- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Are you looking for ways to increase the bond you have with your dog? The good news is that bonding with your dog doesn’t have to involve any grand gesture: with a foundation of respect and love for your dog, often the little things mean the most.
Why is it so important to be bonded to your dog? It’s simple: a strong bond leads to a happier, healthier, more enriching life for you both.
To nurture your bond, you can engage with your pet in a lot of simple ways that include:
- Eye contact
- Simple touches
- Training sessions
- Teaching a new trick
- Your focused attention
- Playing with your dog
- Learning dog body language
- Staying calm
- Giving special treats and a nourishing diet
Read on for more details about each of these ideas and the many small ways you can bond with your dog every day.
How to bond with your dog
Make eye contact
In the world at large, eye contact can be seen as a challenge, but in loving relationships, it’s a sign of trust and love. Think about your own eye contact habits; if you’re nervous or intimidated by another person, you might have trouble looking them in the eye, but if you trust them and want to show respect, you’ll meet their gaze. It’s very similar for dogs.
“Gazing activates the oxytocin system,” says Philip Tedeschi, Professor and Researcher on the Human-Animal Bond. Oxytocin is a hormone that is activated in both dogs and humans “when we are in friendships, and when we feel comfortable and safe,” he says. It’s the same chemical that is released when mother dogs (and humans!) nurse their offspring.
“We have research from Japan that has documented the fact that when you look at your pet, you’re often going to see your dog is already looking at you. When you make that eye contact, that is one of the activation opportunities for that to work.”
So, when your dog sees you as a friend and someone who loves them, eye contact will reinforce your bond.
Praise your dog
Dogs are motivated by praise and the science confirms it! Studies have shown that many dogs value praise more than treats.
So, give your dog the opportunity to please you! You reinforce your bond when you praise your dog and recognise their good behaviour.
Touch your dog
Just as eye contact increases your bond, so touch works wonders for both you and your dog, it’s literally the way to stay connected.
“Dogs tend to have closer proximity in general with the people they are connected to,” Tedeschi says. This is because your dog is getting real time feedback about their own well being from you, just as you are from your dog.
“If I’m anxious and stressed and no one is around, I’m alone trying to get it under control. But if there is a dog asleep with their head at my feet, I can literally put my hand down and feel the resting heart rate of a full grown dog, which is just below that of a full grown human, and I can feel that she’s OK, not stressed, and relaxed.”
Touching helps you both stay attuned to each other, and your dog is probably already doing this to you, extending a paw or leaning on you to check in with you and keep “in touch.” Returning such gestures will help to enhance your bond.
An activity you can try: give your dog a gentle grooming session or massage.
Train your dog
Even if your dog has mastered the basics, practicing your positive reinforcement training enhances the bond you share.
Giving your dog a sense of purpose and a “job”, such as reviewing ‘sit’ or ‘stay’, helps to reinforce what they already know, helps your pup prepare to learn new skills, and gets you both spending enriching time together.
Teach a new trick
This leads us to… trick training! If your dog is already obedience trained, why not teach them a new trick? Teaching a new party skill is an excellent way to spend time together and have fun.
Cuddle your dog
Research has revealed that many dogs do not enjoy “hugs,” but that doesn’t mean they hate physical affection. In fact, affection is among the most important bonding activity you can engage in with your dog. If your dog seeks out pets, leans, snuggles, or even hugs, it’s a sure sign they’re bonded to you. And you can strengthen your bond by spending quality, one-on-one time with your dog every day, including lots of gentle pets.
Of course, all dogs are individuals and some are less affectionate than others, so be mindful of their love language, show physical affection on their terms, and you’ll see your bond grow.
Provide focused attention
Your dog is expressing an attachment to you if they actively seek your attention, if they want to play with, sit by, touch, cuddle, or be near you. Offering your dog your undivided attention (yes, put your phone down) will improve your bond, no matter what.
Consider your pet during these times, what else are they trying to say, or tell you? Reflective time considering your pet, and their emotional and physical needs, through periods of focused attention, can provide opportunities to learn about your pet, build trust together, and reinforce your bond.
Remember this incredible bond goes both ways, and it goes way back to how humans domesticated dogs. “We’re better off when we are with others who are of interest to us and are interested in us, who look out for us, do things for us, and take care of us,” Tedeschi says.
“Play is one of the most important behaviours in all species,” Tedeschi says. “Play activates our neurobiology, not only oxytocin, but it reduces stress neurochemistries, like cortisol, so these are tools [of bonding]. We see play happening across the animal kingdom,” he says. Play offers tools and information for all animals to learn “how to regulate, how to interact, what someone likes.”
You can bond with your dog just by playing fetch, tug, or hide and seek. Mix it up with twists on classic toys to keep it fun and exciting for you both.
An activity you can try: try a sport like agility, dock diving, or skijoring where you and your dog can work together as a team.
Learn what your dog is saying
“Dogs are communicating with us all the time,” Tedeschi says, we just have to learn how to communicate effectively with them.
Like humans, dogs are sentient beings with complex feelings, “they have their good days and bad days,” Tedeschi says.
Understanding your dog’s body language can give you insight into how they are feeling the majority of the time. When you can tell if your dog is excited (a wiggling bum), content (relaxed ears), or stressed out (yawning), you can adjust your behaviour to meet them at their level, which will help to reinforce a sense of safety and trust in the relationship.
An activity you can try: The next time your dog expresses a behaviour you don’t understand, look at it as an opportunity to learn. What are they trying to communicate?
Remember the importance of touch when it comes to the bond with your dog? Beyond the realm of touch, dogs can also sense your mood just by being in proximity to you, or by smell, and even by the sounds we make. So your dog’s behaviour may change depending on the cues they are receiving from you, whether you are calm, or feeling stressed and anxious.
To enhance your bond, lean into the emotional and mental benefits of your pet to help regulate your mood. Check in, take some deep breaths, take the dog for a walk, and remember that your dog ultimately wants you to be happy: their quality of life is tied to yours! You’re not alone when you have your dog.
Soup up your pet’s meals
Food (in healthy, appropriate quantities) is love! Aim for wholesome protein sources with limited fillers, and try some homemade or fresh meals for your dog. Make mealtime a bonding activity by integrating eye contact.
Treats are wonderful, but you want to watch weight gain. One easy way to show love with food? Add some tasty, healthy toppers or mix-ins to your dog’s daily meals.
These additions might include pieces or spoonfuls of:
- Boiled eggs
- Plain, cooked pumpkin
- Natural, unsweetened peanut butter
- Plain yogurt
- Freeze-dried chicken, beef, or other meats
How to know if your dog is bonded to you
Now that you know some constructive and healthy ways to bond with your dog, how can you tell if your dog is bonded to you?
From eye contact to greetings, you’ll know if your dog loves your bond when they:
- Know where you are at all times
- Check in with you
- Choose to be with you and want to spend time with you
- Make eye contact or gaze at you
- Are happy to see you
- Are relaxed with you
- Snuggle or steal your stuff
- Listen and respond to you
- Seek out your affection
- Want to touch you, such as laying their head or paw on you
- Are interested in what you are doing
- Want to be in close proximity to you
Love, love, love
The best way to bond with your dog is simply to spend time together and treat your pet with the attention, enrichment, care, and consideration they deserve! Bonding occurs naturally between dogs and the people who treat them well. Take good care of your dog, learn how they communicate, what they like and don’t like, respect their needs, and you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of love.