In nature, group members are free to leave. Why then do they stay together? They stay because they are compelled to bond. Instinct drives them to seek out company. To be with others. The bond is forged in moments of peace, miles of travel, and moments of group stress where together they survive and succeed. Group stressors lead to more moments of peace together. Acceptance. Safety. Comfort. Endorphins.
A bond is forged as a result of shared experiences, of spending time together. Are there ways to fast track bonding with a dog? YES. Bone up on your canine etiquette involving space, pause often, and take advantage of moments and activities that stimulate the release of endorphins.
Endorphins are feel-good hormones. There are many actions, behaviors, and states of mind that stimulate the release of endorphins. These endorphins help dogs (and most group social mammals) feel good, satiated, and relaxed. Here are a few examples….
- Eating. Feeding a new dog by hand can really help with bonding. Just be sure that you are reinforcing a soft mouth (the dog taking the food gently) as you dish out whatever meal (kibble by kibble or handful by handful).
- Chewing. Hanging on to a chew while your canine friend works on it can be a great way to bond. With puppies and new dogs bonding over a chew typically goes like this….I hold something like a rawhide….the dog (maybe tentatively at first) starts to work on it….I just hang out (watching, maybe talking, but mostly just waiting patiently for it to relax)….when its eyes really soften (like in the photo below), I love on it sweetly (slow, soft, feel good strokes). When I’m done, I either let go and exit stage left (or right) leaving the dog to peacefully continue with the chew or I toss a handful of something the dog finds delectable and delicious on the ground in front of the dog. As it switches from chewing to cleaning up, I remove the chew and go about my business. I also sometimes hold the chew in ways that require the dog to be touching me while chewing. This is particularly useful with dogs that are a bit hand shy. Preventing and addressing resource guarding is a whole nother topic for a different post….if your having problems with resource guarding or if being in close proximity to your dog while it’s chewing on something makes you nervous, opt out of this one.
- Mutual grooming…licking and being groomed (pet, rubbed, massaged, etc.) in a way that is relaxing and feels good. Consensual grooming is relaxing for both parties involved (the one being groomed and the one actually doing the grooming). Slow down and pay attention to what feels good and relaxing to your dog.
- Exercise. Be sure to stick around for and be a part of the cool down period after intense exercise (the honeymoon!).
These are just a few things that can cause the release of endorphins in dogs. There are many more. I have met several dogs that “nurse” on pillows, dog beds, stuffed toys. That nursing behavior releases endorphins. One of my dogs loves to wallow in shallow water on hot days….like a hippo. Endorphins flow freely during those times. Take note of moments when you dog is awake and its eyes soften and its body relaxes…chances are endorphins are involved. By taking part in or hanging around during activities involving endorphins, the dog starts to associate your presence, the sound of your voice, your scent, and your touch with the feel-good effects of the endorphins (feeling safe, feeling good, feeling satiated, feeling comfortable, feeling relaxed).
As a bond grows, both parties become more comfortable with and around each other. Trust grows. They feel safe together.
Why is establishing a bond important to training? Training in the presence of a solid bond is efficient. Dogs try harder and are much more forgiving. Let’s look at it another way….I would happily go above and beyond (and out of my comfort zone) for any of my closest friends. ….not because I want to do whatever the favor or task is, but because my good friend asked me to do it….a friend that is important to me….a friend that I trust. I do it for my friend. I am happy to be able to help him (or her) out. My closest friends would do the same for me.
To bond with multiple dogs, spend one-on-one time with each of them.