Dogs are a man's best friend indeed, but you can't build those bonds overnight. Some dogs, especially rescues, may have had bad past experiences or a timid attitude around people they don't know well. Uncover the secret tricks to build trust and learn how to get a new dog to love you.
You may have adopted a new pup that has a little trouble warming up and you feel a bit burnt that you're not instant best friends.
Or perhaps your friend or neighbor brings a dog around that won't give you the time of day or, worse yet, actively dislikes you.
We know dogs to be one of our closest non-human friends - we can be so tightly knit together that we may begin to think of them as human. But this is not the case from day one.
Relationships don't build overnight, whether they’re with humans or fur friends. They require much time and effort to slowly grow into a flourishing bond.
To deepen your bond with that special dog in your life, we're sharing our best tips to get a scared dog to open up and bond with you.
Getting a Dog to Trust: Knowing Where to Start
Before you begin to use our tips to grow and improve your bond with that special dog in your life, you need to assess the current status of your relationship.
Not all of these tips will work on a dog too scared of you to be near you.
And some of these tips are meant for the absolute dead-end starting point and are only worthwhile to use on dogs that are afraid of you.
Reading dog behavior is relatively simple. The next time you're around the dog, take note of their general level of comfort around you - are they cowering, growling, or using other body language that seems to point to fear?
Our first level of bonding tips shows you how to get a scared dog to like you slowly while keeping you both in a safe space.
Once you develop that trust, or if you have some essential confidence with the pup already, move onto the second level of tips.
How to Get a New Dog to Love You
Level 1: Tips for Bonding With a Scared Dog
These are the best methods to work with a timid dog to develop trust between the two of you safely.
If you ever feel that a dog's fear makes them dangerous to be around, consult a professional trainer who will assess the situation and move forward accordingly.
#1: Take it Slow.
When dogs have an emotional fear response to a person or thing, their bodies have the same anxious reaction as humans - the chemicals in their brain put their bodies on high alert, and they become over-reactive to stimuli.
This is why it's important to move very slowly around a nervous dog. If you're standing up or sitting down, do so much slower than you usually would.
If the dog isn't facing you while you're moving, you need to use something other than body language, so you don't startle and frighten them. Try lightly coughing before you get into close range with the pup to avoid an adverse reaction.
#2: Don't Overdo the Eye Contact.
Eye contact can strengthen our bond with other humans, but dogs and other animals do not like prolonged eye contact, especially with someone they don't trust.
Dogs see prolonged eye contact with others as a threat, and staring at them for too long may provoke a dog to attack you.
Approach a timid dog in an arc so that you aren't looking at each other head-on for too long. If the dog is terrified, don't approach them at all.
#3: Turn to the Side.
Scared dogs don't like the confrontation of a face-to-face meeting with a stranger.
Try kneeling with your side facing the dog and wait for the dog to come to you. They may feel comfortable enough to approach others from the side instead of straight on, which feels less intimidating.
Beware of facing away from a timid dog that shows potentially aggressive or dangerous behavior, as they may see this as an opportunity to harm.
#4: Test Out Some Talking.
Sometimes a timid dog loves it when you speak to them in a soft tone, while others don't care for it at all.
Try out some soft "baby talk" with the pup and see how they respond - their body language will say a lot.
If they seem to perk up and enjoy the talk, continue, but if not, drop the talking as it may be agitating for them.
#5: Let Them Come to You.
This one will be tough to endure because one of our best tips is to do nothing and wait for the dog to come around.
If you're sharing a space with a fearful dog, ignoring them can be the best way to help them feel less threatened. In their minds, they think that if you don't care that they're there, you likely aren't going to bother trying to hurt them, either.
Try sharing some space with the pup and leaving them alone. If the dog approaches you, drop some treats on the ground, but don't look at them or provide much more yet - the treats will do the talking for now.
As time goes on, you can begin to acknowledge them more, but only as they start to recognize and trust you more. It's a long game, but the payoff is big.
#6: Try Some Treat Exercises.
Dogs are very food motivated. If we use food in our bonding techniques, they're likely to learn to tolerate us a lot more quickly.
And once they tolerate us, they leave the door open for us to start bonding further. Are we tracking them? Sure, but it's handy and for the greater good!
This easy treat-based technique requires a few treats and a dog bowl or plate. Place the bowl at a midpoint between you and the pup.
Walk up to the bowl, place a treat in it, then walk back to your starting point. Wait for the dog to grab and eat the treat. If they won't walk to the bowl, it's too close to you; try moving back a few steps.
Continue this game regularly, slowly bringing the bowl closer to you as the dog becomes more comfortable. They'll learn that approaching you means getting food, and this positive association will help them build trust with you.
Level 2: Tips to Deepen Your Bond
Once you develop some trust with your pup, move on to these tips below to further deepen your bond.
#7: Use Consistent Training Signals.
Training your dog is only as effective as your approach, and as much as they can resist, dogs thrive in a well-trained home, with you as the alpha, their protector and boss.
Dogs notice physical cues over verbal ones, so incorporate hand gestures with your verbal cues and keep them consistent. When a dog fully understands you, they'll feel closer to you.
#8: Give Them Good-Quality Food.
Remember what we said about dogs being food motivated? Pups appreciate a good meal, and they can absolutely tell the difference.
Home-cooked food and high-quality kibble will make a dog appreciate you, and they'll live a much healthier life, too.
#9: Be Their Emotional Anchor.
Dogs are deeply emotional creatures. They seem to pick up on our feelings even more quickly than we do, for better or worse.
Keep a calm mood around your dog at all times. If they're misbehaving or watching chaos ensue around them and you begin to freak out, the dog will get even more agitated.
They need to know you're okay so you can protect them from any potential threats.
#10: Give Them Lots of Loving.
Intimate touch is the easiest way to create a deep bond. Grooming and petting lower the stress levels in our dogs, leaving them more open to bond.
Pet your pup and snuggle up to them, so they begin to feel like an important member of your pack.
#11: Go For Long Walks.
Time outside is one of the most fulfilling and exciting times of any dog's day. Take your doggo out for a long nature walk, and you'll both enjoy sharing the fun time together.
Ample amounts of quality time together will build an everlasting bond.
#12: Make Them Feel Useful.
Dogs thrive in a world with a reliable order, and these pack animals live to be of service to the rest of the pack.
Command your dog to do tasks, even when they're not completely necessary. They give your pup a sense of purpose as they feel more needed by you.
#13: Let Them Sleep Near You.
Letting a dog into bed with you is met with controversial opinions, but research proves it's just fine and, in fact, beneficial for you both. Again, dogs are pack animals, so they thrive by being close to us and feeling mutual protection while they sleep.
Get a dog ramp for bed so your pup can come and go as they please - they likely won't stay in your bed all night as they strive for a little independence, too.
Final Notes: How To Make A Dog Love You
Use these tips to move your relationship with a dog from one of fear and discomfort to a loving and deep connection.
Every dog opens up at a different pace. Be patient if it's taking longer than you expect for a dog to warm up - like humans, some dogs are more protective and closed off than others.
But with time and perseverance, you can absolutely enjoy a closer bond with these sweet, furry friends.