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One of the greatest compliments a dog can pay you is to make it clear that you are his most prized companion. When you bring a new dog into your life, the hope is that he will love you more than he loves anyone else. But if the new dog is already an adult, bonding with him may be more complicated than you expected.
When you’re trying to earn the love of an adult dog, understanding how to connect with your canine can help. There is no one-step approach to making your
adult dog adore you. Sometimes a deep connection with a dog is seemingly born in an instant, but more commonly, such bonds take time to forge and are the result of intentional actions. The way to a dog’s heart isn’t the same for every canine, and adult dogs may require a little extra time and effort before you win their love.
Forging a relationship with an adult dog can be a lot like getting to know a new adult human. Like people, adult dogs come with a broad range of past experiences, and as such, the type of interaction that may work for one dog may not be the right approach for another dog. One of my favorite books about human relationships is
The 5 Love Languages. Author Gary Chapman identifies each of the different ways people have of experiencing love. He divides these into five “languages:” words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, physical affection and quality time. Learning which language speaks to your spouse or partner or friend can strengthen and deepen your relationship with that person.
Similarly, your adult dog may connect with you more easily when you speak his language — although in the case of your canine, his love language is most likely certain activities that he enjoys and wants to share with you.
The first step in forming a bond with an adult dog is to earn his trust. In forming a bond with any adult
dog, it is important to be the type of leader dogs willingly want to follow, someone they feel is safe, no matter what the dog’s personality. It is also helpful if the dog can associate your presence with good things happening.
Reward-based training is one way to create such leadership: It builds better
behavior and creates a powerful communication tool at the same time that it strengthens the dog’s trust in and positive perception of the person.
Once you have earned the dog's trust, work on finding
activities he enjoys. This can help to build a positive association in the dog’s mind between something he finds enjoyable — following a
scent, for example — and time spent with you. At the same time, doing something your dog innately enjoys helps to strengthen your appreciation of his unique talents and personality, which can give you a basis for your relationship with him.
While learning what your dog likes to do it is also important to identify his dislikes. There can be a disconnect between an animal and a human when interactions occur in a way the dog doesn’t understand or appreciate. Watch your dog’s body language and behavior when you interact with him to assess if he likes or dislikes what is happening. For instance, if you talk baby talk to your dog, pay attention to his reaction. Does he seem to happily anticipate this time with you? Is he relaxed while you are talking to him? Or does he tense up and try to move away? If it’s the latter, then it’s time to find a different way to interact with him.
Each dog will show his connection to individual people in different ways. As a child, I envisioned that my first dog would be Velcroed to me; I thought she would be
on my lap or in my arms constantly. When my dreams of a dog became the reality of a
Wire Haired Fox Terrier puppy, I soon realized she would not be the snuggly lapdog type I had imagined. Scooter was
very active and independent; she merely tolerated being held and was overjoyed to get down. Bonding with Scooter was best done through activities, like training sessions, riding my bike with her beside me or pulling her in a wagon. She had her own ways of showing her affection for me, though — instead of curling up in my lap, she would greet me before anyone else and dole out frequent doggy kisses when we were together.
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