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Pet Health


Do You Have a Healthy Bond With Your Dog?

When we first adopted Rex, I fed him by hand. He was too nervous in his new surroundings to eat.…

Bonding with dogs

When we first adopted Rex, I fed him by hand. He was too nervous in his new surroundings to eat. Although I fed him by hand only to get him to eat, the trust we developed through that effort helped us bond to one another. Hand feeding is a great bonding exercise. Building a strong, healthy bond with your pet is important for developing trust and understanding one another. It will improve your quality of life and that of your dog’s in so many ways.

Bonding is contingent on quality time spent with your pet. The more you work together, the better your human-animal bond becomes. Our current stay-at-home culture has increased the amount of quality time we are spending with our pets, and our dogs are eating-it-up. In fact, we may be over doing it. Through no fault of our own, we may be spending too much time with our dogs. Bonding is healthy, as long as it is not excessive.

A while back, we wrote a blog entitled “Did you Create Your Velcro Dog?” The tongue-in-cheek use of the word “velcro” is how we metaphorically described a dog that “sticks” to us. As we illustrated in the blog, a Velcro dog is one that is never more than a few inches from your side (often touching you), follows you from room to room, stands up when you stand up, always under foot, and constantly looking to you for direction… “What’s our next move, Mom?” Dogs tend to do those things anyway, right? And they are not necessarily bad. So how do we know when we have a healthy relationship with our dogs, or when we may have become overly bonded, or over attached? Let’s take a look at the difference.

Healthy bonding vs over bonding with dogs

What are the signs that you and your dog have a healthy bond?

• Your dog wants to be near you!
• Your dog enjoys interacting with you!
• Your dog comes to you when they want something… they know they can communicate with you because you understand them.
• Your dog comes to you when called.
• Your dog keeps tabs on you, always knows your whereabouts, but remains relaxed and self-sufficient when you’re not in the room.
• Your dog has good eye contact with you.

What are the signs that your dog may be overly attached to you?

• Your dog barks or whines when they are not with you.
• Your dog attempts to be a shield between you and other people or dogs.
• Your dog very rarely leaves your side.
• Your dog becomes defensive when strangers come near you or enter your home.
• Your dog shows signs of severe stress when they sense you are going somewhere.
• Your dog may become frantic in your absence.
• Your dog has begun to chew or destroy things in the home when you are away – something they have never done before.

There is such a thing known as an “attachment bond” between dogs and humans. It has been compared to an infant-parent relationship. An infant relies on their parent for everything. Although we are certainly needed in many areas of our dog’s lives, when they depend on us for total emotional support, it negatively affects their well-being. As much as we love to care for our dogs, that kind of over-dependence on us is not healthy. Over-attachment creates insecurity, fear, and anxiety in our dog’s lives.

Locked-down with your dog

There have been many articles published recently regarding the concern that our dogs are becoming overly attached to us during the pandemic stay-at-home culture. A recent article on Bloomberg is titled, “Time to Tell America’s Dogs that this Arrangement won’t Last Forever”, in which Arianne Cohen says, “Dogs are becoming overly bonded’ which means they are intensely reliant on our presence to stay calm.” What does she mean by that?

A dog’s unhealthy, over attachment to a person can produce some negative behaviors. One such behavior is called proximity seeking. The dog will seek out the owner as a means of coping with stress. It becomes a problem when the dog cannot find its owner and is unable to calm himself. The dog becomes anxious and may panic. In the 24-7 life we have now created with our dogs, we are becoming their sole resource for emotional fulfillment. Our dogs are used to having us near, and when we need to go back to work, or even go to the store, or anywhere that leaves them alone, separation anxiety is highly probable.

It is so sad to see a dog suffer from separation anxiety. We tend to focus on the results of that anxiety rather than the dog’s symptoms. When a dog experiences separation anxiety, they are clearly suffering. They are in distress. They are restless and nervous. They feel a sense of abandonment. They are scared, in a sense, and that is tragic. It is much like a human anxiety attack. The results of that pent-up emotion? Panting, drooling, pacing, howling, destruction – as in destroying or chewing household items, eliminating in the house, and other erratic behaviors including self-injury as they may attempt to jump through windows or chew through doorways. As hard as it may be to create distance and encourage independence in our dogs, we need to for their sake.

An abrupt change in your dog’s life, as in your sudden absence, clearly disrupts their psyche. After months of you being available at all times, leaving your dog to go back to work could be devastating in their little life. The ability to be self-reliant, to be alone, and to calm or “settle” themselves is crucial. Arianne Cohen was right. It is definitely time to let our dogs know that this arrangement is not forever. We need to prepare them for “normalcy”. How do we do that?

Here are some ways you can help your dog become more independent and confident without breaking the loving bond between the two of you.

How to gently break the attachment

• Start now by creating some space between you and your furry friend. Go to another room for a few minutes and close the door between you. Repeat in small increments throughout the day.
• Take a short walk without them or run a quick errand without taking them.
• Leave calming music on or leave the TV on during your quick trips away from your dog.
• Give your dog something to do while you are away: a food puzzle, an interactive toy, or chew toy (i.e., filled Kong’s are great!).
• Hide treats around the dog’s area for them to hunt for, taking the focus off you being away.
• Sometimes a big, empty house is overwhelming to your dog. If you believe this to be the case, create a smaller, secure space for them. Perhaps a room that they frequent that contains some of their toys, their bed, and other belongings.
• Gradually increase the time spent away from your dog.
• Switch up your dog’s walking routine, go a different way, introducing him to different people and dogs. New things and new experiences will help to break them from their “rut” and prepare their minds for change.
• When you return to work, plan to check in with them mid-day for the first few weeks, if at all possible.
• When leaving the house, or returning home, keep greetings calm and relaxed.

There are so many ways that we can help your dog at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. Bring your dog to Doggie Day Care or for a Staycation to get them temporarily away from their typical environment. Be sure to add a one-on-one enrichment activity so that your dog learns to function comfortably with other people. Let your dog work with one of our Professional Dog Trainers to build their confidence. Our staff will gently work with your dog to help ease them back into a relaxed, contented lifestyle.

Final Thoughts

I’m thinking that our dogs are not the only ones who will feel the pain of separation when we return to work. We will miss our little furry companions too, right? Let’s remember to spend some quality time with our dogs each evening when we return home from work, and let them know that they will always be our favorite co-worker. 😊

Let us help! Give us a call at (804)672-2200, Glen Allen, or our South Richmond location at (804)794-5400!

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