How to Bond with Your Dog (and Why It Matters)

It’s not unusual for a newly adopted rescue dog to be unsure and distant at first. You may be wondering if he will ever like you, will he ever not be afraid… or you may be simply wondering how to bond with your rescue dog.

Bonding with Your Dog

Every dog is different and will handle stress differently. Forming a strong bond takes time. You wouldn’t become best friends with someone you just met, right? Especially if your past has been unstable and past friends haven’t been so nice or maybe they’ve left you alone.

Put yourself in your dog’s place… think about how he is feeling right now. It takes time for a new rescue dog to adjust… read about the 3-3-3 rule.

bonding with dog


Creating a strong bond with your dog will help create a healthy relationship between you and your dog. He will learn to trust you, listen to you when you call him, and create an overall happy dog. 

Creating a bond with your dog does NOT mean she needs to want to cuddle with you, sleep with you or give you kisses, not all dogs are going to be affection in this way. 

Here Are 8 Very Simple Steps to Start Bonding and Earning Your Dog’s Trust:

1. Giving Your Dog Space

Pressuring your dog is only going to make the situation worse. Give her time to decompress and come to you on her own time.

When you do need to approach and she is scared, try sitting down facing away from the dog. Direct eye contact can feel threatening for a dog.

2. Learn Your Dog’s Body Language

Learning your dog’s language is a huge part of bonding with your dog. You will be amazed at the amount of information your dog is trying to communicate with you. A simple head turn, lip lick, tail tuck are all signals to you. 

From rescue to home your survival checklist contents

Rescue Dogs 101's
From Rescue to Home, Your Survival Checklist

  • Adoption Questionnaire
  • New Dog Shopping Checklist
  • Puppy Proofing Your Home Checklist
  • Bringing Your Adopted Dog Home
  • The 3 Days, 3 Weeks, 3 Month Rule 
  • Dogs Body Language Quick Cheat Sheet
  • 3. Walking Your Dog

    Walking your dog is one of the most powerful and easiest ways to bond with your dog. It naturally gives the dog her space, while still learning to trust you. Avoid any scary situations, such as other dogs, loud construction sites, parks, etc… keep things low key until the bond with your dog is strong.

    Learn more about how often you should be walking your dog and why.

    woman bonding with dog while walking and hiking

    4. Playing with Your Dog

    Playing a simple game of fetch in the backyard is a fun way to connect and bond with your dog. If he doesn’t like toys, then figure out what he does like to play with… maybe it’s just game of chase, or maybe hide and seek… try different games and see what works. Remember, every dog is unique. Go with what makes you both happy.

    Read our 11 Fun Games to Play with Your Dog

    5. Encourage Your Dog with Food and Treats

    Dogs that are in the state of extreme nervousness or fear may not eat. Do not worry, he will eventually eat.

    If you have a rescue dog that is shy or afraid to approach you, play a little game with his favorite treats … start by sitting sideways as close as you can to your dog without her being afraid. Toss a few treats in her direction, once she moves forward to eat them, toss a few more.

    Slowly get up and walk away. Repeat this and slowly getting closer and closer until your dog becomes comfortable coming to you without being scared.

    Don’t rush this, take many breaks over hours, days, weeks, however long it takes for your dog to feel comfortable.

    Learn which are the Best Healthy Dog Treats for Training

    6. Grooming Your Dog

    Some dogs love to be brushed, others not so much. So read your dog’s body language and learn what he likes. I found that these grooming gloves are a great way to bond with our dogs. Our yellow lab goes crazy when I put the gloves on, he absolutely loves being brushed.

    Brushing your dog is a great way to connect and spend quality time together while keeping him clean and healthy.

    Read 7 Important Dog Bath Tips

    7. Just BE with Your Dog

    I know, you’re like what are you talking about! Of course I am with my dog. But what I mean is just sit with him, read a book together, watch TV together, be an advocate for him, and even sleep with him. Just spending together will grow the bond with your dog, with each day you, as you learn more about each other, you will become better friends, more connected. Just BE, don’t force it and soon you will become best friends. 

    8. Try Using Pheromones

    For very fearful or shy dogs, you can try using calming pheromones or even lavender. You can use an essential oil diffuser, or buy pheromone room diffusers, sprays or collars.

    Are You Worried You Are Not Bonding with Your Rescue Dog?

    Be patient, all dogs are different. Remember your dog has been through a lot recently. Instead of feeling sorry for him, it’s important to stay strong, give your dog the space he needs and be his leader. He will eventually realize you are safe and are there to protect him and love him.

    Some dogs are more independent and like to be on their own, and some dogs are like Velcro. I have one of each! Ginger prefers to spend the day napping in her crate by herself, while Bear would much rather be curled up next to my feet all day. And I love them both just the way they are… and so should you love your dog just the way she is. She has her own unique personality, go with that and bond with your dog accordingly.

    P.S. I love to hear your rescue dog story… please share below how you came to adopt your dog and his or her history.

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    About the Author Debi@RescueDogs101

    Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, three dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.

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