There's no doubt that some breeds and types of dog, and some individuals, bond easier and more strongly than others, but with a few simple and fun changes to your dog's routine and care, you can easily have the relationship with your dog that you envy so much when you see it in others. Firstly, be realistic. Take a look at your dog and think about what breed or type he is, and also what kind of individual he is. This will give you some very clear indications of what his view of a strong bond is. Dogs are just like people - everyone has their own way of being close to someone else. Some people are very demonstrative and touchy-feely, and so are happy to express their love in that way. Others are more reserved, a little more independent, and more cerebral, but it doesn't mean they feel any less - they just show it differently. Relationships end up in trouble when one partner wants the other to express their love in a way that doesn't coincide with their personalities.
Often people complain that their dogs aren't bonded to them because they don't follow them around everywhere they go, and don't sit on them at every opportunity, like their friend's spaniel does - but love isn't always clingy. Sometimes you have a better relationship with someone who wants to be with you rather than needs to. How can you tell if your dog is bonded to you? Firstly, you just feel it. But if you're not sure, ask yourself these questions. Does your dog watch you to see where you're going and what you're doing? Does he check in with you regularly (especially when he's out and off-lead)? If he's uncertain or in a strange situation, does he look at you to see how you want him to behave? Does he listen to you when you ask him to do something? Does he trust you - and do you trust him? If you can answer yes to all or most of these questions, then you should have no doubt that your dog is bonded to you.
Whether or not he clings to you, is overly affectionate, or his world ends when you leave, he looks to you as a key part of his life. If you answered no to some or most of these questions, there's some work to do on your relationship - and Your Dog is here to help. Some of these ways will work better with some dogs than others. Take the things that work for you and use them to make the bond you have with your dog something for others to envy.
Back to his roots
Every dog is different, so take some time to think about what your dog was originally bred to do. This will give you some very clear pointers about what his idea of a perfect relationship is. It will also give you some very clear ideas about who he actually is. Partnerships go both ways, and there's no point feeling negatively towards your dog because he doesn't come back when you call him (and he's a Beagle), or if he isn't an agility champion (and he's a Basset Hound), or he doesn't enjoy 10km hill walks (and he's a Pug). Recognise him for what he is, where his strengths lie, and celebrate those. Think about these points before you even get your dog - make sure you're compatible.
Many people get it wrong with regards to giving and receiving affection. It can't be said often enough: most dogs do not enjoy being hugged and cuddled. It's not natural dog behaviour. They can learn to like it (and if you're the sort of owner who enjoys cuddling, or has children who do, you absolutely should teach them to enjoy it), and there are some dogs who do actively enjoy it - but it's probably the number one cause of people (especially children) getting bitten, or dogs avoiding their owners' touch. Watch your dog when you approach him and touch him - does he lean into you and enjoy your hands touching him, or does he lean or move away, duck from your hands, or just look like he's putting up with it? Far too many people force their affections on their dogs, rather than taking time to learn what they actually enjoy, resulting in their pets avoiding interacting with them.
People who say their dog doesn't like them touching him might find that if they offered bottom scratches instead of full-body hugs, their dog would love to interact more with them, start to solicit the affection he's comfortable with, and both of them would feel better about their relationship.
The number one thing that people can do to improve their relationship with their dogs is to look at the amount and type of exercise they do together. Most dogs do not get the exercise they need to keep them healthy and happy. This means they're bored, frustrated, and stressed, with far too much untapped energy - and you can't have a good relationship with anyone who is permanently frustrated and stressed.
Dogs - no matter what size, shape, or breed - need exercise every single day. Those breeds or types who were bred to work all day (herding dogs, gundogs, working dogs, and some terriers and hounds) need well over an hour's daily exercise, including free running and mental stimulation, in order to be happy and healthy. Not only do dogs need plenty of daily exercise, they also need the right type. First of all, this means interacting with you. Too many people plod around for an hour ignoring their dogs, talking on their mobile phones, listening to their iPods, or thinking about other things, rather than using it as the dogs' time. Use your exercise time to play, interact, and bond. Not only does this help your relationship, and improve your dog's recall because he's more focused on you, but it also means that walks become mental stimulation as well as physical for him. Exercise should be something you do with your dog, not to him.
If you have the kind of dog who likes to stalk and chase things, or a retriever, take a toy to throw for him to retrieve so you can play the games his brain tells him he is hard-wired to do. If he's a terrier or likes to hunt things, take a tuggy toy to play with - both for fun and as a reward for staying with you. Don't think that you shouldn't play tuggy games with dogs who get overly enthusiastic - these are the ones who crave it the most - just make sure you first teach him how to ‘Leave'. For scent hounds, try laying a trail for him to follow. These hard-wired behaviours are the things that your dog finds self-rewarding, and when he does them his brain releases the feel-good chemicals he needs to keep him healthy and happy.
He doesn't just like doing these things, he needs to do them - and you need to make sure you give him the chance to do them. It's far better that he does them with you when you're in control of them, rather than he goes self-employed and starts rounding up your children, hunting small animals, digging up your prized fl ower beds, or terrorising the postman. Always have some treats with you so you can reward his good behaviour, and make him feel more positive about being with you.
Use the things you find when you're out and about to have fun with. Jumping over fallen trees, and hiding in the undergrowth, is all great fun as long as it's safe. Try making yourself more exciting when you're out. Don't just plod along at your usual boring pace, but try running and see how much fun your dog finds you. In short, just have fun when you're out with your dog. Remember, the couple that plays together, stays together - and it's as true of dogs as it is of people. If you haven't trained your dog to come back when you call him off-lead yet, or you can't let him off the lead for other reasons, you'll have to work a little harder to make sure he gets all the exercise he needs - but still make it fun. Don't think that on-lead walks have to be a plod about.
Discover what your dog really enjoys doing, and make sure you're the one who provides him with that, rather than him having to have all his fun solo. That's the very best way to improve the relationship between you.