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Published: Dec 31, 2012

If you are a first-time dog owner headed to the shelter to pick out a canine companion, you may be feeling both nervous and excited. There are plenty of dogs who need loving homes and will likely be thrilled to join your family. Still, establishing a solid bond with your pet may take time and effort.

While puppies are often easier to bond with, establishing a strong relationship with an adult dog that you adopt can be extremely rewarding. Here is what you need to know to build a solid base with your new friend.

What is bonding with dogs?
Everything you do with your dog, from walking and playing to eating and cuddling, establishes a bond between you. Dogs have an innate willingness to please humans and a natural sense of order, which means they look to you for consistent leadership and care. If you understand the way your dog sees you as her leader, you will be better able to help her develop to her full potential and establish a strong bond.

Stroking, petting and dog grooming are all ways to bond with a canine, as well as time spent being active outside and in training sessions. Training with positive reinforcement - whether teaching her behavior basics or working on agility techniques - is one of the best ways to build a bond with your dog, because it builds her confidence and helps her establish her place in your "pack" - whether it's just you and her or a number of other family members.

Bonding with a puppy
When puppies leave their mothers at 8 weeks old, they are anxious to trust and bond, looking for a leader to guide them - this makes the bonding process easy and natural for most owners, Animal Planet reports. Although raising puppies usually means an easy bonding experience, it's also especially important to stay calm, patient and consistent in your training, since puppies are incredibly impressionable. The best way to strengthen your bond with your puppy is to boost her confidence with gentle puppy training and straightforward expectations - positive reinforcement and a stern "no" are sufficient in teaching her how to behave.

Bonding with an adult dog
The difficulty of establishing a bond with an adult dog depends entirely on her upbringing. As we already learned, puppies are incredibly impressionable and easily intimidated, and if your dog was improperly treated as a pup, she may be fearful, anxious and slow to trust you. Other adoptable dogs will easily accept you as their new pack leader and bond quickly. Animal Planet recommends learning as much about a dog's early life as possible before bringing her home, so you will know what to expect and what types of training techniques will work the best to ease her out of her fear. This will also help you avoid accidentally repeating any traumatic experiences she may have had in the past.

The best way to start bonding with an adult dog is to establish your leadership in a non-confrontational way, carve out a routine early on and always encourage positive behavior with treats and praise.