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Bonding with your puppy

For a successful companionship between you and your dog there has to be a strong bond. The bonding process has little to do with the age of the dog or the breed. Some people believe that they must have a new puppy to establish a strong bond which is certainly not the case at all.


Dogs can form new bonds with humans at any stage of their life. Take for example, a working police dog or a guide dog for the blind. The first human contact is of course, the breeder. Second is the puppy minder or walker with whom the puppy spends

around six months being socialised but not trained beyond the basic commands. The

dog then moves to a training centre to be trained for a specific purpose. Once trained, the dog begins working with its new owner. Such a dog has spent time in various homes with different humans all of whom have established a bond with the animal. The closest bond will form with the last human in the chain but the dog will never forget the relationship between its previous owners.


Bonding does not require you to purchase a puppy. In fact some of the closest, loyal bonds between humans and dogs are established with rescue dogs. Anyone who believes that the purchase of a pedigree puppy will automatically result in a dog that worships and respects the owner is badly mistaken. The only way that a solid, trusting bond can be created is through sincere and wholehearted love of the dog. Simply through this genuine affection, the dog will know without question, that he or she is wanted and important to the owner. It is impossible for a dog receiving this kind of affection to fail to worship its owner unconditionally in return. A good understanding of the canine mind, and responsible behaviour, especially in training, will add much to this basic foundation, but without the foundation being present in the first place, there is no way to coerce or trick the dog into loving an owner who doesn't really care for the dog.


Having said that, an abusive owner will have a dog which looks up to him or her, and which is often quite obedient, but through fear. This is not what we would call a bond, it's merely a respect of position which unfortunately all dogs possess, regardless of the behaviour of the owner. I enjoy hearing about abusive owners who are amazed when their dog failed to protect them when they were under attack. Though this is not always the case, it is true that many dogs, even highly protective breeds have been known to fail to protect their owner when under threat, due to the dog somehow knowing that the owner isn't worthy of his protection. It's the kind of natural justice which such people deserve.


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 (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.


Creating a truly strong bond between two individuals, in this case the human and the dog, does not involve just caring for the animal. The relationship between the human and the dog begins as soon as the dog joins the family. Once the dog is settled, forming a bond is simply increasing the strength of the relationship. This requires:


• Spending time together on a one to one basis, travelling in the car together, walking in the park, walking through a town and meeting other people, going to busy events such as fete's and fairs. Anywhere in fact that exposes the dog to unusual situations wherein the dog looks to the owner for guidance and security.


• Developing solid communication by learning to read the dog's body language and responding accordingly. For example, if the dog is showing signs of fear or anxiety in the presence of another dog, the owner must be able to read the dog's signals and diffuse the situation by leading the dog away, or dealing with it in some other way which promotes the owner as responsible, and most of all, leader in the eyes of the dog. This reinforces the owner's position as a strong and capable leader. The dog learns to trust the owner thereby strengthening the bond.


• Training the animal in a firm but fair manner using reward based methods. The owner must be able to correct unwanted behaviour in a calm and consistent manner without being verbally or physically abusive. This establishes a level of mutual respect with the dog understanding the boundaries and what constitutes good behaviour.


• Encouraging the dog to be an active participant in the family's day to day life. A dog that is shut away for most of the day and has little interaction with the family has no positive guidance from the owner. Negative behavioural issues such as chewing, barking, house soiling and a poor response to training can arise from boredom and a lack of mental stimulation. If the dog harbours feelings of isolation and confusion it cannot bond with its owner fully, though it will still pine and crave attention. The owner should be solely responsible for feeding and grooming the dog as part of the bonding process.


• Understanding that the bonding process does not happen overnight but grows stronger in response to the owners input into the relationship.


Far too much time is spent on “humanising” 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, and the problem certainly will get worse, not better, spelling more problems for both owner and 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'm having a bad day”. A strong bond cannot be formed if the dog is constantly receiving mixed messages regarding what is or what isn't allowed. Confusion is a sure way of breaking down communication and thereby demolish the bonding process.


Trust, loyalty and devotion comes with time based on mutual respect, communication and understanding. As any owner with a devoted dog will tell you, it is well worth the effort.

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