I want to preface this by giving credit to Mike Ritland of Team Dog and Alicia Morrison Scholet of Fulton Strong K9 for the ideas and concepts presented below. Thank you.

Why Bond?

All training starts with bond. Think about it this way: If you were suddenly transported to a stranger’s house, and they immediately demanded that you work for them, how would you respond? Likely not in a favorable manner. Our dogs are no different — we need to make an emotional connection with them before we ask them to work for us or with us. Mike Ritland said it best:

“Owners must respect, protect, and care for their dogs and provide a stable environment. But most of all they must make an emotional connection. A dog does not know that you wrote a check for $100,000 and now expect it to love you. And why would it lay down its life for you if it doesn’t even like you? So you must do what humans and canines have been doing for ages: Bond”.

Every time we interact with our dogs throughout the day, we are constantly communicating with them. If your dog brings you a ball to play, what is your response? Do you take the time to acknowledge them and play with them, or do you push them away to scroll on your phone? By pushing our dogs away, we reduce the chances that they will bond with us, and will look elsewhere for affection. Training and bonding with our dogs is a fluid story that is told over the years of the dog’s life — not formal training sessions for 15 minutes a day twice a day. 

My Bond With Seabee


When I got Seabee at 8 weeks old, I did absolutely ZERO formal training with him for six weeks. I’d mark and reward if he did something I wanted (ie sit / down), but I didn’t ask for any behaviors until I felt that I had a solid bond with him. I did potty train him, but I don’t consider that to be “formal training” — that was more teaching him the rules of the house, and responding when he told me that he needed to go outside and relieve himself. His formal training didn’t start until we got to “Auntie Alicia’s” (Alicia Scholet of Fulton Strong K9 services). I wanted to start him off 100% on the right paw, which (for me) meant learning a totally different way of training — one that started with bond first.

Since that first session, I’ve completely adopted that mindset, and as a result, have a dog that’s willing to do anything with me, for me, go anywhere with me, at any time of the day or night. We’ve gone paddleboarding, swimming, explored beaches, forests, rock piles, and more — and we’re just getting started. I’ve given him confidence, and shown him that we’re a team tackling anything life throws at us.

Exercises To Increase Bond

There are a number of ways we can improve the bond with our dogs, and none of them require extra toys, chews, or special foods — just our willingness to be in the moment with our dogs.

  • Spend time on their level. Get down on the floor with them, and lie with them. Pet them slowly and softly, and speak to them calmly. Watch their breathing, their body position, etc — get to know them on a deeper level, and enjoy the moment with them.
  • Bring them their toys! If our dogs are laying around or doing something else (other than eating or drinking), go into their toy box and bring them a toy! When they take it, rub their head and tell them they’re a good boy / girl for sharing with you! Squeak the toy while it’s in their mouth, or tug lightly on it to activate it.
  • Spend time away from the screen. Our dogs want to spend time with us, not with the black box we hold in our hands, or the one that sits on our desk, or the one in our living room that we stare at in the evenings. If we catch ourselves staring at a screen for too long, those could be precious moments where we could be bonding with our dog.
  • Simply be with them in the moment and ignore everything else around us. This will release oxytocin (aka “the bonding hormone,”), and will reinforce our bond with our dogs.

The Path Forward

Dogs are sentient beings that truly want to be with us and engage with us, and it’s up to us as their stewards and caretakers to nurture this relationship. When we are interacting with our dogs, we are bonding with our dogs. Our dog’s relationship is formed from our time spent with each other, not just what you provide for them (ie food or water).Dogs need guidance and attention, and they need us to accept them and nurture them.

Bond comes from the interactions we have with them — playing ball, going on walks, and exploring the world together. In order to nurture a strong bond, we need to put in the time with our dogs all day every day — not just “when we feel like it.” If we put our dogs last on the priority list inside the household, they will likely respond with “bad” behaviors such as getting into the trash, not listening to commands, etc. When that happens, I strongly recommend looking at what you’re doing (or not doing) — are you taking the dog out enough and exhausting them mentally and physically? What’s the maintaining behavior function? A weak bond is our fault, not the dog’s fault.

I definitely understand that work can take time away from our dogs, but at the same time, we need to learn when to say “no” to work, and “yes!” to our dogs. It’s recommended that we get up and move every hour — we can take those ten minutes and squeeze in a training session, or go outside with our dogs and enjoy the weather as they sniff the grass. It’s definitely possible to nurture a strong bond even with life’s myriad other responsibilities; we need to carve out the time and prioritize that interaction just like we would with any other family member.