The bond encourages attentiveness, good manners and partnership.
To create a meaningful, strong relationship with your dog, try these relationship “tweaks” to fast track the bonding process with your furry best friend.
Every dog should understand the basics of good household manners like sit, down, stay and come, but it’s equally important for dogs to have one or two silly tricks in their repertoire. Tricks give your dog a chance to show off how smart he is. Plus, trick work is a no-pressure way to hone your skills as a trainer and have a good time as a team.
Dogs love to use their brains, but sadly many pet parents quit training their dogs once they’ve mastered the obedience basics. “Continuing education” through trick training keeps the two of you working towards a goal without the stress of having to be perfect. In addition, trick training behaviors like “high five” and “roll over” can be mentally exhausting for your dog, so he’ll be ready for a nap at the end of the session.
You probably praised your dog a ton when you first brought him home, but have you kept up the positive commentary? Praising your dog is a super easy way to let him know that you appreciate his good behavior, which will encourage him to continue making the right decisions. There are endless daily opportunities to give your dog positive feedback. You can praise him for pottying in the right spot, for checking in with you at the dog park, for walking politely next to you, for not barking at the neighbor dog, and for waiting calmly as you fill his food bowl. The praise doesn’t have to be over-the-top—a simple “Nice work, good pup!” coupled with a smile is enough to mark the moment.
Playing with your dog is about more than just tiring him out. Surrendering to the game and playing with your dog with puppy-like enthusiasm is an excellent way to speed the bonding process and reinforce the idea that you bring the fun. Try to be creative and surprise your dog with unique games, so that he never knows what you’re going to do next.
- If your dog loves to play fetch, keep it interesting by using different types of balls, or throwing multiple balls instead of one so that they never stop appearing.
- Teach your dog the rules of tug (to drop when you ask and take when you ask) and try out a variety of tug toys. But if your dog has issues with possessive aggression, this isn’t the game for the two of you.
- Attach an elastic cord to your dog’s favorite plush toy and let him chase after it as if it’s a cat toy.
- Play hide and seek, so your dog has to look for you throughout the house or yard.
- Try hiding one of your dog’s toys so that he has to use his sense of smell to find it.
The core of bond-building play is committing to it with joy and focus, so put your cell phone away and get into the game!
Dogs thrive on a predictable schedule, so it might seem counterintuitive to suggest that unpredictability can strengthen your bond. But inserting some surprise into your everyday life with your dog can help him realize that he needs to tune into to you. Instead of walking the exact same route every day, switch it up and try new paths. Try to vary your walk times as well so that your dog never knows when the fun will begin. Does your dog have a favorite type of biscuit? Switch it up and let him have venison or salmon treats instead. Is Sunday your designated “hike in the park” day? Rock your dog’s world and hike on Saturday and Sunday! Or Wednesday! These unpredictable shifts don’t have to be momentous—small daily tweaks can have a huge impact on your bond.
Victoria Schade is a certified dog trainer and the author of " “Bonding With Your Dog; A Trainer’s Secrets for Building a Better Relationship”
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