1. Give them space
For some reason, this seems to be one of the most difficult things for people to practice when trying to connect with any pet. It’s really not that shocking when you think about it. When we meet new people or go to new places, most of us would not be very comfortable with touches or hugs from anyone in that new place. Maybe a handshake would be appropriate? Yet, even a handshake provides a comfortable distance at an arm’s length and allows us to choose participation. It would be a while before we’d happily receive hugs in that same place from those same people *IF* we even cultivated that relationship. We probably would’ve spent some time just hanging out or engaging in fun activities together before our relationship allowed for touch. Just as you need to get to know your dog, your pooch needs to get to know you, too. They are likely to appreciate being given the opportunity to observe you and your household activities at a distance without being immediately lauded over or thrust into the action. Even if they desire to be near, that does not automatically mean they are soliciting pets. Support them with space to help them feel safe.
2. Grow Dog Aware Skills
Gain a basic understanding of dog body language and communication for valuable insight to what your new furry friend is experiencing. There are several ways to increase your knowledge of canine communication. The Dog Decoder app is an easy place to get started. Use your newfound knowledge to let the dog initiate interaction with you and their new environment. Support them through the initial transition, as well as upcoming adventures. You’ll be amazed at the connection that grows from being a safe and trustworthy companion from the start.
3. Quietly Observe
Pay attention to what your dog enjoys and fears. Provide opportunities for them to engage in natural behaviors/activities in appropriate contexts. Conversely, don’t force them to face their fears. Enlist the guidance of a reward based professional dog trainer who will apply effective force free methods to change your pup’s emotional response to things they fear while utilizing positive reinforcement to teach new behaviors that build confidence.
4. Give them choice
You really don’t have to dictate everything your dog does. From cooperative husbandry (Google “cooperative care – animals” if you want to learn more) to a long line sniffing excursion instead of heel walk (Yes, let them sniff, run, roll and romp!), your relationship will blossom when you give your dog a “voice”. Force, control and domination feed the ego on the human end of the leash but do nothing to encourage relationship with the sentient being on the other end. Be flexible while considering your canine’s preferences and personality. Cooperation, not control, builds the connection between both partners.
Manners are a given, but don’t forget the fun stuff, too! Reward based training transforms your dog’s focus by making YOU seem like the most amazing thing in their world. You could try trick training, agility, freestyle, dock diving, scentwork/nosework, barn hunt, flyball, disc catching, herding, treibball, and the list goes on! Teamwork and learning how to accomplish goals together foster a unique level of closeness.
How does your dog like to play? Find ways to engage in appropriate play together. Also, be prepared that it may not look like what you envisioned. My retriever *should* love retrieving and fetching. Right? Yet, his favorite way to play is sitting in my lap while tugging a toy. It’s kind of backwards, but he prefers it. It cracks us up, and we all have a good time enjoying each other.
Watch them think and problem solve. Of course, you can help if they get stuck, frustrated or bored, but your dog is probably smarter than you realize! It’s so intriguing to watch them figure things out. They are much more enjoyable to share life with when we learn to appreciate their unique canine capabilities.
8. Pets & Cuddles
If the dog enjoys it, then snuggles and lovin’ can build that bond. You’ll know if Fido digs the closeness because you’ve studied up and are always growing your dog aware skills (#2 above)! Don’t be surprised if your dog’s preference fluctuates, too. They may need space when experiencing certain things, but desire cuddles during others. I know cuddling is one of my favorite things to do with my pooch, but he’s not always welcoming of it. I can determine what he’s up for by applying the 3 to 5 second rule for petting. First, invite the dog over to you. If they come into your space loose and relaxed, pet for 3 to 5 seconds then STOP! When you stop the petting, wait to see if the dog asks for more affection. Some common ways a dog may communicate they would like more rubbins is by pawing, nuzzling, making eye contact, or leaning in. They may get squirmy, mouthy, turn away, walk off, yawn, or shake their body (like when they’re wet) to show that they have had enough and need space.
Surprised? Some dogs detest grooming, but others will melt into a warm bath, shampoo, massage, and hair or tooth brushing. Those are opportunities to bond and build trust with your new dog if you don’t force it.
Give your dog time to adjust to his new home and environment. Chances are, you both have some tweaks to make while learning to love each other.