Many of us love our dogs very much. However, to establish a strong bond, love alone is not enough. We also need to inject a good dose of rules and structure.
To bond with a dog, it is important to establish ourselves as pack leader. We need to teach our dog what are good dog behaviors, and what are bad dog behaviors; according to us humans.
Our human laws primarily protect people and not dogs, therefore it is up to us to protect our furry best friend from situations that may cause him harm. This includes running into traffic, accidentally biting people because of unrestrained playfulness, or dog aggression.
It is also important to do regular joint activity with our dog, including daily exercise, dog play, obedience training, and grooming. Finally, communication is crucial in the bonding process. I always try to listen to what my dog is trying to tell me, so that I can make sound decisions based on his temperament, level of tolerance, as well as his likes and dislikes.
1. Redirect our dog’s energies into productive pursuits
Most dogs naturally love running, chasing, chewing everything, jumping, smelling, eating poop, eating everything else, and rolling in smelly stuff.
These dog behaviors lead to chewed up expensive shoes, mud on designer clothing, torn upholstery, and a variety of other delights that may tickle our dog’s fancy, when left on his own. A good way to deal with these bad dog behaviors is to redirect our dog into positive and productive pursuits –
- Play controlled running and chasing games with him. Some examples include recall training, hide and seek, and flirt pole.
- Get good and safe chew toys. I frequently press cheese bits onto my dog’s chew toys, which entices him to work on them with even more gusto! We can also try soaking appropriate chew toys in chicken broth, to give them an appealing scent.
- Make our dog work for all of his food through interactive toys, training, handling, or grooming.
- Do obedience training or dog sports, so that he gets to jump, run, and compete in a people-friendly way.
- Walk our dog every day on a loose leash, so that he gets to explore and smell interesting environments.
- I hand-feed my dogs during these activities to further establish trust.
To build a strong bond, we must not only consider what we desire of our dog, but also how we can fulfill our dog’s desires.
For example, my Shiba Inu does not like taking baths in the shower stall, because he does not like the confined environment, the cold surfaces, or having water poured all over his body. Therefore, instead of giving him a regular bath, I play the water hose game with him. He does not usually like getting wet, but he is very happy to get totally soaked for this chasing game. He will even take intermittent breaks for a washcloth scrub-down.
By making bathing into a game, I get to engage in a fun activity with my dog, as well as accomplish a previously unpleasant task with no stress, no physical force, and lots of laughs.
2. To gain a dog’s respect, we must be calm, consistent, and fair
Be calm – Do not yell or respond in anger. A dog is more likely to stay calm and listen to us, if we are also calm.
Be consistent – Do not give a dog affection one day for getting on the bed, and punish him the next day for doing the same thing; even though he may have muddy paws. If we want to prevent a muddy bed incident, then teach our dog *not* to jump on furniture, and reward him well for resting on the floor.
Be fair – Do not punish him for failing to perform a command, if he does not understand what we want. Dogs are not born with an understanding of human language. It is up to us, to learn how to communicate with our dog, teach him how to communicate with us, and teach him our human rules.
When we are calm, consistent, and fair, our dog will feel safe, because he will always know what to expect from us, and what we expect from him in return. On the other hand, anger and frustration will lead to confusion and stress in our dog, which makes it difficult to learn or build a healthy relationship.
Do not be fearful of our dog. A dog can easily sense fear, and he will become uncertain and fearful himself because of it. Fear indicates a lack of trust in our dog, and frequently, a lack of trust in ourselves. In particular, we fear what our dog may do, and we fear that we will not be able to stop him.
To build a strong and healthy bond –
- Establish a consistent set of verbal commands and hand gestures to communicate with our dog.
- Establish a consistent set of rules that we enforce in a consistent way.
- Establish a consistent routine and schedule for his various dog activities.
Some dog trainers suggest that a healthy bond is based on conducting certain dominance rituals, such as always walking ahead of our dog, going through entrances first, and eating before him.
Some of these rules are useful not because they are dominance rituals, but simply because they add structure to our human-dog relationship.
In fact, the actual rules do not usually matter much, as long they help to define some boundaries and routine for our dog.
Rules do not magically build a strong bond or make us into a respected leader. If we try to enforce our rules with angry or fearful energy, and without proper communication, our dog will likely get frustrated and his behavior will become more erratic.
3. Leadership through the control of resources
Many proponents of aversive dog training argue that it is not possible to achieve a healthy bond, without using dominance techniques and physical force.
According to them, we must show the dog who is boss, and force him to comply with every single one of our commands. Failure to do so will result in a swift physical correction, which may be a leash jerk, finger poke, muzzle slap, or alpha roll.
They claim that these methods are especially important for stubborn and strong willed dogs, because they will not respond to a well meaning but soft owner, who chooses not to engage in a physical contest with his dog.
All this is FALSE.
The best way to build a strong bond with a dog, and to become a good leader, is to stay away from brute force physical techniques.
In a true physical contest, we can be sure that our dog will win. He is faster and more agile. He has sharp teeth, a strong jaw, claws, and thick skin to protect himself. Trying to achieve leadership through physical dominance is misguided at best, and may encourage dog aggression at worst. If we see a group of stray dogs eating our garbage, do we walk up to them and try to wrestle them to the ground? I think not – and we should not do that to our own dog either.
We can build a bond that is based on pain and fear, but it is much better to build a bond that is based on mutual respect.
The fact is, we are already natural leaders to our dogs because we have control over their most prized resources, including food, shelter, toys, access to pack members, access to interesting locations, and access to other dogs. To establish ourselves as leader, we simply need to teach our dogs this fact, through the Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF) program.
With NILIF, our dog has to do something for us, before he gets something in return. Any bullying will be ignored, or will result in the removal of a resource. With this program, our dog quickly learns that the simplest and fastest way to get what he wants, is by following our rules.
Even in wolf packs, a strong and confident alpha pair will tolerate a fair amount of misbehavior from subordinates. They save their strength and attention for more direct challenges, which center around resource control, e.g. mating rights or food rights.
A strong leader has no need to always force compliance, because he is confident that when it counts, he can easily command compliance.
Be a confident and benevolent leader of the pack, not a tyrant.
4. Gain our dog’s trust
Receiving love from a dog is very different from earning his trust.
Dogs have an immense capacity to love, but it takes a lot more work to earn their trust. Yet, this is an extremely worthwhile endeavor because once we have a dog’s trust, we will create a deeper bond and bring about a happy, well-balanced, well-behaved, canine friend.
Trust is acquired by always looking out for our dog’s best interest.
Being inconsistent with our dog, or using forceful training techniques, can destroy that trust.
We usually focus on ourselves; our need for love, and our feelings of embarrassment when our dog misbehaves.
To gain a dog’s trust, just focus on doing what is best for him, without expecting anything in return.
If we can do this, the returns will surely come.
I protect my dogs from external threats, or perceived external threats. It does not matter whether the threat is real or not. As long as my dog perceives it to be a threat, and is stressed by it, I step in and protect him.
Sometimes, being a good caretaker also means we must protect our dog from himself.
If our dog is over-weight and loves to eat, we should put him on a strict diet so that he does not develop health problems down the road. If our dog loves to run and chase, make sure to have him on a leash so that he does not run into traffic.
Visit the vet at least once every year, for a health check-up, vaccination shots, and teeth cleaning (if needed).
Bonding with Your Dog
Bonding with our dog is a give and take process.
Our dog is willing to do commands, endure hugs, walk on a leash, and comply with many other human rules and restrictions that he would never do in the wild.
In return, we should try to understand our dog, and fulfill his needs to the best of our abilities.
Why physically punish a dog for being fearful of bathing, when we can make the experience fun, pleasant, and less stressful, by turning it into a game?
If we give our dog the best that we have to give, he will give us his best in return, and that is when we form a strong and enduring bond.