21 November

Why Bonding Is About So Much More Than Cute

by Jon Katz

Zinnia and I are bonding, as I’ve been writing. Maria has been kind enough to try to document the process in photos. This morning, I picked Zinnia up to say hello, and she just put her head down and went to sleep.

I guess we are bonding; I have a benign sort of Grandpa look in this photo. Maria says it is happiness. It did feel pretty good. I am happy Zinnia and I are bonding, which Why suggests we will have a meaningful and loving life together.

When a dog naps under your feet, he or she is trusting you.

Bonding is cute, but it is also more than that. It leads to better training and an easier and happier life together. Hunting, therapy work, agility, K-9, and search and rescue work,  herding, and farm work are all dependent on human-dog bonding.

Bonding comes in many ways – feeding, training, exercising, playing, working together. I see that when I write, Zinnia likes to go and lie down next to me. She senses that this is one part of our work together, and work is often bonding for dogs and people.

There are clear signs of bonding: eye contact, the dog infrequently checking with a human, happiness to see us, an ability to relax with a person, listening to a person, seeking a person out for affection or attention.  As the photo suggests, if Zinnia can fall asleep like that in my arms, she trusts me.

It also helps that I feed her and train her. Both are bonding exercises. Dogs tend to love the person who feeds them and pays close attention to them. That makes training much more manageable.

The training itself is bonding; effective training can’t be done in four weeks of classes at Petsmart; it goes on throughout the life of the dog.

Quite often, dogs will bond with other dogs rather than people if the person doesn’t find a way to spend time along with the dog or train and walk or exercise them.

Bonding takes to love a step further. A bonded dog-human relationship is one that’s steeped in equal parts of mutual trust and respect.

It took Bud a year to bond with Maria and me, and even then, he can be tentative and fearful, it was clear when he came that he had never bonded with a human being, especially a male.

A strong bond is essentially the glue of your relationship. It’s what keeps your dog from running away without a backward glance when you forget to shut the front door,  or aren’t paying attention on a walk. It’s the reason he listens when you ask him to do something.

The bond between a dog and a human encourages attentiveness, good manners, and partnership. I insist that my dogs respect my work and my dignity. People tell me all the time how their Labs chewed up their sofas, chairs, and carpets, almost as if they are proud of how destructive they can be.

Those are the kinds of Labs I choose not to live with. I think we all know Labs, who are ball addicts and house wreckers. This is one reason I am devoted to crates for training.

That won’ t happen here. I won’t permit it. It’s a dignity question, and it has never happened to me or any house I’ve lived in with Labs or other breeds. That’s the great danger of treating dogs like furbabies or pathetic abused creatures. We can quickly lose their respect.

Biologists say that bonded dogs tune into human language, and read our moods more intuitively than was once thought. I am already working in dog therapy work with Zinnia, she looks at me for direction, and I respond by pointing to a person who wants to see her, and saying “Zinnia, go see Wayne,” and then praising her when she does.

It’s vital to see training as a lifelong process. Also, I need to remember to praise Zinnia long after she is trained in basic obedience and is no longer a puppy. Dogs need positive reinforcement and appreciation for all of their lives; it is essential to deepening our bonds with them.

It’s also essential to be unpredictable, to walk in different places, train in different ways,  keep the dog guessing and paying attention a bit, they get bored and disinterested just like we do.

I feel very good about my bonding with Zinnia so far. She is a working dog, and more intuitive than I would expect her to build at nine weeks. My challenge is to build on this, not to get lazy, arrogant, or smug.

I’ll write more on bonding as it hopefully develops. Zinnia loves to work with me, that’s a great sign.


  1. Zinnia a bundle of grace meant for you, someone who will receive the gift and help it to be multiplied in the lives of others who need it. This sweet bonding is in a very real way a vindication of who you are…you don’t need to prove a thing. It’s a beautiful thing.

  2. I agree 100% with everything you wrote. I am on my 4th Lab & i have never had a problem with destructive behavior. Training never stops. I also do in home dog sitting & i have positively bonded with every dog i watch. Zinnia is beautiful. My yellow lab was very intelligent & easy to train.

  3. Zinnia has some “competition.” In Oct. I brought home an Aussie Labradoodle puppy, 4 mo old. Took your advice and found a reputable breeder east of Columbus, OH. He will be a medium size, up to 45 lbs., because realistically I can’t handle an 80 lb dog. He had already worked with a trainer; I follow her training tips which she printed out. The next thing is to enroll him in a very good training program, referenced from a local dog owner. Every time I look at Lucas I smile; he is adorable, and we are bonding. Am planning on us being a pet therapy team, hopefully to work with children in some way. Glad Zinnia is in your and Maria’s life, and that Lucas is in mine.

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