There’s no doubt about it. Dogs have many odd behaviors, from growling at nothing to sounding the alert each time the UPS worker drops off a package. But most of these seemingly inexplicable actions do, in fact, have an underlying reason. So what do you do when your dog doesn’t seem to be bonding with you? Let’s look first at the concept of attachment.
Attachment Theory is generally a study exclusively applied to human beings, because we have primarily studied attachment—or bonding—in order to tackle issues common in child-rearing, particularly in adoption and foster care. However, many of these studies have used animals.
Take Harry Harlow’s experiment with rhesus monkeys. When baby monkeys were given the option of a cuddly cloth “mother” without food, versus a wire “mother” with a bottle for nourishment. Although the babies visited the wire mother in order to eat, they preferred the comfort of the cloth mother for company. Not only that, but monkeys that were not able to properly bond with any maternal figure failed to thrive.
Bonding to another living being is an important part of most mammalian health. Since dogs are pack animals their need for bonding is paramount. So a dog that doesn’t bond readily is cause for concern. Still, it’s not an uncommon phenomenon, especially in rescue dogs.
Almost all domesticated dogs are separated from their canine mothers and are looking to their humans for love and guidance. Your dog, along with her primal instincts to be part of a pack, needs both the comfort of a pack and the security of an Alpha, a pack leader. In order to properly bond with your dog, you need to put in the time to reassure her that she can depend on you.
Dogs crave consistency and life without rules can leave them unsure of themselves and their place in the world. Your dog needs to know that he can come to you for affection, but also must be taught the boundaries in your home. For instance, if you don’t want the dog on the couch, you must keep that a consistent boundary, and reward your dog handsomely (treats always strengthen a human-canine bond) when he or she respects your Alpha authority.
You can find great success using dog bonding exercises. These activities, done together, allow for a sense of trust and companionship. You’ll grow to respect the individual disposition of your new best friend and the two of you will learn to speak a common language.
It’s also worth mentioning that a dog who’s been through a trauma like rehoming may bond with only one person. A dog in this situation can even seem to have an aversion to others in the home. In these cases, feeding time makes a world of difference. Meals should be presented by the neglected party. This builds that all-important sense of trust.
Each day is an opportunity to build your relationship. Time spent playing together is almost always rewarded with a stronger bond. Keep in mind that her overall health depends on you and the friendship that you build. Like the rhesus monkeys, she won’t thrive without a sense of belonging.
Spend a few hours per day instilling the training and rewards system. Build positive associations as you play, teaching her your expectations. To train is human, to bond divine.