What to Do if You Don’t Bond with Your Dog

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Help! I don’t like my dog!

That was the title of a post in an online forum I recently joined. It was a startling admission and judging by the five pages of comments the  poster received, she hit a nerve.

The poster’s dog was adopted from a local shelter. According to her, he’s sweet and affectionate with no bad habits. She pets him, plays with him and takes him for walks. Yet, for some reason, she doesn’t feel bonded to him and is now thinking about rehoming him.

I expected the replies to slam her for even considering such a thing. But to my surprise, almost everyone was supportive. Some offered advice while others admitted that they, too, had had a difficult time bonding with a pet.

That’s a hard confession to make. In a country as pet-crazy as ours, it can feel like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t immediately bond with your dog. It’s almost like admitting you’re not crazy about one of your human children.

So what do you do if you’re not bonding with your dog the way you want to?

1. Take a training class together. This is one of the quickest ways to form a bond and build trust. You’ll learn how to better communicate with your canine companion and you’ll be thrilled to find just how smart he is. Plus, it’s just plain fun to show off their tricks to others!

2. Make bonding a priority. Adopting our dog Mayzie was my idea. I fell in love with her at an adoption fair and talked my husband into adding her to our family. While she was a total sweetheart, she also had issues that required time and patience to deal with. My husband worked from home so much of her care fell to him. He found himself becoming resentful and keeping her at an emotional distance. Once he realized this, he made it a point to spend time one-on-one with Mayzie — petting her, talking to her, getting to know her. They are now inseparable and he can’t imagine life without her.

3. Hire a behaviorist. Sometimes a dog’s behavioral issues — dog or human reactivity, inappropriate chewing, fearfulness — can cause enormous frustration and make it difficult to bond. A certified veterinary behaviorist can examine the problem, outline a behavior modification program and if necessary, prescribe medication. Search for one near you at the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

4. Love the dog you have, not the dog you wish you had. We all have an image of the “perfect dog” and it can be disappointing if our real dog doesn’t live up to that ideal. If that’s the case, it’s important to focus on your dog’s own special qualities. Didn’t get that active dog you wanted? That’s okay. Just look how calm she is around your kids!

What if you make a sincere effort but the bond still isn’t there? The reality is that sometimes the kindest thing to do for you and your pet is to find him a better home. As a rescue volunteer, I don’t make this suggestion lightly, but I truly believe every dog deserves a family that loves him unconditionally.

Once you’ve made the decision to rehome, do it responsibly. Most rescues and reputable breeders require you to sign a contract agreeing to return the dog to them if it doesn’t work out. If your situation is different, never place a “free dog” ad on CraigsList. Approach it as if you were a rescuer: ask for veterinary and personal references, perform a home visit and request a small rehoming fee. In other words, do everything you can to make sure that your dog’s next home is his forever home.

Have you ever had trouble bonding with a pet? What did you do?

Amber Carlton is a freelance blogger and business writer specializing in the pet industry. Owned by two dogs and two cats, she is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet-lady amongst her friends and family. Connect with her at Comma Hound Copywriting, on Twitter or at Mayzie’s Dog Blog.

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