Relationship building between your dog and the humans in your home is essential to ensuring that the pet lives a comfortable and conflict-free life alongside you.

Whether you just recently adopted a dog and are bringing it home and helping it to adjust, or have had your dog for a while but there is a new human family member or friend who comes over regularly, bond building can help make both human and canine feel as comfortable as possible.

While every owner and dog can benefit from strengthening their relationship, it may be more critical if you are noticing visible signs of stress and discomfort in the pet.

Lip licking, half-moon eyes, tail tucking, hackles raised, skittish behavior, obsessive licking or itching, avoidance, and lethargy are just a few signs that your dog is feeling uncomfortable. As with humans, stress in our canine companions can manifest itself through physical symptoms and prolonged mental discomfort can lead to rashes, diarrhea and vomiting.

If you have noticed signs of stress in your dog, you can start taking action immediately to help it adjust to the new humans around them.

  • One method is to strengthen your bond through training. Even if your dog already knows all its basic obedience skills like sit, stay, and come, it can be beneficial to you and your dog to practice these behaviors, being sure to reward with a treat, playtime, or lots of affection. This can be great for getting your dog and a newcomer to bond as well. Have them start with the basics, and make sure the reward is positive and full of praise.
  • While dogs thrive on a predictable schedule, adding positive surprises to their day can have an immense impact on your bond. Taking an extra walk in the week, going to a new place, or even a high-value treat can be great to keep your dog engaged and excited.
  • If you are working on bond-building with someone who visits the house often, have them bring high-value treats or a toy that your dog would be interested in so your dog associates them with good things.
  • Energy is everything. If your dog is afraid of a newcomer, have the person sit down and let your dog approach. Petting your dog with a soothing long, firm stroke rather than quick rapid pets will serve to calm your dog and help it feel more secure. Have your guest speak in a soothing manner rather than being loud and boisterous while your dog adjusts to their presence.
  • Positive reinforcement training will strengthen the bond between you and your dog, whereas punishment-based methods damage the bond causing it to mistrust you. An animal being compliant for fear you won’t hurt it is not good pet ownership.

Overall, spending quality time with your dog with positive interactions leads to increased trust. Our dogs want to be with us, and the more we can do with them the better. When in doubt, contact a positive reinforcement trainer or behavior specialist to help guide you on the right track to ensuring that your dog feels comfortable, secure, loved, and bonded.

Kristina O’Keefe of North Attleboro blogs at to promote the status of animals in society.

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