Bonding with your pet – in 5 ways

Bonding with your pet is absolutely key to developing a mutual understanding and a healthy and happy relationship. We spoke to Animal Behaviourist, Megan van Schoor, and asked her to share her expertise on why bonding with your cat or dog is so important and the best ways to do this!

Bonding is key to a great relationship
The closer the bond between you and your pet, the greater the trust between you. Bonding brings with it much-needed physical and mental stimulation, excitement, clear lines of communication and it lays the foundation for a long-lasting, joy-giving relationship.

Below are 5 ways in which to bond with your pet:

  • Play, play, play
  • Bonding outdoors with your pet
  • Rewarding good behaviour
  • Preparing your pet for vet visits
  • Plenty of cuddles and grooming

1. Play, play, play
Arguably the best way to bond with your pet is through play! Play is a chance to have quality time with your pet and give them undivided attention. But it is more than this, play allows dogs and cats to learn important boundaries. For example, play gives you the chance to correct behaviour very early on like scratching or nipping – in many ways, playtime is the foundation of training. So, you might need to practice a firm ‘no’ if your puppy gets a little too rough or, if they persist, end the game and walk away to help get the message across.

When and what to play
Pets can often be most active in the evenings when you might find they tear around the house. This is the perfect time to channel their energy positively and avoid the formation of bad habits.

Teach brain games such as search and hide-and-seek, or play a lively game of catch to use up that excess energy.

If you need to help your pet avoid certain behaviours, there are also games and toys that will assist with this. If your puppy is biting your ankles, use a rope toy to redirect their attention. If your collie pup has started chasing cars at the fence, redirect the behaviour with a game of fetch and a squeaky ball (curb the behaviour before it becomes a problem). At all times of play, communicate with your pet – use clear instructions and praise.

Recommended toys
Every pet is different and has their own likes and dislikes so experiment with different toys. For example, breeds like Siamese cats, Retrievers, Collies and Terriers often like balls and squeak toys, whereas Maine Coon, Persian and Burmese prefer feather danglers; and bully dog breeds like durable rope toys. Below are some toys for you to consider:

Rope or tug toys, like the Gigwi Dinoball EDGE with strap or the Alien Flex Cotton Candyman.
Balls, like the Gigwi Edge Flash LED Ball or Gigwi Original Balls.
Frisbees, such as the Gigwi Flying Tug or the Rogz Flying Object Throwing Disc.
Squeaker toys – choose from the Alien Flex Plush Squeaker toy range for dogs or the Gigwi Melody Chaser for cats.

Treat-stuffing toys, such as the Rogz Tumbler Treat Dispenser or Rogz Yumz.
Chasing or teasing toys for cats, like a laser toy (but avoid playing lasers with dogs as it can lead to light chasing, an OCD disorder), or the Gigwi Feather Teaser Wand.
A great idea is to put the toys away after their playtime and rotate them which will help them last longer and keep your pet excited.

Toy maintenance
Remember to check all toys before and after playtime. Make sure they are in good condition and replace them with new toys if they start to fray, crack or break. Also give soft and rope toys a good wash to prevent any bacterial build-up. Toys really do get put through their paces.

2. Bonding outdoors with your pet!
All dogs, and even some cats, love the outdoors. Exercise is critical to your pet’s well-being. Spending time in a new environment, be it at the beach or the local park, is good for both their mental and physical health.

Bonding through regular exercise
Bonding through exercise gives you an opportunity to teach your dog to listen to you even when out and about in different environments with loads of distractions. Cats who aren’t free to roam can also enjoy a walk (it helps them satisfy their wanderlust), if they are introduced to a cat harness from an early age.

The amount of exercise each pet needs can depend on their breed, living conditions and age. But, generally speaking, walking regularly with your pet is a superb way to help him/her get rid of excess energy and keep their weight under control.

Recommended products for the outdoors
Some pet parents have difficulty taking their dog for a walk because of leash pulling or reactivity to other dogs. Training here is key (head this way for more guidance on training) and there are also some great products on the market that will help with a more pleasant experience.

A top quality lead and collar – view a wide range across premium brands for every type of cat or dog.
Water dispenser – view some great options from Olly & Max like the Leaf Folding water bottle or the Collapsible Pet Travel Bowl.

Waste bags
And remember, no dog should be off their lead unless their pet parents have full control over them and can reliably call them back. So practice, practice and practice and don’t hesitate to get in touch with an animal behaviourist if you need help.

3. Rewarding good behaviour
A well behaved pet is a pleasure, a pet who doesn’t listen and behaves ‘badly’ can be a source of stress for their owner.

Rewarding good behaviour (and reacting to bad behaviour) is an important part of bonding and lets your pet know what you like and dislike (it opens the lines of communication). It’s important to remember that the things you reward them for early on will stay with your pet for life. So reward your pet for things like giving back toys, running back to you at the park, not barking when other dogs are barking, relaxing quietly, not scratching furniture and coming when called.

Rewards can be just a scratch behind the ear or using your voice to praise, but healthy treats are great too.

How to reward with treats
Treats for puppies and cats should be no larger than your pinky nail and treats for older dogs can be up to the size of your thumb, depending on the breed. Make sure you invest in healthy dog treats or cat treats so as to avoid any weight gain.

Biscuits should only be given as a once-off and should be avoided for training as 20+ biscuits a session will fill them up and spoil their appetite at meal time. Small pieces of lean dried meat are great. Liver is easy on the tummy for young pets and they also love the smell so they are more likely to work for it. Ostrich is a great low fat, hypoallergenic option for dogs prone to skin problems.

4. Preparing your pet for vet visits
There are some great ways to prepare your pet for visits to the vet so that they are not afraid or stressed out when the time comes. Taking time to prepare them is also a wonderful opportunity for bonding.

Pets often dislike being touched by the vet, particularly on their paw pads or tail. Get your pet used to this feeling by doing the following exercise while holding their favourite treat in front of their nose:

Start feeling firmly down each of your pet’s legs and check their nails and paw pads. Firmly stroke or massage down their back and, when you get to the tail, hold it firmly up for a few seconds. Lastly, look in your pet’s ears, eyes and mouth, opening their mouth like you’re giving them a tablet and then put the treat inside. If your pet is young or more sensitive, a treat can be given after each step.

For young pets, doing this every day will ensure they are far more comfortable with being handled when they need to visit the vet. For older pets, these steps also allow you to catch early signs of injury, ear infections or gum disease that you might otherwise miss.

When you do have to visit the vet, remember lots of praise and treats… and to remain as calm as possible to keep your pet relaxed and comfortable.

5. Plenty of cuddles and grooming!
Make time for plenty of cuddles with your pet, when he or she can spend one-on-one time with you. It helps them feel secure, comfortable and loved and this can only lead to better behaviour and greater trust.

Some pets love a firm touch with scratches all over, whilst cats can be content with a few gentle strokes. Pets should never be grabbed, held or petted forcefully especially by children; and dogs should not be touched without warning when they are asleep.

Use cuddle time as an opportunity to groom and bond
Cuddle time is the best time to bond with your pet through light grooming. Brushing deepens both the bond between you and your pet as well as your understanding of how their body and fur feels.

Short and medium haired pets can be brushed using a slicker or rubber brush to remove loose hair and dead skin. Pets with long hair or an undercoat will benefit from an undercoat rake to remove the soft downy hair that sheds, as well as detangle fur before it matts. Some dog and cat breeds are hairless and require wipe downs instead of brushing so it is important to research your dog or cat breed to find out the best way to groom them.