How to Bond With Your Dog

Bringing home a new pooch is exciting. It can also be a bit overwhelming.

how to bond with your dog

When Amy Harris adopted a two-year-old beagle named Bagel from her local animal shelter, she noticed the dog behaved a bit differently at home. Amy was ready to cuddle, but her dog was skittish.

“He hid when I turned on the ceiling fan in the living room,” she said. “He wasn’t used to it.” Bagel also had an accident on the carpet, despite being potty-trained. “He was nervous about his new surroundings.”

That was a few years ago. After the initial acclimation period, things got a lot easier. These days, Bagel is a confident member of the family. It just took a bit of patience, and work, to cement that relationship.

Below, we’ll look at ways you can establish a great environment in which to bond with your dog.

Set your pup up for success

Ease into the situation by preparing things at home. Have all the necessary supplies on hand before you bring your dog home. You’ll need the following:

  • A harness, leash, and collar
  • An identification tag to attach to your dog’s collar
  • A bed for your dog if you don’t want them sleeping in your bed.
  • Two or three toys (don’t overwhelm them with too many, even though you want to)
  • Treats
  • Dog food
  • A crate (a safe space for your dog when you’re not at home) 
  • Baby gates, to help keep your dog in a secure and confined space

You’ll also want to thoroughly pet-proof your home. That means ensuring that harmful cleaning products, toxic foods, certain types of plants, and electrical wires are kept away from your dog. 

Start with one room at a time

When you bring your new pup home for the first time, pick one room to get them comfortable in. This gives your dog time to adjust to their new surroundings. 

In this room, set up food, water, a dog bed, and a toy. As your dog becomes comfortable, gradually introduce them to a second room in your home, while keeping doors to the other rooms closed. 

If you’ve got a big house, your pup is sure to enjoy all that space once they’ve settled in—but for now, they’ll be less anxious if they get used to it in increments.

Look at the situation from your new dog’s point of view

It’s important to remember that your dog needs time to get to know you and their unfamiliar surroundings. While you may be eager to curl up on the couch and watch TV with your new pal, you don’t want to rush the process.

“He doesn’t know the rules of the house and is going to be overwhelmed at this huge change in his life,” says Khris Erickson, a certified dog trainer who specializes in separation anxiety. “The best thing a new owner can do is give the dog some space and don’t try too hard to have him engage with you. Some dogs won’t be too fazed by the change and will actively want to interact with you. Some dogs, however, may need a few days to get to know you before they feel comfortable.”

Take it slow with small children

Rule one: never, ever leave a small child alone with any dog—even the best-trained pup. 

“Most kids will be extremely excited by the new addition,” Erickson says. “But unwanted attention from a child—when the dog may already be stressed from the change in his life—could start things off on the wrong paw.”

Erickson suggests when kids interact with the dog, make sure the dog is choosing to come to your child, and not the other way around. Kids can give the dog a treat to encourage a positive interaction. If the child is a little timid, have them place the treat next to the dog, or offer the treat in a flat, open palm. Gently throwing the treat is another option. Eventually, your child could be a great partner to you as you train your pup.

Exercise patience, and take it slow. “You want all early interactions between your new dog and children to be 100% positive,” Erickson says.

introducing a new dog
“I love walks with my big brother!”

Meet and greet any other family members

Most animal shelters expect the entire family to meet the new pet at the shelter. This ensures a good overall match.

But once you bring your dog home, let the dog approach each family member at their own pace. Re-introduce everyone one at a time. 

You may want to assign specific duties to each family member. One child could be in charge of feeding. Another child may be in charge of walks after coming home from school. Feeding, bonding, playing, and talking all helps build the bond between human and animal. 

Read from the same playbook

Veronique Johnson remembers teaching her dog—Samson, a large Labrador Retriever—to stop jumping up on her and other people in the house. His exuberance wasn’t a big deal when he was young, she says. But as he grew, it got a bit out of hand, especially when he’d happily pounce on guests. “Not everyone appreciates that.” Johnson says.

The problem continued because while Johnson taught Samson to stay down, her husband hadn’t gotten the memo. In fact, he’d pat his chest, right below his shoulders, and repeat the word “up”—an invitation for Samson to rise up on two legs and “hug” his dad. 

 “I caught him in the act,” Johnson says. “It was a mixed message that confused the dog.”

The lesson here? If you and others in your household want to train your dog, make sure you all agree to the same rules first. 

Monitor your dog around other animals

If you already live with a dog or a cat and plan to bring a new dog home, talk to the rescue or animal shelter workers about compatibility. 

You want to make sure your current pet is at ease with sharing their space. Consider arranging a meeting before you adopt—this way the pets can sniff each other, and you can see if there’s a chance of them becoming best buds. 

When you bring your new dog home, keep them in another room away from your other dog or cat for two to three days.  This way they’ll get used to one another’s scent. Continue to keep them apart in the beginning when you’re out of the house. And don’t forget to give your older pets lots of attention to avoid jealousy. 

If your budget permits, bringing in a dog trainer can help ensure that your entire fur fam is comfortable. 

Talk to your dog

Even though they can’t respond—with words, at least—talking to your dog improves attention and boosts bonding. Researchers at the University of York found the way we talk to our dogs builds relationships that’s similar to the way we talk and bond with babies.

Both dogs and infants benefit and listen when we use a high-pitched, emotional tone: “Who’s a good dog? Who’s a good dog?”

Speak your dog’s (body) language

It’s possible to get fluent in your dog’s body language by observing their behavior. Start with their eyes. If your pup is squinting and you can’t see the whites of their eyes, they’re calm. 

Look for these other signs that show your dog is relaxed:   

  • Your dog’s mouth is slightly open and his tongue flops out, they’re happy (and might even look like they’re grinning).
  • Your dog’s chest is lowered and his butt is raised—a playful position, familiar to yoga practitioners as ‘Downward Dog’.
  • They’re leaning up close against you, which shows they’re emotionally attached. 
  • Your pup is rolling in the grass, a clear expression of pure happiness.
  • They’re lying on their side or back, which demonstrates trust and calm.

Learning to interpret and respond to your dog’s body language is an effective way of bringing the two of you closer together, and growing those all-important bonds. 

bonding with your pet - play time
“Yoga? Never heard of her.”

Bonding with your dog long-term 

Once your pup has settled into your home, and you have both settled into your new routines, it’s important to find opportunities to bond and strengthen your relationship with your pup as often as possible. 

Here are a few things you can do to continue to foster a loving relationship throughout your dog’s life:

  • In addition to an early morning before work work and a later evening walk, try to schedule a 20–30 minute walk during the day
  • Talk to your dog when you’re outside walking, and when you’re in the house together
  • Brush your dog’s fur
  • Pet and cuddle your dog
  • If you’re okay with your dog on the sofa, watch TV together (or at least have them sit near you)
  • Play fetch

Before we snuggle up…

Dogs like consistency and are rule followers. While teaching them to be on their best behavior benefits everyone, it’s also time spent together that your dog will love. Being present for your dog boosts loving bonds now, and forever. 

Strengthening that relationship also means ensuring that your pup is as happy and healthy as possible. Lemonade Pet insurance can help take the bite out of some of the vet bills you’ll encounter over the years—your best friend will thank you. Click below to get your quote in minutes.

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Michele C. Hollow

Michele C. Hollow is an award-winning journalist covering pets, wildlife, health, and climate. She’s a long-time animal lover who took zoology courses at the Bronx Zoological Society. She enjoys learning about and spending time with animals. Her byline has appeared in The New York Times, Next Avenue, Parents, AARP, The Guardian, and other publications. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelechollow.


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