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. 

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 McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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  1. Rescue dogs are so different than breeder purchased dogs (we have done both over 56 years) Rescued a Greyhound from the track and she didn't bond at all until she ran away. She ran away for days in the city and we couldn't find her. She came back 3 days later, dirty, skinny, sore and she had changed. It was as if she ran her demons out. She went on to be one of the greats. I rescued a terrified, skinny dog from a shelter and named her Girlfriend. She wouldn't eat and barely drank. The vet said she had to decide to live again. I laid on the ground with her day after day. Just laid with her. Talked softly. Touched her occasionally (it terrified her at first) just when I was without hope she slunk past me and grabbed a piece of food and slunk back. She went on to have the most amazing bond with me. A beautiful girl in her happy life. When she passed we had a funeral and a lot of people came to say goodbye because "they had never seen a dog love their human like she loved me." I have many many stories of beautiful animals that started out as REAL CHALLENGES. All but two I kept (those two never bonded to me after 2 years of trying) Every dog is so different. They are worth the incredible challenges that come with them. So Blessed

  2. I have rescued an 8 month old husky. I have had her for 5 weeks. Although I did not expect this process to be quick I'm very afraid I am making it worse! I need guidance please

  3. I have applied to sdopt a rescue pup of 5 months old. She was found at 5 weeks, and has lived in the shelter since then. She is well socialised with people dogs, and ducks. However, she has never left the priperty nor been in a car. I'm wondering if she will be terrified of busy places, and since she's missed her critical socialization period, if this will always be an issue. I appreciate any thoughts you may have.

  4. Hello

    My name is Kim and I've been involved in animal rescue, training, rehabilitating animals from major injuries or working with dogs who are either hats to train, traumatized or have disabilities such as being blind, 3 legs, deaf and other for about 40 years.

    My journey with animals started when i was very very young living on the farm. I would go off on my daily adventures exploring what's happening on the farm with the vast array of stock animals we had. We also had show horses and we rescued several over the years. It was I, out of 12 kids that was always bringing every 3- legged, 1 eyed, 1 wing working, sickly looking, matty haired, goopy eyed, half haired, bug eyed, legless or crippled animal home to nurse it back to health. Even the ones that really didn't have much of a chance.

    Im telling you all this because i found your thread about dogs jerking in their sleep very amusing. It brought back memories of some really funny videos I've taken over the years observing animals when they sleep. The reason i finally decided to do alittle research on the subject is because I am laying beside my beloved rescued Great Dane and when he dreams, he always kicks his back legs with shot of force. It's always his back legs only. Of course most of his body is twitching a bit but he is working his back legs as of he is running full speed. There are also times when he legs out a whaling bark or a very emotional howel or winpering session. Its not a little quiet whimpering either. Its a make me sit strait up in my bed kind. He's actually knocked me off the dog bed and a few jolts to the rib cage a few times with his kicking. It's behavior that I've not seen in any animal I've ever had or cared for in those 40+ years and I was wondering if you give me any insite on these subjects. Thanks for taking the time to read all of this.

  5. My little girl follows me everywhere. She'll run a bit away outside, but always checks that she doesn't get too far away. We are currently cuddling on the couch.

  6. We adopted a rescue dog who was abused and neglected by a male owner,He is a 2 yr old schnauzer mix.He likes women a lot and his very afraid of males including me. I have been giving him treats and not looking at him directly,also I walk him 4-5 times a day ( that’s the best times we have together). Yet after we get home if I try to pet him or get near him he’ll back away and be afraid.We only have had him for 6 weeks .He adores my wife and he likes all women.Is there anything else I can do.I know time will probably help but as a male what can I do to make up for the rotten previous male owners abuse.And help me to bond with hm and show him I love him to and want to be his friend

  7. We recently adopted a dog that was roaming in our neighborhood for several days. We tried to approach him several times but he always ran. One cold, rainy evening a neighbor brought him food and took him home. After a few days she realized she could not keep him so she approached us about taking. We already had 2 male dogs and we felt our younger (3 year old) would do well with the new boy who is about 1. All is going fairly well (we have had him for a month now) but it seems he was abused. When we gave him a bath and tried to brush him, he saw the brush, peed on the floor and ran under the bed. The same thing happened when we picked a skillet off the stove. It breaks my heart and we are being very careful not to raise our voices but the dog seems very scared at times. We will definitely be keeping him and are willing to work with him as long as it takes but any suggestions are appreciated.

  8. Debi one month ago we adopted a Red Cattle Dog that is two years old house,&/crate trained loves to walk with leash. Loves ride in pickup, but she is so timid her tail between her legs heard her bark one time she is inside with us mostly due to weather. We are some what familiar with Queensland Heeler we two Blue ones one lived to 18yrs and the other 15 years we do not tolerated abuse they are our best friend we are in our late 70’s oh we had a cocker that lived to 18 also all those three were pups. Maybe I’m rushing but Sadie scared at the drop of a pin. No doubt she was abused she tends to care for females over males we have 1/4 for her to run to her hearts desire. Is this normal or should I back off give her time she will have a fantastic time with us for share Thanks Don

  9. Thank you for your great articles. I am reading them all right now as we will be adopting a rescue dog this next week. This is the first time we have ever gotten a dog instead of a puppy. We have a dog trainer friend that has been helping us to find the perfect match through rescue she works with on occasion. We know we may have challenges but are hoping for the best! We are naming her Scout after Scout in To kill a Mockingbird. She is about two years old a heeler mix and formerly named Sarah. Thanks for all the info!

  10. We rescued our little Gracie 5 years ago. Her profile said, no small children, no other dogs, no cats but when we met her she rolled onto our feed and we knew that she was a challenge we wanted to take on. We spent so much time with her, bonded, trained and she has been a blessing in our lives. We recount her story here:

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