NPM: Build an even better relationship with your dog


03 April 2024
With a bit of thought, you can build an even closer bond with your canine companion.

We’re celebrating National Pet Month! We’ve got loads of great content to share, as well as loads of fun including competitions exclusive to Your Dog. You can enter here!

Week two focuses on behaviour. Here, we share top tips to form an even closer bond with your beloved canine companion...

Once dogs are fully grown, and have settled into a routine, they can sometimes get left to their own devices. So, how can we use our time wisely to enrich our relationship even more?

A matter of trust

Gill Crawford is the owner of the K9 Pursuits Dog Day Care and Training Centre in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, and together with best friend and business partner Andrea Rogers, has formed close bonds with hundreds of dogs.

“Building and maintaining a good relationship with your dog starts as soon as you meet them,” advised Gill. “Dogs need to trust you to guide them and help them to make the right choices, and for you to help them if they don’t. Encourage understanding and be prepared to negotiate. For example, if my own dog becomes disengaged when we’re training or competing in heelwork to music, there’s no point in me getting frustrated and trying to make her carry on. I need to work out why she’s disengaged, or just respect the fact that she’s had enough.

“I have six dogs of my own, and also have to create a bond with all the dogs we have in for day care and training. Developing a relationship with multiple dogs is interesting, as each dog needs to be allowed to develop as an individual so they can grow, learn, and become the dog they are within.

“When it comes to creating a closer bond with your dog, my advice is to look at the things your dog enjoys doing and provide the opportunities to do them. We offer lots of different daily activities, such as scent work, swimming, agility, and one-to-one time, but the dogs will tell us what they like doing and we never force them to do anything they don’t want to. Listening to dogs is a skill, and to remind us we have a saying on the wall by the author Orhan Pamuk, which says: ‘Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen!’

“As carers we are there to support, nurture, and be a part of an amazing journey. When I see all the dogs arrive each day and watch them run towards me with their tails wagging, it’s the best feeling in the world!”

Food for thought

If we asked our dogs what would enrich their relationship with us, most would probably put food at the top of their list. Clearly, we are already feeding our dogs, but what can we do to make the experience even more enjoyable?

Your Dog contributor and canine nutritionist Dr Jacqueline Boyd has some great ideas, and thankfully they don’t involve going out and buying expensive pieces of steak!

“When it comes to your dog’s enjoyment of food, it’s probably more important to think about how you feed rather than what you feed,” she advised.

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“You can use food enrichment techniques to make feeding fun, although it’s not advisable to use these techniques at every meal, so that dogs end up working for every morsel of food they consume. Dogs should also be able to just enjoy having their food put down in a bowl and be left to eat in peace. A good balance needs to be struck to ensure that food enrichment is beneficial.

“One technique is hand feeding. You can incorporate this with some fun moves such as asking the dog for a twist or a spin and then feed, or perhaps lure him through your legs and then feed. Mix things up, be creative, and have fun together.

“Another thing to try is scatter feeding, which can be done indoors as well as out. Simply throw some food around and then work with your dog to explore the area and help him find it. Working with scents and getting involved with finding things can be really helpful, rather than just throwing food and leaving him to it — although that can be useful on occasions!

“Finally, why not take your dog for a visit to the pet shop and allow him to mooch around and choose some new food treats? Seeing our dogs enjoying themselves is always fun. It’s a bit like taking a child to the sweet shop, and your dog will enjoy all the new sights, sounds, and smells as well as the treats he chooses."

Play time

The relationship we have with our dogs can be greatly enriched through play. Lincolnshire based dog trainer Craig Ogilvie, who together with his wife, Marita, owns Ogilvie Dog Training Centre, near Bourne said: “I’m a great advocate of how interactive play can enhance the bond between dog and handler. Because of this I developed an interactive play system, and wrote a book called ‘The Interactive Play Guide’. My system is created layer by layer, and the first step is to work on the dog’s ability to chase consistently. All dogs have a natural chase reflex, which is something we can tap into. By choosing the right toy for them, so they will consistently chase and pick it up, we can show them that the game is back with us.

“Non-verbal communication is also very important. If we talk too much when our dog is in a heightened state of arousal, perhaps because he’s seen another dog in the distance who he wants to play with, our voices can just become white noise that doesn’t register with him. I teach handlers how to interact and communicate with their dogs non-verbally when their dog is highly aroused and motivated by play. By capitalising on those golden moments, you can begin to build an amazing relationship, whether this is for sport or simply to have more fun with your pet dog.”

*For more information, visit

Pamper time

As well as the excitement and fun of play, it’s nice to treat your dog to some quiet pampering as another way to enhance the bond between you. Anna Pollard, owner of The Dog House luxury grooming salon in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, said: “The best way to develop a positive grooming experience at home is to create a dedicated clear place where brushing happens. Set up a grooming station, which could be on a surface such as a table or worktop, but always ensure it is a safe distance from anything hot or breakable, and never leave your dog unattended. Schedule the grooming for when nothing else exciting is due to happen, such as feeding, walks, or someone arriving home from work.

“You can make the surface non-slip by adding something such as a yoga mat to help your dog feel happier and more secure. By creating this grooming station, you avoid confusion with play time on the floor and allow the dog to associate it with the calmness of being groomed.  

“To make the session really enjoyable it’s a great idea to use a lick mat or a longer lasting treat to help keep your dog occupied. Dogs will soon associate this positive treat with the positive bonding experience of being groomed.

“While grooming, allow your dog to relax into and enjoy the experience. It doesn’t have to be a mammoth session — just five minutes here or there when you’re not distracted by screens, phones, TVs, or children will be valuable time devoted just to your dog.”

12 ways to boost your bond with your dog.

*Play together — even five minutes of fun when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil will be enjoyed.
*Try trick training using high-value rewards.
*Find new walks and sometimes allow your dog to choose the direction.
*Slow down! Sit together for a few minutes and watch the world go by.
*Play interactive puzzle games — check online for ideas.
*Learn canine body language and listen to what your dog is trying to tell you.
*Respect your dog’s decisions so he learns to trust that you will keep him safe.
*Be consistent. Don’t confuse your dog by reacting angrily to poor decisions.
*Spend some time using food enrichment techniques.
*If your dog enjoys being handled, learn gentle massage or TTouch techniques.
*Make grooming sessions gentle, relaxed, and fun.

If you have more than one dog, give them each one-to-one attention and walks from time to time.