How and Why You Should Create a Solid Bond With Your Dog
Why Do Dogs Need to Bond With Their Humans?
I can answer this question two ways; on a deeper level I can talk about bonding in terms of survival. Dogs are not born with the skills to care for or protect themselves, and neither are any mammals, including humans. As mammals, we have a lot to learn before we are considered fully capable adults and this means that we are decreasingly dependent on others for our survival. The bond we form with those that care for us is the only reason they let us stick around for so long, as juveniles we add burden to resources, time, patience, and sometimes the security of the family or social group. Consider human teenagers for a moment: if it weren’t for the bond we form with our family, the streets would be filled with hungry kids, complaining about how unfair their lives were! That bond is the only thing keeping those grumpy adolescents in their family homes where they can finish their “training” and become fully functioning adults.
In terms of our human/dog bond, the survival of their species is not at stake, but we still need that bond to unite us together as a family. We keep our dogs in a state of eternal puppy hood which makes them dependent on us to meet all their needs, so instinctively they will try to bond with us, their caregivers.
What Are the Benefits?
Have you ever wondered what it is that makes a dog run into a burning building, or track his missing owner across miles of countryside? It’s the attachment he formed with his family. Of course, those are extreme examples of what a solid bond can do, but it is that same bond that, on a more mundane level, can also improve your dogs recall, improve his desire to please you, and will inspire him to learn new things from you.
This is not a one-way process either; there are benefits to your dog too. Obviously he will get fed and cared for, which is important, but when the dog creates a bond with his owner he also feels safe and secure, and this allows him to place his trust in you. If he is able to trust you, he will feel more confident in situations that would normally scare him simply because he has you by his side and he knows you wouldn’t put him in harm's way.
In May 2016, a terrier stolen from his home, walked for three weeks, travelling 170 miles, just to find his way home to his family.
How to Improve Your Bond
So now you know how important it is to form a meaningful bond with your dog, the question is how. If you are taking good care of your dog, you will already have some kind of bond with him, but it can’t hurt to work on improving it, especially as there are such great benefits to you both.
Here is a selection of some of my favourite ways to improve your relationship, but essentially, as long as you are spending quality time together and are both finding it rewarding and enjoyable then you are probably on the right track, so feel free to use your imagination.
1. Learn Together
Why not join a training club or take a heel-work to music class. Not only will you learn how to teach your dog new tricks, but he will benefit from learning from you and you will both benefit from better obedience, especially on the walk. You won't be surprised to learn that dogs that walk nicely with their owners statistically get longer walks; its win-win. Learn together, mess up together but most importantly have fun together. Just make sure you are using positive reward based training methods and don’t place too much importance on getting things perfect and you can’t go wrong with this. Your local vet or pet shop should be able to recommend classes in your area.
2. Start a Hobby Together
If your dog is particularly energetic, you might consider taking up a more physical hobby. Flyball and agility are both excellent choices and are particularly well suited to the dog that also likes to play with a ball. Both sports have increased in popularity over the years and clubs are opening up all over the place and the focus is always on having fun. All breeds and abilities are usually welcome, the only stipulation being that, for medical reasons, your dog must be over the age of two.
3. Take up a Sport
If you yourself have energy to burn, you might fancy taking up a sport that your dog can join in on. Running, cycling, and hill walking are good for you both, and we all know dogs love to exercise; in fact, for most dogs it’s their favorite thing, well possibly after din-dins. While you are at it, why not consider taking up a challenge together, maybe a 5K cross country run? Dog friendly races are being organised all over the country, just make sure to get advice from your doctor if you aren’t used to doing these types of exercises. Facing the world together and enjoying it is an amazing feeling for you both; I'm sure you’ll be glad you did it.
4. Play Together
They say families that play together, stay together, and I think they are right; playing games together is a great way to use up excess energy and improve your relationship. Fetch, find the treat, tug, or hide-and-seek, or maybe you have your own ideas, anything goes if it means you are spending time together in a fun and rewarding way. Dogs love rules too, so why not add a few to make it harder and more interesting, such as to sit before you throw the ball, or to release a tug on command before you start playing again. Just make sure you play in a safe way.
5. Cuddle Time
Or you could just chill with your pooch in front of the telly and enjoy some cuddle time. Good for both of you, you’ll feel great and will feel closer as a result. You will feel calmer and less stressed too, and while you’re enjoying some calm time together, don’t forget to make soft, indirect eye contact as you gently pet them. Talking softly about your day while you massage and grooming him is great therapy too—it’ll work wonders for you both.
According to WebMD, people that pet their dogs are more likely to be happier, are more sociable, and are less likely to suffer from stress!
We’ve talked a lot about creating a solid relationship with your dog, but we should now talk a bit about breaking those special bonds. Dogs can be very forgiving when we mess up, but eventually they will lose faith in us if we fail to earn their trust and respect. Essentially, building bonds is about spending time together in a rewarding, fun, and positive way, so it stands to reason that if we behave in the opposite way, any bond we had or hoped to have is going to be broken down. This should be considered anytime we are tempted to “punish” the dog's bad behaviour, leave the dog alone all day, or skip walkies.
It’s hard to deny the benefits that can be gained by working on the relationship you have with your dog: you’ll both be happier. He’ll feel safer and be more loyal; he’ll be more obedient and much easier to train. All you have to do is choose an activity (or three), that suit you both and start having fun together!
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© 2016 Caroline Brackin
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