BONDING

The other day a friend asked me how Leia was doing.

I responded and ended my reply with the statement, “I see her starting to bond with me.”

My friend expressed surprise and asked me to define bonding. 

My thoughts are a compilation of years of experience with cats, dogs, and horses.

I believe that most people mistakenly confuse love and affection for their pet with bonding. Forming a bond takes time and sets the foundation for an owner’s relationship with his/her dog. 

It took me over two years to develop a bond with Hannah, my first Labrador.  Hannah was challenging to train, and I was inexperienced in raising a puppy. Frustration entered into the equation, and it interfered with the key ingredients needed to bond: communication, trust, partnership, structure, calmness, and joy.  Even though I loved Hannah dearly, our bond was not strong. 

Hannah passed her CGC and therapy dog tests when she was 13 months old, and I started therapy dog visits when she was 16 months old.  She was still a puppy, and I would sometimes become impatient with her during therapy visits; our bond was still weak. 

We had done many months of obedience training, and one day I learned about an agility class being offered. I thought Hannah would enjoy it, so I enrolled us. 

Hannah not only enjoyed it; she was passionate about it.  She was smart, bold, and fast – all the ingredients required of an agility dog.  I loved it as well; the instructor was excellent and encouraging.  Laughter replaced frustration, and Hannah and I started working as a team. Agility classes reinforced communication, trust, partnership, structure, calmness, and joy – all the ingredients for bonding.  

And it happened. Like gentle osmosis, Hannah and I bonded. 

I’ve said it before, and I will repeat it here. Our animals are our greatest teachers. We just need to be open to and accept the lessons.  Sometimes they are very subtle, but a true learner is perceptive. 

Most of you have come to know some version of Leia over these past months. It’s no mystery that she is also a challenging puppy.  She’s smart, energetic, and mischievous. I’ve lost my patience a few times, but my animals over the years have taught me to go with the flow, roll with the punches, and LAUGH! And, believe me, if you look past the unraveled rolls of toilet paper, chewed up magazines, a zinnia war, and dumped water bowl, it IS funny.

Along with laughter, I work with Leia to provide structure – to teach her what is acceptable and what is not.  Our dogs LOVE to have a job and most enjoy positive, fun training sessions which helps them to establish and to understand safe parameters.  Every moment is an opportunity for training, and I strongly believe training should be ongoing for the life of the dog. 

It is important to plan for alone time. I leave Heidi at home and take Leia out for socialization or just a walk.  Likewise, I leave Leia home and take Heidi. And often I take both of them together for a surprise and fun dog outing. One-on-one time allows me and my dog to focus exclusively upon each other so that our bond becomes stronger between us rather than with the other dog.

Some things I keep in mind when nurturing a bond with my dog —

  1. I give my dogs space to decompress. Our pets need relaxing alone time as much as humans. I feel strongly that our dogs should be given the freedom to seek our companionship on their terms. 
  2. I remember to exercise awareness in learning to interpret my dog’s body language accurately.  It’s amazing the amount of information our dogs share with us through their body language.  I have learned that when Leia starts panting in her crate that she needs to toilet. 
  3. I spend quality time with my dogs. Going for walks, playing, enjoyable and positive training sessions, or a good grooming all reinforce the ingredients for bonding. Running around the yard isn’t enough and often leads to boredom.  Our dogs love a frequent change of scenery as much as we do!
  4. I focus on consistency and clarity.  Nothing confuses a dog faster than being inconsistent. Consistency offers the dog security and fosters trust. I often tell people that since I live alone, I have no one to mess up my training!
  5. I always try to give my dog the opportunity to succeed by setting realistic expectations for the breed, age, and temperament of the dog. 
  6. I try to stay centered.  Our dogs are incredibly sensitive to our emotions such as anger, frustration, and impatience. If I lose any semblance of emotional calm and balance, I stop what I am doing with my dog. I either end the session or re-direct. 
  7. I focus on setting boundaries for my dogs.  It contributes to their feeling of security and helps them understand the human parameters they are expected to learn.

There’s no mistaking a dog who feels a strong emotional connection with you.  There’s a joyful light in their eyes. They wag, lean against you, and make great eye contact.  They keep tabs on your location and check in to see where you are.

Am I perfect? Far from it! I make mistakes and lose my patience just like any human. But I believe if we strive to be aware and informed, that we can work to be supportive and effective owners who are caring custodians of our dog’s emotional and physical welfare.

. . .  and Leia comes up to me, looks at me, sits down, and leans against me.  It’s definitely a beginning to a beautiful bond. 

** Thank you to Wendi Huttner for taking these photos.

2 thoughts on “BONDING

  1. Gail wade says:

    Wonderful blog!

  2. kyleann says:

    Thanks Deb, I really enjoyed this:)

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