Congratulations! You found your new best friend and have brought her home. Now you want to find ways to bond with your new dog! But like in any new relationship, the two of you will need to get to know each other. This may be especially hard if your dog has had a difficult past or a painful separation from her last owner. So what is the best way to connect and bond with your new dog?
The key to bonding with a new rescue dog is to be consistent, patient, tolerant of mistakes or mishaps, and don’t give up! Most new dog owners can facilitate a trusting relationship with their new best friend within three months or so.
- Be kind, and empathic, and give your dog time to adjust
- Establish consistent routines
- Stay home with your new dog the first week
- Give your dog space and her own bed
- Give your dog lots of attention
- Play and cuddle with your dog each day
- Dog classes and training
- Manage behavioral issues early
- Be clear about your expectations
- Lots of praise and verbal encouragement
- Gentle corrections, no scolding
- Go on fun adventures together
1. Be Kind, Empathic, and Give Your New Dog Time to Adjust
Try to put yourself in your dog’s “shoes”. She is smaller than you and totally dependent on you for everything–food, water, shelter, and a place to sleep and play. She has very little control over her daily life. Think about every time you have moved into a new home and neighborhood. Moving is one of the top ten stressors in our lives up there with divorce, death, a new career, and having a baby. So imagine what this could be like for a little critter who has no choice or control over moving into his new home. I tried to describe what this might be like in my post First Day in My New Home–From a Dog’s Perspective.
Your new pooch may be shy or withdrawn and fearful. He could also be anxious and aggressive depending on his past situation. In some cases, he may be sad and still grieving the loss of his past family. It may be impossible to know exactly what his past life was like or how it has impacted your new furry friend, but pay attention to his mood and reactions.
If you know your dog’s name, I would suggest keeping it the same so he has one less adjustment to make. However, there may be times when it is best to give him a new name, especially if his name may remind him of an unhappy past. See my post, Is it Okay to Change Your Rescue Dog’s Name? for more on this topic.
Create a calm, steady environment without too much stimulation. Introduce new things and people very slowly. Just give him some time to get used to his new home, to you and your family, and to adjust to his new eating and sleeping arrangements. This will be quite a lot for him to take in initially.
2. Establishing Consistent Routines Will Help You Bond with Your New Dog
If you adopt your dog from a shelter, find out what they have been feeding him. Then continue with the same food or similar dog food for at least two to four weeks. Also, find out what the feeding schedule was and try to stick to a similar schedule. See my post, Is it Ok to Feed Dry Kibble to Your New Rescue Dog? for more information about this. Dogs really like consistency and routine as it helps them to know what to expect. Come to think of it, humans usually prefer to have consistent routines as well. It gives us all a sense of security.
If you are able to take your dog on daily walks, that will go a long way in creating a bond with your new dog. This is a sharing experience, which may be the highlight of your dog’s day. Try to take a walk around the same time each day, so he will have something he can consistently look forward to.
3. Plan to Stay Home with Your New Dog for The First Week
The first week after your dog moves in is especially important. This is the time when he will learn the new routines, get used to being around you and your family, and adjust to his new environment. It will be important to stay with your new dog as much as possible to reassure him and provide companionship. Leaving him on his own too soon may create a lot of anxiety and stress for him. Take a week off of work and other activities if possible. Think about what you might do if you had a new baby in the house. This is a major life adjustment for both of you. Also make sure you have the necessary basic supplies and equipment for your new dog. I have some great recommendations on my Essential Equipment web page.
Shelter programs and dog trainers often talk about the 3-3-3 rule–three days, three weeks, and three months. It takes at least three days for a dog to just get used to his new environment; about three weeks to understand the routine, rhythm, and new people in his life; and three months or more to begin to feel comfortable with the idea that you and this place is okay as his new forever home. See this great post at RescueDogs101 about the 3-3-3 Rule for more information.
4. Give your Dog Her Own Space and Bed
Remember, this is your new dog’s home too! Make sure she has a sense of her own space. Dogs, just like people, need some time to themselves and a place they can call their own. Give your dog his own bed. A crate can be like a den for small dogs to retreat to. A bed can also serve this purpose and be a quiet retreat area your dog can go to for rest and alone time. Even if your dog prefers sleeping in your bed and you allow it, it is still important for him to also have his own space. See my resource page, Best Dog Beds and Other Furniture about options for beds. I also have a cute story about my experience with my dogs, that I shared in my post, The Argument.
5. Make Sure You Give Your New Dog a Lot of Attention
Like us, dogs are very social, pack animals. They like to be with us and other dogs. They love to connect, interact, play, and do things together. So, take your dog out with you on errands and to places like Starbucks, Lowes, a local pet store, the dog park, or the local park. The highlight of my dogs’ day is our walk to the park. Even if it is only for 30-45 minutes, they love it and look forward to it rain or shine!
We are fortunate to live in Northern California where the weather is pretty moderate. If you live in a state like Iowa with frigid winters, think about indoor routines you can do with your dogs during inclement weather like agility training in the basement or running back and forth in the hallway to fetch a ball. You may be able to find some indoor malls that allow you to walk your dogs along the corridors. See this list of 34 stores that allow dogs to visit while you shop!
Please, please, please don’t leave your dog home alone all day long while you work, and then ignore him as you eat dinner and watch TV. That would be a very lonely life for a dog and for a human too! If you cannot be with him during the day, think about hiring a dog walker, even if it is the kid next door. Then spend some quality time with him when you get home. Go for a walk or take him with you to a drive-through eatery, or eat your dinner at home at the same time you give him his kibbles. Think about the quality time you give to your other family members and friends. Your new furry friend deserves the same!
6. Take Time Out Each Day to Play and Cuddle and Bond with Your Dog
Dogs love to play and they love to be petted and cuddled. They are part of the mammal family just as we are and touch is important. We all love to snuggle, and petting your dog is a nice way to be affectionate and loving toward your dog. Dogs like the warmth of settling in on the floor near your legs or on your lap if that works for you. My two mixed-breed dogs love to jump onto my lap and get warm in the morning when I am in my recliner drinking coffee. This is 35 pounds times two on my lap, but we make it work!
I stroke my dogs a lot, and cuddle with them at night. They are allowed on the sofa when it is covered with their special doggie blankets. They don’t like to be hugged so much as cuddled and petted. Hugging seems to be too restrictive for them. But they love to snuggle up next to me while I watch TV or at night when we sleep.
They also love to chase after their favorite balls after dinner out in the yard or in the downstairs hallway. Tug of war with their favorite stuffed animals is also a favorite game. Playing with your dogs is a very interactive activity that is really important. You are taking time to truly engage with them, which will definitely improve your bond with your dog.
7. Training — Take Your Dog to Group Training Classes
Basic obedience training is good to do at any age. Even if your dog seems to understand some basic commands and is potty trained, it is still wise to take him to an obedience class with other dogs. The group classes will get him used to being around other people and dogs and help with his socialization skills. This is time exclusively for you and your dog around other humans and their dogs, which will help a lot in building trust and communication. If you are not sure where to get training, check with your local AKA (American Kennel Association) to find trainers and classes.
8. Deal with Serious Behavioral Issues Early On
If your new rescue dog has serious behavioral problems, get help immediately. Don’t wait until he bites someone or becomes ill due to poor eating habits. If your dog is overly aggressive and snaps or bites, this is a problem. Likewise, if your dog is terrified and hides all the time or won’t eat, his health may be at risk. In this situation, you may struggle a bit to bond with your new dog, but you both just need some extra support. So get help and give it some time.
Make an appointment as soon as possible with a local vet and have him examined. The vet may be able to refer you to a medical animal behavioral specialist or a certified dog trainer. If your dog has been abused or neglected, he may need more help than you, alone, can provide. Get him that help! And please do not give up on him! With a little extra care and a lot of love, an unlucky mutt can have a good life with a warm and caring family. Good for you for taking him in and giving him a second chance!
9. Make Sure Your Dog Knows What is Expected of Her
The great thing about taking obedience classes is that they help you to communicate better with your new dog. Simple and clear commands are easy for your dog to understand and increase his ability to know what is expected of him. As an example, if you don’t want him jumping all over your while you serve his dinner, simple commands like “back”, “sit”, and “wait” let him know to sit quietly while you put the meal down. This eliminates your inclination to yell at your dog to stop jumping at you while you are trying to feed him. Your dog will be calmer and more connected to you if he understands what you want him to do.
I have to admit, that I am still working on finding the best commands to get my dog to stop barking. My two dogs are both cattle dog/pug mixed breed litter mates. The larger one of the two loves to run around the yard herding who-knows-what and barking her head off. I have tried spray bottles of water, shaking cans with pennies in them, and sometimes yelling at her to get her to stop. She seems to know that I don’t like the barking, but she can’t help herself.
I have worked with different trainers, and it is better than in the beginning. But I still need to do some more work with her, so she understands that barking excessively is not something that works well in our household. I am resistant to bark collars and plan to continue to work with trainers to improve our communication about barking. Yelling at her is not a good way for me to bond with my dog. So, I will find alternative ways to deal with this issue.
10. Give Your Dog Verbal Encouragement and Praise
Dogs understand a lot more than we give them credit. They understand our tone of voice and hundreds of words. Some scientists think they can actually follow our conversations to some extent. We have all witnessed our dogs ears perking up when we say special words like treat, walk, dinner. I sometimes have a whole conversation with them like telling them we are going for a car ride, then to the park, then to see their Auntie Jayne. I swear they understand that!
Dogs know when they are in trouble. How many times have you seen that hangdog look when someone is being scolded for peeing on the carpet? Likewise, dogs respond well to praise. Your tone of voice, excitement, and words have meaning for them. “Good dog”! followed with a treat or being petted will definitely register with them as a good thing. Encouraging and praising good behavior will also help you bond with your dog and let them know where they stand.
This is not to say, that dogs should not be disciplined and guided toward better behavior. But praise and encouragement are usually much more motivating than cracking the whip. Your dog really does want to please you, so give him a chance to be that really good dog with your words of encouragement.
11. Correct Your Dog with a Firm Voice But Avoid Yelling or Scolding Excessively
Setting the standard for behavior and providing guidance for your dog is extremely important. You are the leader of the pack, and your dog will look to you for what is appropriate. But yelling or scolding is not the best way to redirect your dog. Too much can be demoralizing and may only stop bad behavior in the moment.
The key is to have clear commands, repetitive training, and patience to train your dog and let him know what you expect of him. This will go a long way in building trust and connection with you. There is nothing worse for a dog than being in trouble all of the time for things he did not know he was not supposed to do!
12. Take Your Dog on Fun Adventures
Nothing Can Help You Bond with Your Dog More than Memorable Experiences! My dogs love going to the beach! I can see a whole shift in their mood after we have come home from a good romp in the sand by the water’s edge. They will sleep well at night and be very content for the next couple of days. They seem to really enjoy going on outings with me even if the car ride getting there is not their favorite thing. Be sure to see my post, 14 Fun Outings for great ideas about things to do with your new friend. Also, be sure to see Your Dog’s First Care Ride.
After two years, my dogs and I seem to have bonded most over our outings together to the beach, the regional park, a new hiking trail, and even to Starbucks for coffee and treats! They love to see new places, even if it is just going to the office with me for a couple of hours. We are together doing something that is fun and exciting, and that has truly made a big difference in their adjustment and happiness. My dogs have a lot of energy, and I discovered that they are much less agitated when they get some outdoor stimulation and exercise. Be sure to see my posts, Everything You Need to Know About Adopting Rescue Dogs and How to Comfort and Heal a Rescue Dog for more information about adopting and raising your furry friend.
Shared experiences definitely build happy relationships, and going on fun adventures with your dog will absolutely help the two of you bond for a lifetime. So, put your shoes on, get their leashes out, and take them with you to the park or favorite hiking trail!