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Having a dog bestie is a beautiful thing. But how does a close-knit relationship with a four-legged friend develop? Like with people, a strong human-animal connection is based on trust, says Lisa Radosta, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at Florida Veterinary Behavior Service and host for Vet Scoop. She explains how to tell if you and your pup have a solid foundation, plus how to bond with your dog even more.
Do You Have a Strong Bond With Your Dog?
Obviously, if your dog likes to be around you, that's a good sign. You certainly don't want your pooch acting fearful when you're around (tail down, ears back, and scooting off whenever you come around), but you also don't want your dog to have separation anxiety. "If your dog can't let you use the bathroom alone, that's not a loving bond," Radosta says. "That's an unhealthy attachment."
Having a happy, confident dog who isn't too clingy is the perfect place to start. But if you really want to know if your dog is strongly bonded to you, Radosta says there's one question to ask yourself: Does your dog seek you out for help?
When your pooch knows he can rely on you, he'll look to you when things feel sketchy. For example, says Radosta, if you're out on a walk and something scary happens, does your dog turn to you? Looking for direction from you indicates a high level of trust.
How to Build a Better Bond With Your Dog
You don't have to spend hours chucking a tennis ball or taking long walks through the neighborhood to bond with your dog—unless of course, you love to do those things together. There are a variety of ways to grow closer with your pooch.
1. Communicate in a Consistent Way
"Dogs and pet parents can love one another, but that doesn't always translate into the strongest bond, which is one of absolute trust," says Radosta. "The biggest barrier to that is inconsistency."
For instance, sometimes you may be fine with your dog barking at a stranger outside. But when it's a friend your dog is barking at, you may try to stop it ASAP. This sends mixed messages to your furry pal, who sees both individuals as strangers. The most important step you can take to build a stronger bond with your dog is to be consistent in how you respond in various situations.
2. Offer Comfort
There's a myth that providing affection when your canine is scared, like during thunderstorms, reinforces a pet's fearfulness. But Radosta says that's rubbish. "You can't positively reinforce fear," she says. "It's not possible. When a baby is crying and you hug her, she cries less, not more. The same for canines. You can't make the feeling of fear worse by loving somebody." So go ahead and give your pup some sympathy.
3. Discover Your Dog's Preferences
Shocking truth: Not all dogs enjoy walks. Or playing fetch, for that matter. Dogs have unique personalities and their own preferences, so watch your pooch to see what really gets him jazzed.
Avoid forcing your dog to do anything he detests. It can weaken the bond between you. For example, your pup may not like going on walks because he's scared of strangers, other dogs, or loud noises. So, in that case, taking your dog for long walks would be detrimental to your relationship.
4. Do More of Your Dog's Favorite Activities
Once you've figured out what activities make your dog happiest, do more of them. "My dog likes lying around the pool," says Radosta. "Do I love lounging on the sundeck? Not as much, but being out there with him helps us bond."
Indulge your pup by doing what he likes best. Does your pooch love to sniff the entire yard? Then give his super-snout what it's craving and sign up for a tracking and nose work class. Your dog's favorite activity might just become yours, too.
5. Teach Your Dog Something New
An excellent way to build trust is through positive reinforcement training, Radosta says. "When you learn something together, it builds the bond. Your dog comes to understand that you'll give him a reward—treat, toy, throwing the ball—when he behaves a certain way." You can use this method to teach your dog good manners, simple tricks, or even canine sports like agility.
6. Cuddle With Your Pup
For many pet parents, cuddling is the number one way to bond with their furry pals. And it does help you two connect, as long you both enjoy it. If your dog jumps into your lap or smushes up next to you, then you know you've got a dog who likes to snuggle.
7. Give Your Dog His Own Space
On the other hand, don't be offended if your dog wants his own space. Some pups are naturally more social while others are more independent. Take into account your dog's breed and personality, and if he wants to nap in another room, let him! You don't need to be together all the time to have an amazing bond.
8. Learn Canine Body Language
Did you know that dogs wag their tails when they're happy and when they're nervous? Canines communicate with their entire bodies. So to figure out how your pupper is feeling, you have to know what to look for. Learning what your dog's body language means will clue you in to his emotions. And that kind of understanding is bound to take your bond to the next level.
9. Pet Your Pup
Petting your dog is a feel-good activity for you both—it's calming for your pup and it's also relaxing for you. A Washington State University study found that just 10 minutes of petting a dog or cat significantly reduced cortisol (a stress hormone) in people. It's a mood booster as well, reports the National Institutes of Health. So petting your pooch may be one of the easiest, healthiest ways to connect with your four-legged friend!