Staffy dog giving paw to owner

Tips to earn a dog's trust

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How to earn a dog’s trust for a healthy and happy relationship

By Zoë Monk Content Writer

Updated on the

The most important part of your relationship with your dog is trust. Your dog trusts that they will always be taken care of, loved, fed, walked and looked after.

Many people assume a dog will automatically trust them. But this isn’t always true. While many dogs do bond easily, earning trust can take some time, particularly with rescue dogs.

It may seem natural for us to approach dogs just as we do humans, with eye contact, a big smile and outstretched hand. But to build a relationship with a dog, or even just have a one-off interaction, it must be approached with care and patience.

How to get a dog to trust you?

You’ve probably had the experience of asking an owner if you can stroke their dog. But instead of responding positively, the dog ignores you or simply runs off. It’s easy to take this kind of reaction personally and think that the dog doesn’t like you. When human strangers meet for the first time, they will likely introduce themselves and shake hands. However, dogs don’t have this same rule when they encounter an unfamiliar dog or human.

Whether you are meeting a friend’s dog for the first time or bringing a new dog home to join your family pack, there are several things you can do to earn a dog’s trust.

Stay calm

People often greet a dog with a lot of excited energy. But if you approach them in this way, it can make the dog feel over-excited or trigger their fight or flight instinct. So keep calm and speak softly to the dog.

Respect their space

When you ask a stranger if you can greet their dog, look and talk to the owner, not the dog. Until the owner gives you permission to approach the dog, make sure you give the pup plenty of space.

Get on the dog’s level

Never approach a dog from the front, instead always approach them from the side. Kneel down by the dog and face the same direction. This puts you in the dog’s personal space but in a non-confrontational way. While still not making eye contact with the dog, hold your hand down in a fist.

Let the dog come to you

When a dog comes to you, they are letting you know they are interested. If they sniff your hand and sits calmly, then you can give them a stroke and a fuss. But only stroke the front of their chest. Don’t attempt to touch an unfamiliar dog from above. If they lick your hand then this is a sign they accept you. If they turn their head away or ignores you however, then the dog isn’t interested.

Go for a walk

Once your new dog is a member of your family pack, the best way to earn a dog’s trust is to take them on dog walks. This shows them that you are the pack leader and you will be the one to give them direction and protection. Maintain a calm but assertive and confident approach and your new canine companion will feel safe whenever they are with you.

How to earn the trust of a dog that was abused?

If you are going to adopt a dog you will need to follow this process above for a while, even when the dog has joined your household. But taking on a rescue dog can be even more of a challenge, especially if they have existing issues. You need to build trust with your new pup and work on improving their confidence. Here are some tips to help you to get your new rescue dog to trust you.

  • Stay calm
  • Have realistic expectations (and lots of patience)
  • Get into a routine quickly
  • Give them some quiet alone time with you
  • Have lots of treats for rewards
  • Give them high-quality dog food
  • Give them lots of playtime

Take them out on regular walks to different places

It takes a big heart and a lot of patience to adopt a dog that has been abused. But there isn’t anything much more rewarding than bringing the job back to such a dog. it’s more than worth all the time, effort and patience to earn their trust.

How to regain my dog’s trust?

If something has happened for you to lose your dog’s trust then it’s important to work on getting your relationship with your pup back on track as soon as possible. Keep all interactions positive and gentle between you and your pup, using praise, rewards and obedience training to encourage your dog to bond with you.

Stay calm and positive

Sit quietly with your dog and don’t force exchanges with them. Simply let them come to you. Whenever they come and sit calmly near you, reward them with treats. If your pup looks aggressive, shy or even fearful, then simply ignore them. Repeat this exercise each day for at least 15 minutes. You can eventually focus on rewarding the dog when they move closer to you until they happily sit next to you or in your lap.

Bond through play

Dogs love playing, so get your pup engaged in a game you know they enjoy. If they growl at you or try to nip you during play, immediately stop the game and leave the room to give your dog time out for two to three minutes. This teaches your dog that aggressive behaviour is not acceptable and enables you to calm down.

Dog training

Use obedience training sessions to teach your pup basic obedience commands with positive reinforcement and rewards when they display the behaviour you want. Learning obedience commands will boost your pup’s confidence when they are around you and help you to earn your dog’s trust.

Knowing how to earn a dog’s trust

Trust is at the heart of most loving, respectful and long-lasting relationships in the human world. In the canine world it’s not much different. Being able to earn a dog’s trust may not always come as quickly and easy as we would like, but the benefits of developing that loving bond with your canine companion will make all the time and effort you put in well worth it.

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