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How to Bond With Your Dog or Cat

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Contributed by Irith Bloom, faculty at Victoria Stilwell Academy and certified animal trainer with multiple certifications, including CPDT-KSA, CDBC, VSPDT, KPA CTP, and CBATI. 

Earn Your Dog’s Trust and Win Over Your Cat’s Heart

I was one of those children who always had a great way with animals. Pets who never greeted strangers somehow ended up in my lap. This wasn’t something I worked at consciously; it just happened.

Because of my way with animals (not to mention the work I do), first-time dog owners and first-time cat owners often ask me how to bond with your dog and how to get a cat to love you. I’ve gradually figured out the “secrets,” and they are things anyone can do—even first-time dog owners and first-time cat owners. Here are some suggestions for ways to gain your cat’s affection and your dog’s trust.

Let Animals Come to You

Most animals are not interested in saying hello to everyone they meet—especially since many people are a bit too forward. People may start out by petting a dog or cat roughly, giving her a hug, picking her up or kissing her. Imagine how you would feel if a complete stranger walked up, ruffled your hair, and then lifted you off your feet in a bear hug! It’s no wonder our dogs, cats and other pets are often wary of strangers.

When it comes to how to get a cat to like you, you may find the best technique is to pretend you are not interested in the cat at all. You know how cats always seem to gravitate towards the person who doesn’t like cats, or the one who’s allergic to cats? That’s because those people aren’t pushy about greeting cats, so the cats feel relaxed enough to approach.

The same thing works very well with how to bond with your dog, especially dogs who are a bit shy about strangers. If you just sit quietly talking to other people or reading a book, rather than focusing on the dog, the dog is much more likely to approach and sniff you.

This can be especially hard for first-time dog owners or first-time cat owners, but if you stop and think before reaching towards your cat or dog, you’ll get better results.

Pay Attention to the Animal’s Signals

Animals communicate through body language more than through sounds, so it pays to watch what they do as we interact with them. The signs are generally pretty obvious. For example, your cat might walk up to you, or she might walk away from you. If she’s walking away, chances are that she wants some space. Similarly, dogs who look away from us aren’t being rude; they’re asking for more space.

Respecting your pet’s wishes will help you learn how to bond with your dog, cat or other pet. Give animals space when they want it. Don’t chase them down. Let them walk away. When they do visit, offer them petting and attention, but give them a break at least once a minute to see if they want to be on their own for a little while.

If you’re dealing with an animal who is new to you, it’s best to take a break from petting at least once every 5 seconds so the animal has the option to walk away before she starts to get uncomfortable. Even if she does walk away, don’t fret! She’ll remember you gave her space and be more likely to come visit again.

It may seem counterintuitive, but when you let an animal decide whether or not to interact with you, the animal is much more likely to want to. It’s kind of like playing hard to get!

How to Bond With Your Dog or Cat: Training and Play

Play and positive reinforcement training help when it comes to how to bond with your dog, cat or other pet. It’s not all that important what you train or which games you play. The key is that you do the training and play in a way that your pet finds fun. For example, you might play tug with your dog using the Mammoth Cottonblend 5 Knot Dog Rope Toy, or you might choose to play fetch instead with a Chuckit! Classic Launcher and Chuckit! Ultra Rubber Ball Dog Toy. Both of these games can teach your dog that life is more fun when you’re around.

If you have a cat, there are many cat toys to choose from that’ll help form fun bonding experiences. Feather toys such as the KONG Active Feather Teaser Cat Toy can be a great option. Do your best to move the toy so that it moves similarly to the way a bird would—sometimes hopping on the ground, and other times swooping around overhead—and you’ll have your cat leaping around getting exercise while also having a great time. Other cats might enjoy chasing the light from a Petlinks Fun Beam Laser Cat Toy—just make sure you let the cat catch the dot at the end of the game, or you could wind up with a very frustrated cat.

Using Treats During Pet Training

During training, you can use treats such as Sojos Simply Turkey Freeze-Dried Dog Treats or Zuke’s Mini Naturals Chicken Recipe Dog Treats to reward your dog for doing the right behavior (or Whole Life Pure Chicken Originals to entice your cat to play). If your cat isn’t much into food, you can also strengthen your bond with your cat by pulling out the aforementioned bird cat toy to say “Thanks for coming when I called you,” for example.

Teaching your pet that being around you is fun—whether that’s because you do positive reinforcement training or because you are really good at chase games—goes a long way towards earning your dog’s trust and learning how to get a cat to like you. If you also make sure to give your pet the space she wants when she wants it, you will soon be your pet’s favorite person. A little thought goes a long way when it comes to making your dog or cat happy!

Irith Bloom