Through out the years I have heard people insist that the new dog they adopt must come to them in puppyhood in order to bond with the family or an individual. The reason some feel this way is because they have heard that puppies who do not have any human handling at all during a critical socialization period will grow up with poor socialization skills or sometimes no ability to bond with a human. This is true!
What people do not understand, though, is that the human in the puppy’s early life does not have to be you. It’s the ability to bond that is formed through this early experience. Dogs routinely form new bonds with humans at all stages of life. For example: a dog who will work as assistant to a disabled person or as partner to a police handler will typically first form a bond with a breeder, then with a puppy-raiser, with a skilled trainer, and finally with the disabled person or the police handler.
Dogs are in their fourth home when they form some of the closest human-dog bonds possible. Clearly bonding does NOT require that you adopt a dog as a puppy. In fact, adopting a dog as a puppy and expecting a bond to form automatically is a BIG mistake.
Creating a good bond, or relationship, with your dog requires that you consistently take the right actions. It is work; it is a labor of love.
Bonding happens in times that you and your dog focus on each other. A relationship is between two individuals. Each person in the family will have a relationship (good or bad) with the dog. If you have more than one dog you will have a relationship with each dog as an individual. It is essential to spend daily time one-on-one with each dog you have. Some of this time needs to be spent away from the house. If you have multiple dogs, take them on individual outings whenever possible instead of always taking them out as a group. If they always go out together, training will not be as good and bad habits and fears can rub off from one dog to the other. Most of all, you will be missing important bonding opportunities. If you have children it is important to teach them the proper way to handle the puppy or dog. Each member, whether canine or human, must learn to respect each other. This is essential for proper bonding.
Managing the Bonding Process
Certain things you do and do not do in the day-to-day management of your dog make a great deal of difference to bonding. Instead of reacting when something goes wrong in your dog’s behavior, it is much more effective to manage the dog so the right behavior occurs in the first place.
One example is getting your puppy to the potty area frequently so that the puppy is able to hold it until the next chance. If you wait until the puppy has an accident and then try to train the puppy by reacting to the accident, you are doing it the hard way. This is not to say that a correction is not in order. However, mistakes are often human and not puppy’s.
The same principle applies when bring a grown dog into you home, to live or visit. Do not assume that it automatically knows where he can go potty or not. People who reliably meet their puppy’s needs develop dogs who trust them. The dogs have steadier nerves because they are free from worry about not getting fed today, being outdoors during a scary thunderstorm, or waiting to many hours in a crate.
Until you are sure that the dog will chew only dog toys and use good house manners, do not leave your dog loose and unsupervised in your house. If your dog has been properly crate trained from puppyhood he will not mind being in his crate while he is unsupervised. If he has earned some trust then allowing him in a confined area of the house is acceptable.
Please note that the general rule for leaving a puppy in a crate is: 1 month old, 1 hour; 2 months old, 2 hour; 3 months old, 3 hours, 4 months old, 4 hours. A dog should never be left in a crate for more than 4 or 5 hours. Plus he should have plenty of chew toys to occupy him.
This is important management for bonding because it avoids so many situations of people coming home to find things torn up by the dog and losing control of their temper. Besides protecting your dog from your anger, sensible confinement protects the dog from chewing something dangerous.
There are many things that the human needs to think ahead and consider. For example: does the human want the dog to sleep on their bed, or sit on their sofa. Until the dog is past puberty and you know the dog’s temperament is mild, it is optimum for bonding to have the dog sleep in your bedroom but not on your bed.
Later the dog may prove suited to sleeping on the bed, but it is best to leave that for later. The bed and the sofa may be a very convenient place for the human to want to use for the bonding time, however, consider that this time should be by ‘invitation only’.
- Tricking the dog into making a mistake and then punishing the dog. — Practice success, not failure. Set the dog up to get it right so you can praise and reward. Doing this enough times creates a confident dog who habitually does the right things. It also creates a dog who values your praise and approval, when you have repeatedly paired that praise with tangible rewards such as a food.
- Confrontational corrections. People want to see a dog ‘look sorry’. To accomplish this, it is common to stretch out a correction, which is distressing to dogs and result in aggressive reactions. — Humans do not realize how significantly this handling can interfere with the dog’s ability to learn. A good correction with a dog is so quick that it is over before the dog has time to get upset, and ends with the dog doing the correct action and being praised and rewarded for it. In other words, a good correction ends with the dog and the handler both behaving correctly!
- Punishment that inflicts pain or fear. — Nothing is gained by treating a dog in this manner, and much is lost. Certainly it does not create a dog who trusts you and can face the world confidently.
So how does a person build powerful bonds? Let us consider three thing you can build into your dog’s schedule that will have an enormous power toward bonding the two of you together:
- Take your dog on regular one-dog outings. — A dog views a person who does this as leader. It is also a perfect time to work on training and socialization.
- Make it a routine of daily training with your dog for the first year. (This is important whether you obtain the dog as a puppy or older.) (*Note: training is not ever a finish project. Training will need to be reinforced throughout your dogs life, some a little, some a lot.) — Some of this training needs to be done away from the house, such as on walks or in training class. Certain exercises are particularly good for building your bond with your dog:
- Gentle stay training, including a month of leadership exercises.
- Come when called, for great rewards that you wary so that the dog knows it is always worthwhile to come to you. With some dogs a good praise will become the only reward that they will need.
- Eye contact, attention exercise.
- Retrieving, taught with a gentle method, a simple play retrieve if the dog is not training for competitive dog sports.
Comb out all tangles from your dog’s coat daily if the fur is long, or give the
dog a full-body rubdown if the fur is short. It is impossible to overstate the benefits of this few
minutes a day of conditioning your dog to human handling and to your touch in particular.
When you create and maintain a good bond with your dog, you make the dog a real member of the pack. This is the role in which dogs probably enrich, lengthen and even save more lives than in any other job dogs do for humans. It is great for you, and great for your dog.
Far to much time is spent on ‘humanizing’ the dog. Instead of thinking ‘dog’ the owner places human emotions and reasoning behind a dog’s actions. For example, many humans see house soiling as disgusting or the dog misbehaving or even doing it deliberately to annoy its owner. The dog, however, is behaving as nature intended. If the owner reacts to house soiling with anger or impatience this confuses the dog who only knows that its master is angry. The dog responds to the situation with either fear or aggression. Amidst such confusion the bonding process cannot develop. The problem certainly will get worse, not better, spelling more problems for both owner and dog.
Dogs bond with humans during the time they spend on a one-to-one basis. The dog can bond with each member of the family in different ways but will form a stronger or ‘working’ bond with one individual person. It is the interaction between the owner (or whoever is acting as the leader) and the dog that forms the bond. This is where the knowledge of how a dog’s mind works and understanding the basics of dog training comes to the fore. How the owner reacts to situations will influence the bonding process during the first few months of the relationship. Basically the dog needs to be confident in the owner’s abilities as its ‘pack leader’ and secure in the knowledge that the owner is committed to the dog’s welfare. Then and only then will the dog respect its new owner’s authority. I have seen 5 year old children commender respect and leadership better than the adults in the family (pack).
Creating a strong bond between human and dog involves more than just caring for the dog. As soon as the dog enters the family (pack) the relationship between each family member begins. The dog much be taught his place in the pack. It is up to the humans to be united so all know what they much do with communication with the dog.
It is the communication between the owner and dog that creates the bond which in turn is needed for the basis of obedience training. The primary purpose of dog training is to let the dog know who is in charge and how you want the dog to behave, but without being domineering or forceful. This cannot be achieved if the owner is treating the dog as a miniature human.
The dog needs to be set boundaries which are enforced on a daily basis. It needs the owner to be fair, consistent and understanding. Few dogs can cope with households charged with high emotions, arguments or stress. They just do not understand the concept of ‘I am having a bad day.’ A strong bond cannot be formed if the dog is constantly receiving mixed messages regarding what is or what is not allowed. Confusion is a sure way of breaking down communication and thereby demolish the bonding process.