Man’s Best Friend: How To Improve Your Bond With Your Dog

Strong bond between a woman and her cute dog

Almost everybody likes dogs. Adorable, friendly, loyal, and loving, dogs truly are a human’s best friend. They don’t judge you. They don’t argue with you. They don’t look down at you or think less of you when you have a bad day. When you come home, they greet you with affection, love, generous tail wagging, and maybe a few kisses or even a big hug. They’re sensitive, clever, loving companions who ask for very little in return. It’s safe to say that having a dog in your life is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have.

But while they’re easy to love, sometimes we don’t give dogs the attention they deserve. It’s easy to turn on the TV and ignore Fido while he snoozes on his bed. It can feel challenging to get up and exercise with your dog when you’re exhausted from work or, these days, life in general. Dogs are good learners, and we may find ourselves accidentally teaching them bad habits or – even worse! – find that they have trained us.

As sophisticated modern people, of course, we want to optimize our relationships with our dogs. We want to get the most out of our time with them, keep them well-trained, healthy, and happy. The best way to cultivate a positive relationship with your dog is to engage in activities that promote bonding. Just like bonding with a person, bonding with a dog requires that you put meaningful time and effort into your relationship and keep it positive and fun for everybody involved.

Why Bond With a Dog?

Why should you put effort into bonding with your dog? Dogs and humans seem to have a natural bond, so is it necessary that I make a special effort to bond with my dog? Humans and dogs indeed have a special natural bond. However, there’s plenty of evidence that humans and dogs have better relationships when they spend structured time together and make an effort toward mutual understanding. This might sound like a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be anything special. A fun interaction like playing catch, having a tug-of-war, or going for a walk or a swim are all great ways to enrich your relationship with your dog and promote bonding. If nothing else, bonding with your dog is great fun – and people need fun.

Physical Benefits of Bonding With Your Dog

Bonding with your pet isn’t just a fun way to improve your relationship with your animal; it’s a great way to improve your health. People often say that owning a pet improves your heart health. That particular piece of folk wisdom is true. In research published in the American Heart Association’s journal “Circulation,” scientists found that people who owned a dog enjoyed multiple cardiovascular health benefits. These benefits included lower blood pressure, lower resting heart rates, and enjoyed higher rates of moderate exercise like walking.

It makes sense that dog owners have better heart health. Responsible dog owners provide their pups with frequent exercise and play. Playing catch or fetch, going for walks, and going on outings to the dog park make people get up and move more than they might otherwise. Super-fit people like climbers, hikers, and marathoners are not likely to experience a significant uptick in their physical activity if they get a dog. Still, regular people will likely find themselves moving more after they adopt a dog. Conveniently, all of these activities – playing games, walking, and socializing – are great ways to bond with your dog!

Dog owners also enjoy improved immune systems. Petting a dog causes the body to release Immunoglobulin A. Immunoglobulins, also known as antibodies, help your body fight off unwelcome intruders such as viruses, bacteria, and other foreign substances. A healthy immune system keeps us well. While owning a dog isn’t going to prevent you from ever getting sick, it will help pump your system up and keep it working hard to defend your body from threats.

Happy dog playing with toy ring
Cute dog plays with a ring toy / Envato Elements

Psychological Benefits of Bonding With Your Dog

The average dog is nicer than the average person.

– Andy Rooney

Not only is bonding with your dog good for your physical health, but it also provides numerous benefits for your mental health. First of all, owning a dog reduces loneliness. One of the great ironies of our ever-connected world is that many people feel lonelier than ever. Our general sense of alienation and isolation has not been improved by the events of the last few years. A recent study from researchers at Harvard claims that more than a third of Americans are struggling with serious loneliness. Loneliness is unpleasant enough on its own, but it often travels with its pals depression and anxiety. A dog won’t cure you of the need for human contact, but interacting with your dog is a great way to reduce feelings of loneliness and improve your general emotional state.

Bonding with your dog can reduce loneliness in another way as well. Dog ownership encourages prosocial behavior like going to the dog park and interacting with other dog owners. Having a chat while your dog romps and plays is a great way for you to make new friends and connections, and your dog gets an enriching social experience as well. Not only that but if you’re looking for love, having a dog instantly makes you more attractive to potential mates. Even if you’re exclusively dating by app, having your doggo in your profile will make people more likely to engage with your profile. Research has shown that people look happier and more relaxed in pictures with dogs. It seems like your canine companion is better than studio lighting and photoshop when it comes to attracting a new romantic partner.

Dogs are also an excellent source of stress relief. Petting, scratching, or cuddling with your dog causes your brain to release happy chemicals like Oxytocin. Oxytocin makes us feel a strong emotional bond – it’s the same hormone released by mother and baby that causes such a strong connection. At the same time, levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop when we pet our dogs. Simply taking a few minutes to pet your dog or cuddle up with them can do wonders for your mental health.

Learn Your Breed

The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.

– Charles de Gaulle

One of the best ways you can bond with your dog is to learn more about the breed. The playstyles and emotional needs of dogs often differ between breeds. A Shih Tzu likes to cuddle on laps and dig but may not like to play out in the yard during allergy season. A Dachshund, sometimes referred to as “velcro dogs” because of their love for people, is not a good choice for someone who wants an independent dog. A German Shepherd needs a task and enough space and activity to be able to maintain their physical and mental health. The American Kennel Club has information on different dog breeds that can help you choose a dog to adopt or learn more about the pal you already have.

Bonding With Your Dog In ‘22

The case for bonding with your dog is solid. Not only will it help you enjoy a closer relationship with your dog, it will help improve your physical and mental health. So, what is involved in developing a strong bond with your dog? What specific activities will help you and your best pal strengthen your bond? To make it easier to bond year-round, let’s look at fun and engaging activities that you can enjoy during each season.

Winter

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

– Groucho Marx

The long, dark nights and swirling, snowy climate of the winter months make this season challenging for dog owners seeking ways to bond with their pup – or so you might think. Winter is a great time to bond with your dog! Taking an obedience class with your dog is a great way to bond. Proper obedience training focuses on positive reinforcement and the promotion of a trusting relationship between humans and canines. Positive reinforcement training is built on the idea that providing your dog with high-value rewards, such as a piece of cheese or a training treat, will encourage good behavior. When your dog successfully follows a command or demonstrates a positive behavior, a prompt reward of play, attention, and possibly a treat will help reinforce that behavior in your dog.

You must find an obedience school that uses positive reinforcement techniques. In the old days, dog training often focused on aversive techniques such as startling, dominating, or even spanking your dog when they perform a negative behavior. If your dad put tabasco in a sandwich and then left it out for the dog to steal to teach it not to steal sandwiches, he was using aversive techniques. While this method is probably something we’ve all seen in action, and while it might feel intuitive to punish your dog, negative techniques not as effective as positive reinforcement. Aversive training is also psychologically and even physically harmful to dogs. It relies on instilling fear of consequences into your dog, which can cause them to be afraid of you and drive unwelcome behaviors like aggression. As such, aversive training is not an appropriate way to bond.

What else can you do with a dog in winter? Some breeds thrive in a winter climate. Your Malamute, Samoyed, or Husky will probably love some unstructured play time in the snow. This could involve digging, playing chase, or even just rolling around in the snow. Some dogs even like to sled! But perhaps you have a less wintery dog, like a Chihuahua or a Min Pin. For these dogs, indoor play is a great way to bond over a fun activity. Getting a fetch toy to toss up and down the hallway, or getting a rope toy to play tug of war, are great ways to enjoy bonding time with your pooch even if it’s ten below zero outside.

Spring

Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.

– Kinky Friedman

Springtime is a perennial favorite. The deep winter chill begins to soften and warm. Flowers emerge from the ground, and trees blossom. Allergy sufferers hate it, but the rest of us tend to love spring. Not only is the world gradually awakening from the depths of its winter slumber, plenty of dog-friendly activities are suddenly accessible again. One of the best ways to bond with your dog in the spring is to take them out into the wild. You don’t have to hop into a covered wagon and go homesteading on the prairie. Most populated areas have publicly accessible outdoor spaces like local, county, or state parks that are friendly to responsible dog owners. Taking your dog on a hike is a great way to work on leash training while exposing your dog to an interesting new environment full of novel sights, smells, and sounds. Going hiking is also a great way to expose yourself to nature, which has many cognitive benefits.

Truly outdoorsy dog owners might find springtime to be a great time to go camping with your dog. Going camping with your dog means spending a lot of time together, which facilitates bonding and helps you get to know one another better. Being in an outdoorsy environment will expose your dog to many new and interesting distractions, which makes camping together an opportunity to work on training with distractions. Training with distractions is a process of teaching your dog to follow your commands even in the presence of disruptive stimuli, like squirrels, other dogs, birds, and new smells.

Not quite that outdoorsy? That’s okay. Springtime is a good opportunity to engage in more accessible activities, like going to the dog park. The dog park is a great springtime activity which, unlike camping or hiking, doesn’t require a huge amount of preparation or effort. The improving weather and balmy days of springtime are perfect for letting your pooch enjoy the dog park. Bringing a favorite game, like a frisbee or a fetch toy, provides an opportunity for you and your dog to unwind with some physical activity and fun play while socializing with other humans and animals.

Summer

To err is human – to forgive, canine.

– Apocryphal

The heat of the summer brings unique challenges and interesting opportunities for people who want to bond with their dog. The summer scorch means that dog owners must plan ahead for dog-related activities. You’ll need to be sure you have a supply of water and a drinking vessel available to keep your dog hydrated and cool. In especially hot climates, your dog might need booties to keep its feet safe from the pavement. A good rule of thumb is that a road or surface is too hot for your dog if it’s too hot for your own bare foot.

Nevertheless, summertime is full of awesome bonding opportunities. A favorite of many dogs is the beach. Not every beach is dog-friendly, but most beachy areas these days have at least a few dog-friendly beaches. Digging a hole in the sand together, playing with a ball or a stick in the surf, and swimming together are fun ways to bond with your dog. Your dog will enjoy the unstructured play and interesting atmosphere of the beach almost as much as you will! Just be aware that while most dogs love to swim, many dogs do not. If your dog isn’t vibing with the beach or doesn’t want to get in the water, don’t force it. You should also consider buying some safety equipment, such as a life jacket, if you want to take your dog swimming.

What about dog owners who don’t live near a beach? If you have access to a yard, you can enjoy some water play by turning on the sprinklers and jumping around with your dog like a maniac. Incorporate other games into the experience: chase your dog, let it chase you, or bring something fun like a pool noodle out and see where it takes you. Dogs are experts at finding joy in simple experiences, a trait we should admire and try to emulate. Worried what the neighbors will think? Don’t let them live in your head rent-free. In all likelihood, they’re jealous at the fun you and your dog are having.

Maybe you don’t have sprinklers, or you don’t like getting wet. Summer provides other opportunities to bond with your dog. Many cafes, restaurants, and especially breweries and brewpubs allow dogs. Taking Fido out for a beer and a biscuit (beer for you only – don’t give your dog alcohol) is a great way to spend a warm summer afternoon. You can even meet your friends from the dog park there and turn it into a pack-bonding experience!

Autumn

“I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.” – Bill Murray

The salad days of summer don’t last forever. Eventually, time’s inexorable march brings us back into the autumn months as the days get shorter and we prepare to face another winter. But autumn is ripe for bonding with your dog. Walking your dog among the fallen leaves will give you a whole new appreciation for how fascinating piles of leaves are – and how interesting they are to chase when the wind blows them around. But simply taking a stroll through the crisp autumn air isn’t the only way to bond with your dog.

A classic autumn activity in many places is the hayride. For whatever reason, we Americans just love huddling together on a creaky wagon being pulled around a farm by a tractor. And not only do we love it, our dogs do too. Going for a hayride together is an excellent opportunity to practice social skills, short-leash training, and distraction training. The hayride is often accompanied by activities like the corn maze and the pumpkin patch, which can be highly enriching experiences. Taking your dog along on these classic autumnal activities is a splendid way to develop a stronger bond with your pal.

Cute Pomeranian looks into the camera
Cute dog looks into the camera / Envato Elements

The Name’s Bond. Pack Bond.

Dogs are special animals. Ever since the first humans domesticated the first dogs, we have shared a special and amazing connection with these animals. And while that natural connection is strong, the best human-dog relationships are built on a strong bond. That bond is strengthened when we deliberately spend time engaging in activities with our dogs and paying close attention to them. Obedience classes, playtime, walks, and outings are wonderful ways to build a better bond with your dog. Time spent with a dog is never time you’ll regret. So, make it a point in ’22 to hang out with your dog more and build a better bond. People come and go; jobs and companies rise and fall like empires. But the bond you build with your dog is everlasting.

View this article in the February 2022 issue of MP: Day 1.