Dogs, like people, are individuals with their own personalities and experiences that affect their behavior. Although you might hope that your new dog will be your new best friend as soon as you get him home, unless you're bringing home a new puppy, you might need to be patient while he gets to know you and his new surroundings. Depending on the kind of life he's led up to this point, it might take him a while to decide he can trust you.
How Long Before a Dog Bonds with a New Owner?
It's easy to form an attachment with a young and healthy puppy. Puppies younger than 12 weeks of age usually bond with their new family members, including other household pets, almost immediately. As long as your puppy has no reason to attach unpleasant associations or negative consequences to you or any other family member, she should settle in quickly and start accepting you as her new pack.
Older dogs typically need more time to adjust to new people and new surroundings. A healthy, well-adjusted dog might take a few days or weeks to develop a bond of trust with his new owner. It's important to give him space and make him feel safe. As you spend time with your new dog, caring for him, playing with him and training him, the bond between you will develop and strengthen over time.
If you're bringing a new dog home from a rescue shelter, it's important to know her history. Many rescue dogs have traumatic backgrounds that include abuse, neglect or abandonment, and are shy, fearful and distrusting of humans as a result. Depending on the severity of the trauma, it could take weeks or even months for your dog to form an attachment in which she feels safe and secure in your presence. It's important not to rush the bonding process, but to be patient and give her the time and space that she needs to learn to trust you.
For a healthy, well-adjusted dog, time spent with him playing, going for walks and obedience training will help him form an attachment to you. Rewarding good behavior with affection and treats and calling down negative behavior with a firm tone without intimidating or hurting the dog will also help him learn to trust you and view you as the leader. For a rescue dog exhibiting shyness or fearful behavior, it's best not to force interaction. As much as it might tempt you, refrain from showering him with love and affection, and allow him to be the one to come to you and initiate contact. Do all that you can to minimize potentially scary situations and to provide a calm environment. Hand-feeding, if he'll accept it, is also a good way to build trust and foster attachment.
By Jean Marie Bauhaus
Fairhaven Veterinary Hospital: Puppy -- Getting Started and House Training Guide
Animal Planet Pets 101: Dogs: Bonding with Your New Dog
Golden State German Shepherd Rescue: After You Bring Your New Dog Home - The Adjustment Period
Homeward Trails Animal Rescue: Helping the Shy or Fearful Dog
About the Author
Jean Marie Bauhaus has been writing about a wide range of topics since 2000. Her articles have appeared on a number of popular websites, and she is also the author of two urban fantasy novels. She has a Bachelor of Science in social science from Rogers State University.