Most dog lovers have heard of the stories and seen the films of Greyfriars Bobby who missed his old shepherd owner so much that he slept on his grave until he also died, and of Hachiko, the Japanese professor’s dog who returned to the train station at 3pm every afternoon to wait for his master’s return. This he did faithfully until his own death ten years later. There are many other stories of canine loyalty: dogs that have travelled great distances to re-join their lost families; dogs who saved drowning people; dogs who pull people from burning homes and tales of military hero dogs.

Statue of the Akita Hachiko outside the university of Tokyo

A dog that is strongly bonded to you will happily accede to your desires even if he wants to do something else. It is a need to belong and to feel wanted, useful and safe.

Successful dog training requires sound bonding between you and your dog. But, like with family members at home, you need to work at strengthening and maintaining this relationship that requires amongst others: A calm, kind, consistent yet firm leadership and for the dog to respect you, to want to bond with you and please you.

Spending quality time together entails rituals that you and your dog can look forward to. Travelling together when going shopping; I only have to say, “OK Guys” and the dogs will rush off and jump into the LDV because they know that while mom does the shopping, we play on the common nearby. Coyote carries the newspaper from the shop and they look forward to the routine of receiving their “thank you” treats afterwards.

There are four basic ways in which dogs communicate with each other and with us. Body language, vocal intonation and voice inflection, touch and scent. Dogs do not understand language the way we do. Use a happy, high inflection for praise and a deep voice when you disapprove of behaviour. If you want your dog to hurry to you, rapidly repeat the word: “Come-come-come” in a higher pitch tone. If you want to slow or calm your dog, say “Waa-a-i-i-t” or “sloo-o-w” stretched out.

Bonding with your dog by touch requires that you spend time grooming and really loving the dog. Show the dog often that you care for it. Do it on a daily basis if possible. Hand feeding at least once a day is recommended.

Bonding on the move

Start by having your dog standing close to you on your left hand side. Place your left arm over the back of the dog, then gently start stroking his left side from the collar to the back leg while repeating, “Good boy” and “That’s nice.” Over time the dog begins to associate your left side as the “loving” side and will automatically come to that side when catching up to you on a walk or when heeling on a pavement or when in traffic.

With the dog standing next to you and with his lead in your right hand, turn to your right and say, “Come with me” as you gently tug and lead him in a tight circle, of no more than about 2 meters wide, around you to walk close to you. By turning to your right you remain ahead of your dog that must follow you.

Stop frequently as you circle while constantly drawing the dog close to your left side i.e. in the “Heel” position. With your left hand over his back, slowly stroke the dog’s side a few times from behind the collar to the hind leg, while at the same time repeating, “That’s nice, that’s fine” in a soothing voice.

Then, repeat the same procedure at least 5 times;

Do the same when you groom your dog, or in the case of a puppy, while it is eating. After stroking for a while, gently guide the dog into your arms for ½ of a second i.e. just enough time for a quick hug and to stroke its side once only, then just say, “That’s good” and let the dog run off or play “Tuggy.”

Your aim here is to get your dog to feel comfortable coming into your arms. When this has been achieved you will bond closely with your dog and find it a lot easier to get him to focus on the “work” you are going to do together.

I use the words, “Come with me” as a command and not a request.

Bonding games

“Find it.

  1. Show your dog a treat and as soon as he has seen it, toss it a short distance away in the grass as you encourage him to “Find it.” The dog will immediately run to get the treat and again come running back to you for more. Repeat a number of times at varying distances.
  2. Change the game by lobbing another treat to your left and then right as the dog nears you to have fun with him running in all directions searching for food.
  3. Say “Sit” and go some distance to place a treat in the grass. Return to the dog and repeat, “Find it.” This is also a good sit, stay and send exercise.
  4. Next, you can move towards the dog and body block him as he is coming to you and shout “Stop.” Then toss a treat over his head for him to find. This leads to implementing an emergency stop which you may have to use some time in the future to save your dog’s life.

“Pushing” Read my article elsewhere on this blog.

Hide-and seek” A game to play often, in and out of the home.

“Come” First on a long lead and later off leash when you run away as fast as you can to boost his desire to be near you.

Signs of a strong bond

It’s easy to see when your dog has an emotional bond with you. His eyes light up when he sees you, wags his tail as he rubs into you. Other signs of a strong bond include:

  • Keeping tabs on where you are when he is off leash.
  • Performs obedience exercises happily without hesitation
  • Matching his pace to yours when walking
  • Keeps his focus on you by frequently looking at you
  • Loves to play games with you
  • Always comes when called

A great bond between you and your dog makes you feel calmer, happier and affectionate towards your dog. This is what the human/dog bond is all about.

With acknowledgement to Steve Duno.