You did it. You went out and found the perfect new dog for your home, and now Sparky is sitting in the middle of the kitchen looking at you like you've just landed from the planet Venus, which we all know is full of cats, and you can't decide if he's licking his chops because he'd like to swallow you whole, or he wants a kiss. The false assumption most people make is that dogs and people bond automatically and all you have to do is bring Sparky home, and everything will work out perfectly. For some lucky people that's the case, but just as often, the new dog owner is left standing in the middle of the room wondering if they should run, or give Sparky a big hug.
Puppies vs. Older Dogs
People often believe that they must get a puppy because bonding will be automatic with a young dog. That is not necessarily true. The truth is that a young dog will feel more dependent on everything from you, possibly, more than an older dog, but a lot of that will depend on how the puppy was raised from birth until you bring him home. Puppies who come from a stable, loving environment that provides a safe place, how secure their life was in that home might affect how a puppy sees the world. Indeed the people around them can have a big effect on how quickly they bond, and what type of bonds they form with humans for the rest of their lives.
How hard it is to bond with an older dog is complicated as well. The experiences your new older dog has had in his life will reflect how he feels about people, and how quickly he will bond with you as his new "person." The fact is that any dog can adjust well to a new home, and love the people around them, but some may take more time and work than others. It helps greatly to know as much about your new dog's background as possible.
Steps to Help Create a Great Bond with Your New Dog
Keep things Positive. Remember first that dogs do not think like people do, and they don't see the things that they are doing as "bad." Punishing, screaming and yelling at your dog will only confuse and scare him whether he's young or old. The better solution is to avoid all possibilities where your new dog can get into trouble. Make sure you walk Sparky often. Young or old, when you first bring a new dog into your home, treat him as if he were a young pup who can't hold his body functions long. Take him out every hour, and praise him profusely when he does what he's supposed to do.
Remember, your home is unfamiliar territory when you first bring Sparky home. It's no wonder he's sitting in the middle of the kitchen eyeing you suspiciously, and licking his chops. Gently take him around, show him where he can sleep, as well as where the water and food bowls are.
Introduce Others Carefully. If you have other animals, especially other dogs in the house, try to introduce them to each other in a neutral place where they can get used to each other before they have to compete for food and water in your home. If Sparky is chewing on your favorite slippers when you get up in the morning, instead of flying off the handle, take them away firmly, say "no" and then happily offer him a better alternative.
When you find Sparky eliminating on the living room rug, don't go crazy. That will frighten and confuse him. Never, by the way, rub your dog's nose in an accident, or hit him for any reason what so ever. In fact, avoid acting negatively in any way. If Sparky is eliminating on the carpet, what you can do is get really, really mad - at yourself. If you are taking him out every hour, it's very unlikely he'll have anything left in him to do on the floor. If Sparky is chewing up your brand new loafers, take them from him, tell him "no," give him something appropriate to chew on (bone, chew toy, etc), and smack yourself with the slippers for leaving them out where he can find them before you've had enough time to establish ground rules in the home.
Things that Encourage Positive Bonding between You and Your Dog
Take Sparky out for a run, or walk around the block during playtime. Toss a Frisbee in the yard, or play ball. Lots of good, old-fashioned playing will do you both a world of good, and develop bonds of trust.
Enroll in a local training class (if Sparky is a baby, enter a puppy class when he's old enough). It doesn't have to be an obedience class, but basic obedience is very important and possibly life saving in dangerous situations. Any type of class will give you and your dog a positive focus on a constructive activity. Consider classes like agility, fly ball, or even dock diving. Whatever you find that you think both you and your dog will enjoy will encourage a great bond, and give your dog positive motivation and the confidence from learning to please you, and be active at the same time. Remember, a pooped Sparky isn't likely to be one who is going to be looking for things to get into at home.