1. Utilize hand feeding for meals
When we started working with our trainers, one of the first things they recommended is to ditch the dog bowl and start hand feeding at least one meal a day. I know what you’re thinking; it’s messy and takes more time and commitment. But it’s one of the EASIEST things you can do to start building a better bond with your dog.
Hand-feeding makes meal time more engaging, and helps to clarify leadership in your pack by letting your dog know all good things (including food) come through you. It’s a quick way to start curbing unwanted behavior as well as teach your dog to earn what they want-–which is in this case, food.
A hungry dog is also much more apt to work during a training session, so if you’re making them train during their meal, you’ll notice they’re usually *much* more excited to work and focus on you as you’ve got something they REALLY want–dinner. Your dog learns quicker as they work to figure out what you’re asking of them, and you should start to notice certain behavioral changes, like impulse control, almost immediately.
Hand-feeding is known to promote better focus, training bite inhibition (you won’t reward your dog with food if they’re biting your hand off) and also can help build trust and confidence in shy dogs.
There are tons of different ways you can hand feed your dog––so find something that works good, for you! I usually measure out their dinner serving and work on focus training or things like proofing their basic commands. If you’ve got a dog that’s a picky eater, making them work for their dinner can also be an exciting change. Every dog is different, so the key is to find something that works well for both of you!
2. Spend 10 minutes or more playing a game together every day
This might seem obvious, but spending time playing with your dog can fulfill them both physically and mentally, which are both essential to keeping your dog happy and healthy. Spending ANY time with your dog helps to strengthen your bond, but when you’re doing something they think is “fun”–even for only a few minutes–it reinforces that spending time with you is something that they enjoy, and helps you connect on another level than you would if you were just training or only letting them play with other dogs.
My dogs LIVE to fetch, but there are many other games you can play to enhance your bond. A few of our other favorites are tug and hide the treats–which Earthborn EarthBites work PERFECTLY for, might I add!
Play can also help to build drive in your dog, which will be helpful for when we get to the next step. Setting your dog up to work for play and rewards can drastically change your relationship overall. When you start to form a better bond, you’ll be surprised by how much your dog prefers to work and be with you regardless of the environment around them.
3. Sign-up for a group class or dog sport
We touched on this earlier, but signing up for a group class or dog sport is a great way to experience new things with your dog. You’ll both be asked to focus on each other in a fast-paced environment, and you’ll also pick up a bunch of new skills. I like having a class to go to because no matter how busy my week gets, it’s scheduled time I have already committed to spending with my dog, and they REALLY enjoy going, too. It’s also so much fun to see them progress every week. When you’re feeling confident enough, you can test your new skills you learned at class in a trial!
There are TONS of sports and classes you can sign-up for–so far we’ve tried Obedience, Agility, Dock Diving, and our favorite–Scent Work. The more you try, the better chance you’ll find something that your dog really loves, and when they’re enjoying themselves so much, it’s hard not to fall in love with the sport, too. I wasn’t too excited to sign up for scent work, but it ended up being Moe’s favorite–he’s really a natural and excels in the environment so much. It makes me so happy to see him not only enjoying himself, but to be building drive for the sport and succeeding at it, too.
Group classes are also a really great way to connect with other dog people, too!
4. Work together to earn a Trick Dog Title
Spending time together with your dog learning new tricks not only gives you both a better sense of understanding of each other, but it can also be a lot of fun!
Earning your dog’s trick titles is an easy way to honor the growing relationship between you and your dog. They give you proof on paper that you’re an able team (titles are cool, right?!) and give you goals to work toward with every level you move up to.
AKC provides instructional videos you can work from to teach your dog new tricks right at home. It’s an inexpensive way to learn, and allows for complete flexibility as you can literally train whenever you have free time, which is great for people with a busy schedule. When you’ve got a few (10, to be exact) down, you can submit a video to AKC to earn your first TNK title for your efforts.
There are five Trick Dog Titles to strive for; Novice Trick Dog (TKN), Intermediate Trick Dog (TKI), Advance Trick Dog (TKA), Trick Dog Performer (TKP) and the most coveted Trick Dog Elite Performer (TKE).
Dogs must have an AKC, PAL, or AKC Canine Partners number to earn a title. All dogs can get a number to compete including purebreds and mixed breeds. To learn more and get started, vist https://www.akc.org/sports/trick-dog/about-trick-dog/.
5. Go on more one-on-one adventures
It’s no secret, but spending time alone with your dog, exploring somewhere new, is one of the best things you can do to further your relationship. Dog’s enjoy exploring, and if you ask me–they deserve to get out and see the world, too. Whether it’s a quick hike close to home, or an all day adventure to the beach–your dog will thank you with their excitement and joy, and you’ll feel your relationship bloom as you explore the world, together.
If you have multiple dogs (like me!) making sure you take each dog on solo adventures is a huge component to building your relationship with each individual dog. It builds their confidence, makes them look more to you (vs. their siblings) for fun and reassurance in new areas, and most of all, lets them know that YOU value your relationship with them, too. My trio loves going out as a group, but they truly cherish being the center of my attention when we head out, just the two of us.
Bringing your dog along when you’re exploring is a huge mood boost for you, too. I see the world so differently through their eyes–they’re constantly enjoying the little things, like the breeze ruffling through their ears or the sun shining on their fur at the top of a lookout. Their joy is infectious–and it changes my perspective on life every time I head out with them.
Every dog is different, so it’s important to note that training and building a relationship with your dog isn’t ever a linear path. The more time you spend with your dog, the more you’ll find what makes them click. Be sure to give lots of praise (and Earthborn treats!) whether the accomplishment is big or small. It surely is a journey, but there’s truly nothing better than having a solid relationship with your dog. It makes life MUCH easier–and they make every single day more enjoyable, after all! 🐾