A solid relationship provides many benefits. The stronger the bond between you and your dog, the more each of you will enjoy your time together, the more your dog will look to you when uncertain, and the harder your dog will try to please you. You can’t expect to have a good relationship with a friend you never talk to or spend time with; the same is true of your dog. Spend time with them: training, playing, grooming, and even feeding them.

To develop a strong relationship in everyday life

Become the clear pack leader by making house rules and having fair expectations for your dog. A strong leader provides fair punishment and fair reward on a predictable and consistent basis. Establish a routine to help your dog predict what is expected of him/her. For some dogs, sudden changes in routine create anxiety, so when necessary, slowly introduce changes.

Know what your dog likes

Find out what your dog likes and doesn’t like. Such as finding out and ranking his five favorite treats. Reserve the highest value treat for special times-when he does something diffcult particularly well. Find out if he/she likes to be touched: where and how long. Does he like to play? What is his favorite game and his favorite toy? What doesn’t he like? With some dogs a spray bottle of water is a punisher, but some dogs love it. Does your dog like water? Does he mind loud noises? Does he hate being alone or separated from you? Once you discover what your dog likes and dislikes, you can more readily reward positive behaviors and chastise negative behaviors. This makes your expectations more apparent to your dog and easier for him to predict what will please you, which is indicative of a good relationship.

Become the VIP

All good things, especially the best things in life, come from you. It’s your goal to be more exciting than any other dog or person. You should be the most important thing in your dog’s life. When allowing your dog to play with other dogs, reward any attention you receive from your dog, as they are taking time from their friends to come check with you. Ask your dog to sit and wait before allowing them to play, which will convey the message that you control play dates, as well.

Activities to build a strong relationship

Request and reinforce attention from your dog; i.e. “watch me/focus,” responding to name, coming when called, whistle response, and eye contact. Anytime your dog responds to and looks at you, it is rewardable. Give loads of attention to your dog, as well. Notice when your dog is doing anything well-mannered and reward him with attention, touch, or food. The more often you reward a desired behavior, the more likely you are to see it again.

Walks allow for you and your dog to explore the world together and spend invaluable time together. Anytime your dog looks or comes back to acknowledge you, praise and reward him. Your dog is saying, “Are you coming? Did you see that?” or “Hey, smell this!” just as we would talk with a friend about things we encounter in life.

Play is a way for dogs to test themselves and their abilities, learn their ranking against those they play with, as well as burn of tons of energy. The interaction through play fosters deep pack bonds and develops confidence in you as their leader.

Tug is a great way to build confidence and relationships. Winning at tug allows the dog to become more confident and should be balanced based on how pushy they are with you. Playing fetch or rough housing are other ways to spend valuable time developing your relationship. Rough housing can include toys or just your person; as long as you are animated and excitable, your dog will enjoy this interaction. Praise and talk to your dog when you play. Remember: play is to be started and stopped by you. When your dog uses his teeth, firmly say, “No,” and end play immediately. The more excited you are, the more excited your dog will be to play with you.

Another way to further a budding relationship is through touch. The physical connection instills a trust in each other. Petting and grooming your dog also allows for you to check their physical condition and may alert you to health problems early on. Praise and sweetly talk to your dog while you focus some of your attention on the toes, ears, and tail to familiarize them with being touched and groomed in these areas, which are more sensitive.

Feeding the dog or giving treats solidifies in their mind that you are the leader/provider of the pack. Hand feeding is a way to become more a part of each meal.

Training your dog offers the double benefit of opening the lines of communication and forming a well-behaved dog.

Devoting time to building a profound relationship with your dog will create a dog that looks to you for guidance and direction in a time of unease. The deeper the bond between owner and dog, the greater the desire to please the owner and the harder your dog will work. This makes for a more enjoyable dog to have around. Because of your connection, when the dog clearly knows what you expect, life is easier and more enjoyable for him, too. Dogs are very generous with their love and trust. We must remember not to abuse or take for granted that faith. Interact with your dog daily. Research shows it is great for your heart in more ways than one.

Amber Gyer

Operation Kindness
Certified Dog Trainer & Behavior Specialist