Nothing beats the rush of meeting your new dog, and those first few moments you spend together as they realize you're taking them home. If you've ever adopted a dog, then you know this feeling is amazing. But then, the harsh reality of figuring out ways to bond with your dog may set in, as you realize you don't actually know each other.
While most dogs have an easy time falling in love with their new owner, this process can be a bit rough for others. "Traumatized shelter dogs might take months to really warm up to you, or they might find you an immediate source of comfort and glom onto you," Kayla Fratt, a dog trainer at Journey Dog Training, tells Bustle. "Likewise, confident dogs might 'fall in love with you' immediately — or they might not really need you for a while." So don't feel frustrated, or worry that you're dog doesn't love you, if you don't experience an instant connection. Or, if you spend a few uncomfortable days or weeks getting used to each other.
It's all part of the process of adjusting to life as a dog owner, and letting your dog adjust to life with you. By following a few of these tips for bonding with your dog, however, you can make sure they're comfortable — and possibly even speed up the process a little — so you two can be best friends in no time.
1. Take It Slow
After adopting your dog, the shelter will likely send you home with tips on how to make your dog feel comfortable, as they adjust to their new life. And one of those tips will likely be to take it slow.
"Whether you’ve just brought home a brand-new baby puppy or an older shelter dog, this is a big change for your new pet," Fratt says. "Take the first few days easy with some relaxing walks, plenty of time around the house, and easing into that new routine. Your dog will appreciate the quality time together. Reduce stress for your new dog and build trust by not taking on too much."
2. Win Them Over With Treats
Dogs love treats, so don't be afraid to win their affection by giving them a few as you get to know each other. "Your new dog doesn’t know you yet," says Fratt. She suggests feeding them out of your hands to show them you're one of the good ones. The treat, plus the fact it's coming from you directly, can be incredibly bonding.
3. Let Them Sleep In Your Room
Smell is everything to a dog, so let them get used to yours. "If there’s no good reason not to, let your new dog sleep in your room," says Fratt. "This helps facilitate bonding for the whole family and will keep your dog more calm during this scary night in a new place. Either set your dog up in a crate, use a dog bed, or let them sleep wherever [they] like. My dog sleeps at the foot of my bed."
4. Be Patient
Again, this is a major transition, so be easy on yourself and your dog. "Expect a few accidents, chewed belongings, and other 'oopses' in the first days or weeks," says Fratt. Instead of punishing them, show them good activities so you can focus on rewarding them for positive behavior, she says.
5. Reward Them Often
The more positive reinforcements you can dish out, the better. "Try to reward [your dog] for 50 good things in the first day at home," Fratt says. "That means looking for the little good things, like sitting down to wait for something or calmly standing still when you put the leash on. This will help get you started on the right paw for training and build a huge new bond."
6. Go At Their Pace
While you might be excited to get your dog out into the world, show them off to friends, or bring them to the dog park, it might not be the right time just yet. "If your new dog just wants to laze around, do it," Fratt says. "Forcing a new dog to go on adventures or submit to petting isn’t every dog’s idea of a good time. If your dog seems to love petting, do a lot of it. Doing what your dog likes (not what you think of as 'what dogs should like') will help [them] trust you and enjoy your presence. Don’t push too fast, either. Many dogs will eventually love going on hikes — but that’s just too much new stuff in the first day or two for many dogs."
7. Try Hand Feeding
While you don't have to do this forever, another way to bond is hand-feeding your dog. As Fratt says, "I'm huge advocate of hand-feeding dogs (at least treats)." It's all about building that trust, and letting them get used to your presence.
8. Stick To A Schedule
If you can, stick to a schedule so your dog knows what to expect. "Dogs are also schedule-oriented, so make set times for some of the activities you have for them," Sandy Moore, Veterinary Assisting Program Director at Carrington College, tells Bustle. "This will help them understand your needs as well as theirs." You might, for example, walk them at the same time each day, or set a specific dinner time they can come to expect.
9. Touch Them Often
If your dog is OK with it, make a point of touching them, playing with them, and being close by. "Physical touch in another important factor for this growing relationship," Moore says. "Pet them and play with them as much as you can."
10. Use Their Name Early & Often
If you can help it, try not to spend weeks coming up with your dog's name. You should have a good one in mind from day one, and use it early and often. "Start using their name from the very beginning," says Moore. That way, they'll know who they are, and you can start the process of training them to come.
11. Keep Them Close To You
You should try to hang out with your dog as much as possible, even if it just means having them in the room with you while you cook dinner, versus in outside or in their crate. "This is important for two reasons," Sandy Weaver, an AKC dog show judge, tells Bustle. "First, they learn to pay attention to your movements and what those movements mean, and second, you learn their signals for 'gotta go outside now!' If you can't baby-gate the room you'll be in so the dog stays in the room with you, consider the umbilical method — leash the dog to you."
It may feel weird, but it helps initiate that bond that you two will have from now on. And the more you can encourage that in the early days, the better off you'll both be.