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How to Create a Lasting Bond with your Puppy

Updated 03/13/2024: Over time, I’ve encountered many new puppy owners who were disheartened by their initial connection with their young dogs. They often felt a lack of bonding with their puppies, a sentiment that’s not rare.

For someone who’s either a first-time puppy parent or hasn’t had a puppy in a while, it’s important to understand that creating a lasting bond with your puppy requires patience and time.

Let’s explore together the importance of bonding and share insights on how we established a strong bond with our puppy.

The Need to Bond

We’re social animals because we need other people to survive “

The Science of Human Bonding – Prof. Vivian Zayas, psychology at Cornell University

According to Zayas, human bonding is an outcome of evolution. By creating bonds early in life we are able to secure what we need for survival. For us as individuals, the bonding process starts before birth, while we are still completely dependent on our mothers. The bond with our primary caretakers then continues after birth and throughout our lives. Overtime our need to bond develops to include people beyond our primary caretakers, such as friends and romantic partners.

But beyond human survival the need to bond is also an emotional need.  This is because we have evolved so that the things we need to do for survival is also pleasurable. Since it’s important to maintain these relationships to survive, the interactions with the people we bond with are also pleasurable.

Human Canine Bonding

So we talked about why as humans we need to bond with other people but that doesn’t explain why we want to bond with our dogs. To understand this desire we need to look at a small study completed by Takefumi Kikusui, an animal behaviorist at Azabu University in Sagamihara, Japan. In the study Kikusui showed that when human and dogs gazed in to each other’s eyes the level of oxytocin sometimes called the “love hormone” rose in both the owner and dog.

So much like the human to human bond, we want to bond with our dogs because it makes us feel good.

Of course as dog lovers we don’t need a study to know that one of the great things about dogs is their ability to understand us and always be there for us. Unlike humans, dogs show us a greater level of unconditional love, plus they don’t judge us. Wouldn’t it be great is everyone was like that?

The Power of Bonding with your Puppy

So, thinking about our need to bond, had me reminiscing about a time when Bella was around 11 weeks old. She was still pretty small at the time. She couldn’t have been more than 7 pounds. We had her out on our back deck which has a railing around it and two gates to keep her in. This wasn’t the first time she was loose on the deck. We would let run around on the deck whenever the weather was nice enough. This allowed her to get some of her puppy energy out.

But this time I guess she was feeling more confident with her new surroundings. So every so often she would go up to the railing and stick her head through. Most of the rails were too close for her to put more than her head through. But this one spot on the railing was slightly warped and she managed to squeeze her body through.     

Running loose

I had just turned my back to pick up a toy when the kids, who were playing with her, started yelling that Bella was loose in the yard. Our yard is not fenced in and there are woods behind our house. There are also fox and other wild animals that live in the woods, which is why we only allowed Bella to play on the deck.  At her small size she would be a tasty treat.  

You could tell she was absolutely thrilled to be loose and loving the freedom.  She was completely unaware of the dangers nearby. The kids tried calling her but she didn’t listen.  They tried to capture her but it just turned into a game of chase and Bella was winning. 

I went inside to get her leash and some treats to lure her back when my husband came out.  He called her name with a loud, commanding voice.  She immediately stopped the chase, than she ran to him.   The fun and games were over.

Why did she listen?

Why did she listen to my husband and not the kids?  Some might say that it was the fact that my husband is a male therefore he shows more strength then the kids do.  But I believe it’s because he was the one she bonded with first.

After all it was my husband that slept on the kitchen floor next to Bella the first few nights of her living with us.  Although the rest of us fed her, played with her and trained with her, he was the one that protected her and comforted her when she was most scared.  

Now-a-days Bella sleeps in her bed next to my husband’s side of the bed. So she is still close to him when she sleeps. She also enjoys the occasional nap on the couch with him.

11 Ways to Bond With Your Puppy

The below suggested ways to bond with your puppy are based on having a puppy that was not abused. If you have a rescue puppy that was abused you will need to work towards basic trust before being able to bond with them.

1. Start the Bonding Process Early

The best time for a puppy to bond with you is between 8 and 12 weeks of age. This is when they are most open to new things. In reality you start the bonding process as soon as you bring them home regardless of their age.

To get a jump start on the bonding process plan to bring your puppy home when you have a few days to devote solely to them. This means that even if you work from home you should still take time off. Taking a week or two off not only helps to bond with your puppy but it also leads to quicker potty training.

Keep in mind that the first week or two is a difficult time for your new puppy. They may have just left the only family they knew.

2. Spend time with your puppy

I am sure you have heard that dogs are pack animals. This means that they want to live in a close family setting where they are protected and cared for by the pack. It also means they want to be around you all the time, even if you are not actively engaging with them at the moment.

Here are a few ways to be close with your puppy when you are not engaging with them.

  • A very popular suggestion these days is to tether your puppy to you using a 6 foot leash. This way the puppy is always with you no matter where go. While this may work for some, I just couldn’t see myself being tied to my puppy all day. Also I believe a puppy needs to be alone for at least nap times so they do not develop separation anxiety.
  • Instead, I gated the entrances to the kitchen, made sure the kitchen was puppy proofed and moved my computer to the kitchen. This way I would be near her when I was checking emails or trying to get some work done. Not that I got much work done the first month. But it did afford me the ability to be close to her and keep an eye on her potty signs.
  • If you don’t have a kitchen or other small area that can be closed off and puppy proofed consider getting a playpen and place it near where you are during most of the day. This way your puppy can see you.

3. Train your puppy

Training your puppy is different than playing with them or just spending time with them. When you train your puppy you are showing them you are the leader. All dogs either want to be lead or be the leader themselves. You must show them that you are their leader and protector.

Start the training process with the 5 basic commands that every puppy should learn. Sit, Stay, Come, Leave it, and down.

Before you can start to teach them these commands you need to teach them their new name. This one is easy. Just call their name in a happy, but strong voice. When they look at you give them a small treat. Repeat until they consistently respond whenever their name is called.

Whichever training method you choose, always make sure it is a positive one. Dogs will not bond with someone they are afraid of.

Having issues with puppy biting? See how we handled it in our post When Will My Puppy Stop Biting? Tips On How To Cope

4. Play with your puppy

You might have guessed by now that the best way to bond with your puppy and to have a happy pup, is to be around them. But you don’t want to just be around them, you want them to enjoy being around you. You can do this by playing with them.

There are a number of games you can play with a puppy. Hide and seek, fetch, and chase just to name a few. Bella’s favorite play time activity was the flirt pole. You can make your own or buy one. Since Bella was small we could play with her inside the house using the flirt pole. It also enabled us to control how much she ran. Bella loved chasing the soft prey.

Whatever games you decide to play just make sure it doesn’t involve jumping. According to the American Kennel Club dogs under a year old can become hurt if they jump. Therefore while your puppy is still growing you need to be careful about how you play with them.

5. Work on socializing your puppy

Puppy socializing is not only important to your puppy’s development, but it is also a great way to bond with your puppy. Taking the time to teach your puppy about their new world in a calm and controlled environment teaches them that you will lead and protect them when they are scared. Here are 5 safe and easy ways to socialize your puppy.

When socializing your puppy there are 10 common mistakes people tend to make. You can learn all about them here.

6. Explore with them

Your puppy is trying to learn about their new world so exploring that world is a big part of puppyhood. Make sure you are part of this exploration. You can do this by taking them for walks or taking them with you on trips. Just make sure it is done in a safe manner. You don’t want to take your puppy anywhere they can pick up an illness before they are fully vaccinated.

If you have a yard, you can walk around the yard exploring with your puppy. If you don’t have a yard, explore different parts of your home with them. Once they are fully vaccinated you can take them on short walks. Keep them on a short leash so they get used to staying by your side, but let them smell and explore the area.

7. Spend time grooming your puppy

Mother dogs will lick their puppies to clean them after birth and also to stimulate them. This is their way of taking care of their puppies. You can achieve the same response from your puppy by brushing them with a soft brush. Not only does this teach them that you care but for long haired breeds it’s important to get them used to being groomed.

Did you know that studies have shown that just 15 minutes of petting can decrease a shelter dog’s heart rate and increases their positive state of relaxation? Just image what it would do for your puppy.

8. Hand feed your puppy

Hand feeding does a number of things; first it teaches your puppy that food comes from you; it also teaches your puppy to trust you. They have to get close to eat the food from your hand.

It also shows that you care. When Bella first came home she did not want to eat. We all took turns sitting on the floor with her food and feeding it to her. For some reason she did not trust the bowl that her food was in, but she did trust us not to harm her.

9. Learn how to communicate with your dog

You and your dog have th18e ability to communicate with each other through movement, sounds and looks. I know when Bella needs to go out because she sits by the door. If we don’t notice her, she starts to cry. I know when she wants my attention because she stares at me until I give it to her. When she is hungry she paws at me. You and your dog can also communicate with each other. You just need to learn how to read your puppy’s signals.

Note: As an Amazon affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases.

If you are new to having a dog, there are books that can help you learn the many ways that dogs communicate with us. How to Speak Dog: A Guide to Decoding Dog Language is actually geared towards kids, but has useful information for people of all ages who want to learn to communicate with their canines.

10. Have them sleep near you

As I mentioned in my story above, my husband slept on the kitchen floor the first week Bella lived with us. At first we tried placing her in a crate next to our bed. However, after spending time in a shelter and a road trip up north, Bella did like being crated. So instead of letting her cry in her crate at night we adapted.

For the first week she slept in our gated kitchen next to my husband. After that we slowly transitioned her to sleeping in her crate next to our bed. We did not force the crate on her. We wanted to make sure she felt comfortable in her new house first.

Where your puppy sleeps is completely up to you, however I recommend that they are allowed to sleep near you. This will help strenghten your bond with them.

A word on crate training: I do believe that crate training is important for all dogs to go through. Not only do their crates keep them safe when they are a puppy, but if they ever need to spend time at the vets they will need to be crated. So I feel its better that they see the crate as an acceptable place to be early on, rather than a scary place later in life.

11. Be consistent

You might be wondering what being consistent has to do with bonding with your puppy. It has to do with developing trust. If every day you walk and feed your puppy at the same time, they learn to trust that you will provide for their daily needs. If sometimes you go for a walk but other times you don’t, the puppy doesn’t know what to expect and will not trust that you will take care of them.

12. Respect your puppy

Get to know your puppy’s likes and dislikes. If you know that your puppy dislikes something, like a certain sound, don’t make the sound. Respect is a two way street. If you want their respect you need to also respect them.

How long does it take for a puppy to bond with you?

Some people claim that they bonded with their puppy the day they came home. While this may be true, for most people it takes a couple of weeks or more for your puppy to be bonded to you. It also depends on what you view as being bonded. My definition of bonding is when your puppy wants to stay close to you and comes as soon as you call them.

Don’t be discouraged if you feel that you are not bonding with your puppy as quickly as you like. The type of breed your puppy is will factor into how quick and strong your bond will be. Breeds that were bred to work with humans will develop a stronger bond then breeds that are bred to work alone. Of course that doesn’t mean the independent breeds won’t bond to you, it just may look different then you are expecting.

5 Things to Avoid When You Are Trying to Bond With Your Puppy

1. Don’t lose your patience

Try to keep your patience with your new puppy. They are just babies when they first come to live with you. They are unable to control certain behaviors, like chewing and bathroom accidents. If your puppy becomes fearful of you because you yell at them when they make a mistake, it will be harder for you to create that lasting bond.

2. Limit the amount of time your puppy spends with other dogs in your home

If you have another dog in the house you want to make sure your puppy does not bond to the other dog before they bond to you. Dogs tend to form bonds with other dogs quicker than they bond with humans.

To make sure this doesn’t happen, keep the puppy close to you during the first couple of weeks they are living with you. Don’t use the other dog as a babysitter for the puppy.

3. Spending all your time with your puppy

I know, didn’t I just say in the 11 ways to bond with your puppy that you should spent a lot of time with your puppy. Yes I did, but although spending time with your puppy will help you bond with them quicker, it can also lead to puppy separation anxiety. So although you should spend a lot of time together you also need time apart.

The best time for the alone time is during nap time. Puppies need to take a few naps a day, otherwise they will to start to misbehave. Nap times should come at the same time each day. Having a routine that leads up to nap time makes the process easier. Don’t forget to let them out just before putting them in their crate. Place your dog’s crate or safe area in a quiet part of the home away from you when it’s time for a nap.

4. Unrealistic Expectations

Try not to have unrealistic expectations of what your puppy can do. It takes time for your puppy to learn the rules of the house. Having unrealistic expectations can lead to the puppy blues. Plus if your puppy senses you are unhappy with him, he may shy away from you out of fear.

5. Don’t rush the process

Bonding with your puppy takes time. They first need to feel comfortable in their new home, and then they need to learn to trust you. Once those two things have happen your bond will begin to grow.

Make sure you are not forcing the bonding on your puppy. Let them do it in their own time.

It’s also important not to become discouraged. Your puppy will be able to tell if you are upset with them.

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