Build A Strong Bond With Your Dog
For anyone who has a dog or is thinking about adopting one, it certainly won’t come as a big revelation of the magical relationship that can exist between human and dog. The human-dog bond is incredibly powerful and special with mutual benefits to both human and dog. But how did this bond become so strong, how do we know if we have a strong bond with our dog and what can we do to strengthen it?
What is a Bond?
“A bond is a close relationship that is established over time between two living creatures. It develops mutually and is a cooperative connection. Bonding is characterised by the formation of a strong attachment that involves many emotions. These include affection and trust among others. The Human-dog bond is a deep connection between two species that exists like no other in the animal world.” (Human bonding – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
The Human – Dog Bond
Many of you may have seen or heard of the film “Hachi – A dog’s tale” which is based on a true story of the incredibly strong bond between a Japanese professor and his dog Hachiko, an Akita. In 1924, the Japanese professor named Hidesaburo Ueno had the same routine every morning. He would say goodbye to his dog Hachiko and make his way to the train station to go to work. At three o’clock, the professor would return home to find Hachiko sitting by the train tracks, waiting for him. Every day for over a year, Hachiko would be there, waiting.
In May 1925, Hachiko’s world changed forever. He walked as usual down to the station to wait for the professor’s return. But, sadly, the professor had suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage at his school that day. He would never again return to his faithful Hachiko.
Though given to another family, Hachiko escaped each day and returned to the professor’s home in hopes of finding him. When this failed, the dog began the old ritual again, arriving each day at the station at precisely three o’clock, to wait. Hachiko did this every day for the next ten years until his death.
A Brief History
Evidence of prehistoric dog-like creatures shows us that the evolution of the dog can be traced back millions of years. The relationship of dogs and people is one that may date back more than 100,000 years when the first domestic dogs were thought to have existed (Wayne, 1993). The transition of some wolves into dogs probably began upwards of 100,000 years ago, but the domesticated dog likely dates back anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 years.
Some believe that humans set out to domesticate dogs by “breeding” for specific traits, though this may not actually be the case. By nature, dogs are scavengers, so one theory suggests that dogs began to follow human hunters for food. Regardless of how it all started, the human dog bond has blossomed and strengthened over time and will likely continue to grow.
What Is A Healthy Human – Dog Bond?
Dogs are loving animals, and they will indeed love you but that doesn’t mean you can just sit back and expect a strong connection with them. Like any relationship, your dog needs attention and encouragement and work is required from you to ensure you bring out the best in your dog and that the bond between the two of you is strong.
At Benafim Dogs Rescue shelter we know only too well how much is required to build a bond between each and every dog we rescue. Every dog is different, we of course ensure their basic needs are met on a daily basis (food, water, exercise, socialisation, medical care) but to really get to know each dog which of course is so important when re homing, we have to put in the work to build a strong bond with each and every one of them.
Signs of A Strong Bond with Your Dog
There is something so incredibly special about the way your dog greets you when you return home, we have all been there when we are tired after ma long day but your dog’s greeting always brings a smile to your face. The sparkle in their eyes, the smile, the wagging tail, the desire to smell you and be near you. Your dog radiates happiness and may even become vocal with their joy of your return. It really is something very special and indicates the strength of your bond.
Other signs of a strong and healthy bond include:
Checking in to see where you are regularly
You may be in the garden or watching television, of course your dog will be happy to be by your side but also do their own thing, perhaps nap in their bed or go off and explore other areas of the garden. Your dog will want to know your whereabouts though and will come and check on you from time to time.
Keeping tabs on your location when off the lead
Your dog will happily go a certain distance from you but will ensure they know your whereabouts and every so often check to see where you are and that they can still see you.
Performing obedience happily without hesitation
Your dog does not need to be told more than once to sit for instance or to come to you when called. This highlights a strong bond and that you have worked hard to train your dog.
A desire to be near you and desire for physical interaction
Dogs do need their own space and a certain level of independence however a good, strong bond with your dog will also mean they want to be near you, lie at your feet, be petted and enjoy affection from you.
Matching their pace to yours when walking
This really does demonstrate how in tune your dog is with you when they match their walking pace to yours. They are respecting the pace, they understand they aren’t to pull on the lead and are mirroring your walk.
A high level of focus on you, often looking at you
Your dog looks to you for guidance, they understand you are the leader and follow commands from you and observe your verbal and non verbal communication with them
Strong ability to communicate needs, wants, and concerns
You know what your dog is telling you when they communicate with you. You are able to tell if they need water, are asking for food, for a walk, are sick or under the weather.
A willingness to protect or help you in a threatening situation
Of course we hope this never happens but if ever you found yourself in a threatening situation or perhaps fall and injure yourself, your dog will respond by protecting or helping you.
Excellent recall – always coming when called, even with distractions present
A dog who is strongly bonded to you will happily want to respond to what you ask them to do, even if they wants to do something else such as continue to play with their dog friends in the park.
Signs of A Weak Bond with Your Dog
There may be many, many reasons why the bond between you and your dog isn’t as strong as it could be. Perhaps you have recently adopted your dog? Perhaps your dog is a rescue with a background of trauma? Perhaps you haven’t spent enough time with your dog? Perhaps the trust just isn’t there yet?
Emotional indifference to you or others in the family
If your dog doesn’t respond in a positive way (wagging their nail, greeting you with enthusiasm) or in fact at all (doesn’t acknowledge your presence or absence) to you or your family then work is very much needed on strengthening your relationship.
A failure to respond to commands, especially the recall command
Your dog may ignore you completely when you tell them to sit, to come,
A distaste for being handled
This can be very common in rescues who have a past of ill treatment. They see the human hand as a threat and can recoil and try and make themselves invisible. With time and patience you can change this so that your dog no longer sees being handled as a negative thing.
Regular attempts to run off
This can occur if your dog is bored and lacking in any stimulation, is scared, on heat or is lacking any valuable interaction with humans or other dogs.
Poor focus and eye contact
This can be due to poor socialisation as for dogs who haven’t been taught from an early age, eye contact can be seen as a threat. For dogs, prolonged eye contact rarely occurs in friendly contexts; it is more commonly seen as a threat or challenge to another dog. But with human contact from an early age a dog will learn that eye contact with humans can lead to good things, such as affection and food.
Aggression towards you
This can stem from fear, if they feel threatened, if they are trying to guard you or guard a resource such a food. It can also be that they are in pain so always check with your vet. For aggressive behaviour training is required.
Signs of An Unhealthy Bond with Your Dog
Can loving your dog too much be detrimental to the strength of your bond with them? Of course you love your dog and you want your dog to love you but a line can be crossed if your dog doesn’t know how to cope without you.
It is actually fairly common for a dog to bond more with one person than another in a multi person household but a healthy relationship means they enjoy the company of all household members, acknowledge their presence and are happy, calm and settled when one or more leave the home.
A healthy human dog bond is one where the quality of life mustn’t be affected in such a way that when you are not in each others presence either of you become distressed, depressed and pining for you. There is no screaming, whining, pacing, scratching, destruction or other serious signs of anxiety in your absence.
As humans we have an ability to be more rational; we realise we can survive a few hours or even days without our dog and we get busy thinking about and dealing with life and our daily struggles but your dog doesn’t have this option. If you feed their addiction to you, you are only setting them up for failure and sometimes some very intense separation anxiety.
Giving yourself and your dog a little bit of distance is in their best interests. It will help them to learn to love some independence and it keeps you from worrying when you have to leave.
It doesn’t mean that your dog doesn’t love you as much, or that you don’t love the, it simply means that you can have a healthier relationship.
How to Strengthen Your Bond
The bond you have with your dog begins the moment they come into your life and never stops growing. There are ways to reinforce the bond throughout your dog’s life. Participation in activities with your dog is the best way to do this. It can be as simple as a walk, a game, or a training session. All relationships require work and effort
Spend time with your dog
It sounds obvious but we tend to have such busy lives that our dogs can sometimes feel ignored. Talk to your dog. Look at your dog. Pet your dog. Interact with them, don’t ignore them. Include your dog in your activities where possible. Have fun together. If you have more than one dog ensure you spend some quality one on one time together as well as together as a pack.
No matter how you choose to spend time with your dog, let it be fun and not forced. It’s better to spend only five minutes together but be attentive and relaxed than to spend an hour together while feeling stressed and rushed.
It can be so much fun to play a few games. Consider games like fetch or hide and seek. You can involve the whole family too. Make it fun, interactive and be silly.
Your dog needs exercise to stay healthy, and so do you. Why not combine the two? Look for ways to exercise together. It can be a simple as walking or running together. Or, for something a little different, you can try hiking or cycling. No matter what you choose, your dog will be glad to spend the time with you and you both will feel the health benefits of exercise.
Training is essential for all dogs. Unless you train your dog, they will have no idea what is right or wrong and what is expected from them. You can and should train your dog on your own. In addition, taking a training class together can reinforce the bond you share. The distractions in training class will challenge your dog to keep paying attention to you.
Good communication is the key to a strong, healthy relationship with your dog so you must learn how dogs communicate with you and with one another. Dogs donʼt “talk” with words they “talk” with us with through their energy and behaviours. Learn how to read your dog’s energy and body language will strengthen your bond.
What To Avoid Doing With Your Dog
There are basic behaviours that people like to do that do not translate to dogs in a positive way. While dogs clearly do show and seek affection, their “language” tends to be non-verbal and humans tend to be more verbal. Additionally, our non-verbal behaviors tend to be more intrusive than what most dogs are comfortable with. While every dog is unique and may tolerate the behaviors below in they may not enjoy them. As you do things on the list below know that it can strain the bond that you’re trying to form.
Not providing structure and rules
Dogs want, need and love rules. You might think having strict rules makes life boring or unhappy for your dog. But dogs really want to know what’s what according to their leader. Rules make life a lot more predictable, a lot less confusing and a lot less stressful. They also don’t understand exceptions to rules. Dogs thrive when they know where the boundaries are, and when you spend time enforcing consistent boundaries with positive rewards, you also are building up their trust in you, strengthening your bond and setting up conditions for a happy dog.
Forcing social interaction
Dogs just like humans have their favourite friends and their enemies. When dogs are pushed too far in social situations, they’re more likely to lash out with a fight or a bite. Focus on strengthening the bond between your dog and those they do like (human and animal) rather than forcing a situation with those they don’t like.
Be boring and/or too much time alone
This is pretty much the most annoying thing we could do to our dogs who have been waiting around all day for us to finally play with them. It won’t come as as surprise that being alone can be incredibly boring and not fun at all. Find time to play with your dog and if you have to leave your dog for more than a few hours perhaps you can consider a daycare facility.
Shouting screaming at your dog
Shouting or screaming will frighten most dogs, even if that anger isn’t directed at them personally. And if it is, then it’s even more damaging. Do your best to always speak to your dog in a calm voice, even if they just ate your favourite shoes. Shouting won’t resolve the problem but could cause lasting damage to the relationship you have with your dog
Rushing your dog walk
It’s important to allow a dog to have some time to explore their surroundings while walking obediently on a lead. Dogs see with their noses, and they place as much importance on their sense of smell as we humans place on our sense of vision for interpreting the world around us.
Prolonged eye contact
The more familiar you are with a dog the more you can maintain steady eye contact. Just like people, having a stranger stare at you turns creepy fast, the same is true from a dog’s perspective. Approaching a dog in a way that is comfortable for the both of you is to approach with your body angled slightly (not with your shoulders squared toward the dog), your eyes slightly averted, and speak quietly with a gentle voice. All these body language cues of friendship will help a dog understand you mean no harm. The dog might still want nothing to do with you, but at least you didn’t approach them in a scary way that could cause a defensive or aggressive reaction.
Benefits to A Strong Human Dog Bond
The human dog bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between humans and dogs that is influenced by behaviours considered essential to the health and well-being of both. The bond includes, but is not limited to the emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, dogs, and the environment.
Of course the relationship between human and dog is not one sided. Since the dog has become domesticated, dogs rely on humans to provide them with care they need to live healthily and happily. As responsible dog owners we have a duty to fulfill their basic needs: food, shelter, healthcare, exercise and so on.
Improves Health and Well-being
The human need to nurture is so intense that when this need is not met incidences of depression increase and the individuals overall health is negatively impacted. The ability to nurture a dog allows for the expression of love and affection and an outlet for nurturing behaviours, leading to better mental and physical health (Case 2005: Man and Wolf: The process of domestication ).
Reduces Depressions and Feelings of Loneliness
Studies have shown that in elderly people dogs have proven to greatly enhance their quality of life. Dogs do this through reducing the occurrence of depression and feelings of loneliness. Dogs are also a powerful motivational force to be more active and social. When in the presence of an animal companion elderly people especially are more likely to engage in activities that they otherwise would not have done. Whether it is the simple act of throwing a ball or taking them for a walk dogs are able to persuade their owners to participate in life (Hart, 2008:“Companion animals enhancing human health and well being).
Reduces Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Studies have also shown that the simple act of being around and petting a dog can reduce the blood pressure and heart rates of dog and human. Neurochemical and hormonal values are also positively affected by the bond. Physical changes in humans linked to relaxation and reduced stress are positively affected. These include increases in plasma concentrations of beta-endorphin and dopamine. Dogs also show signs of stress reduction when in the presence of their humans through reduced blood pressure and heart rate(Case, 2005).
Reduces Stress Levels
The nonjudgmental character of a dog provides many feelings of comfort to humans and as a result stress levels are substantially reduced. Humans can talk, read, and fully express themselves in the presence of a dog without fear of judgment. They experience unconditional love and many physical changes occur through these feelings of ease that the companionship of a dog provides.
The unconditional love that dogs surround us with facilitates a bond that has been around for thousands of years. Dogs have proven to be beneficial to our health through things as simple as being a motivation to be more active, to lowering blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels. The dog has truly impacted the lives of humans in a positive way while at the same time receives comfort, companionship and better health through this cooperative bond (Case, 2005).
Petting a beloved dog has been shown to lower stress, heart rate and blood pressure in humans. Caring for a dog helps to increase your daily level of activity and social interaction and teaches children about kindness and nurturing others.
For both humans and dogs, just looking at each other releases oxytocin, known as the bonding hormone.
That’s a lot of benefits from a sweet snuggle with your dog!
Go on then get bonding with your dog! Work may be required but surely the benefits are more than worth it?