Bonding with puppies seems like the easiest thing in the world: all you
have to do is cuddle them, and you’ve already fallen in love. And
because puppies are so small and helpless in the beginning, they will
immediately accept you as their natural leader and BFF… Right?
Well, sort of. The first few weeks with a new puppy can be a challenging period of adjustment for both of you. When your adorable puppy inevitably something “bad,” it’s tempting to lose your patience. Instead, remember that your puppy is depending on you to shape this relationship. He has no idea what you expect from him, but he instinctively respects leadership. If you project calm and confidence, your puppy will be your best buddy before you know it – and you’ll be laying the foundation for a long and harmonious life together.
As you begin the bonding process, keep these considerations in mind:
- Above all, your puppy needs to learn that you are friendly and won’t hurt him. So make an effort to be incredibly, even theatrically, cheerful. Talk to him in an upbeat voice – he’ll respond to the tone, even though he won’t understand the words. Make a big fuss when he does something you approve of, like chewing on his own toys rather than your shoes. Positive reinforcement will be much more effective than negative approaches, which can damage the relationship you’re trying to build.
- Hang out with your puppy as much as you can, even when you’re just watching TV. The two of you can’t bond if he’s shut in another room while you’re home. According to Modern Dog Magazine, “Spending time together builds trust, confidence, and love, and creates a feeling of familial belonging—the roots of the bond.” Being nearby also allows you to quickly correct any problem behavior or take him out for a bathroom break when he needs it.
- Give him a chance to try some different toys and snacks, and watch his reaction. Does he have any favorites? Knowing what your dog absolutely loves is helpful for rewarding good behavior, and reinforces the idea that you are the source of everything awesome.
- Decide on the rules of the house now and stick to them. As with all dog training, consistency is king. Dogs can smell a pushover from a mile away! As he settles in, start teaching your puppy some basic obedience commands, or take him to a well-run puppy class. (When he returns, check out our tips for talking to your newly trained dog!)
Adopting an adult dog
You can absolutely bond with an adult dog—it may just require some extra patience and understanding, especially if the dog missed that critical window for socialization as a puppy. Remember that all dogs, even well-trained dogs, become disoriented in a new environment and need time to adjust. Resist the urge to invite all your friends over to meet your new furry friend on his first day. Instead, focus on building your relationship one-on-one first. Your dog will also find a predictable routine reassuring, so try to walk him, feed him (by hand, if you want!), and play with him at the same times each day. If it’s been a few weeks and your dog is still showing signs of stress, talk to your vet or a qualified dog trainer for advice.