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. This means that as we grow up 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 safely finish their “training” and become fully functioning adults – hopefully!
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. This makes them dependent on us to meet all their needs, so it makes sense that 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? Remain at his sick fur-dads side? 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. There are benefits to your dog too. Obviously, he will be fed and cared for. But, when the dog creates a bond with his owner, he also feels safe and secure. This allows him to place his trust in you, which will make him feel more confident in situations that would normally scare him. He knows you wouldn’t put him in harm’s way and that helps him hugely as he experiences the world.
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 then you are probably on the right track, so feel free to use your imagination.
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 also benefit from learning from you and you will both benefit from better obedience.
You won’t be surprised to learn that dogs that walk calmly beside their owners feel closer to their owner and they 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 worry about achieving perfection, and you can’t go wrong.
Your local vet or pet shop should be able to recommend classes in your area.
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. The focus is always on having fun so all breeds and abilities are usually welcome. The only stipulation being that, for medical reasons, your dog must be over the age of two.
Go for coffee
Yep, you can’t go far without bumping into a Pet friendly cafe or Restaurant. With the weather looking up, you could even go out for a pic-nic together or get a Takeaway Afternoon Tea and enjoy that with your dog.
Take up a sport
If you 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 favourite 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 and/or vet if you aren’t used to doing these types of exercises. Facing the world together, as a team, is an amazing feeling for you both.
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. My favourites are 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.
If you are not the energetic type, you could just chill with your pooch in front of the telly. Cuddle time is good for both of you. You’ll feel closer to each other plus you’ll feel calmer and less stressed too. While you’re enjoying some calm time together, don’t forget to make soft, indirect eye contact as you gently pet him. Talking softly about your day while you massage and groom him is great therapy too—it’ll work wonders for you both.
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 and keep 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!
What do you enjoy doing with your dog?
I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.
I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.
In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.