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4 Fun and Easy Ways to Bond with A Senior Dog

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

Guest Blog by Robert Thomas, Founder of Marvelous Dogs

There is a persistent myth that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." To some, adopting a senior dog may seem like a challenge or a pure act of charity with no benefits to the owner. This is patently untrue, as adopting a senior dog can be just as fun and rewarding as adopting a young puppy, with the added bonus that a senior dog will likely come with a few tricks, training, and manners they have learned over the years. Most senior dogs coming through shelter doors were house pets before and already know the ground rules of chewing and where to go potty. Plus, adopting a senior dog is the best possible thing you can do for a pet that needs the love and care a thoughtful owner will provide. Senior dogs in shelters are just waiting to reciprocate that affection to someone who deserves it – you!

Check out all of the ways you can bond with a Senior Dog.

Take the time to get to know your dog.

Rescue dogs are all individuals, with their own natural quirks and learned behaviors. In the same way that forming a deep human friendship takes longer at 34 than at 4, building a relationship with a senior dog may take a little more time and effort than winning the trust of an eight-week-old puppy who has never known anything or anyone else. Patience is key here, as is putting in the work. Hanging out with your dog – playing, cuddling, going on walks – will help you get to know each other, as will working on obedience training, even if your dog already knows some commands. The goal here is to observe your dog in a lot of different settings and environments to get a feel for what they like and do not like – and to make sure one of the things they do like is spending time with you.

Talk to your dog.

No, talking to your pets does not make you crazy! It actually makes you a great pet owner. Dogs love being talked to, even if they cannot understand what you are saying, and keeping up a one-sided conversation with your adopted dog will also remind them of something very important – that you are there, that you are not ignoring or forgetting about them. Just reminding your dog of your presence will reassure them that you are not going to leave, like someone else did in their past, and will help convince them that it is safe to trust and bond with you because you are not going anywhere.

Even older dogs love to play.

Play is the way dogs bond with their parents and littermates as puppies, and it remains their main way of interacting with other dogs throughout their lives. Playing is canine conversation, basically, and dogs rarely grow out of engaging in playtime. Actively playing with your dog in whatever way they are capable of – whether that is a full game of fetch or just a gentle tug of war on the couch – will show them that you are willing to devote time and attention to them, and also associate you in their minds with something awesome – playtime! This positive association will go a long way in building up your dog’s affection for you.

Be mindful of your dog’s mindset and past.

This is the hardest, and the saddest, one on the list, but it is perhaps the most important. A dog in a shelter likely has some kind of trauma in their past, be it abuse, abandonment, or separation from their original owner. This will make it more difficult for them to trust you. This absolutely does not mean you should give up on bonding with your dog, but, just like a person still getting over a bad relationship, your dog may be afraid to get burned by another emotional commitment. Respecting their need for space and time will be crucial in rebuilding their capacity to trust.

Building a bond with any dog, but especially an older one can be a complex and intimidating process. However, dogs are constantly looking out for a way to connect with humans – they want to bond with you. Working with a rescue is mostly just about making that as easy as possible so that both you and your dog can form the deep connection that you both ultimately want.

Guest Blog by Robert Thomas

Robert has spent decades training working Labradors in scent and agility work. He has a passion for dogs and spends most of his spare time studying, reading and learning about dog behavior and welfare. Currently he enjoys trail running and agility work with his Lab.

Robert founded Marvelous Dogs as a resource for dog owners who want to raise healthy and happy dogs. Visit to learn more!

Pets and People, Saving Each Other

HSNT’s mission is to act as an advocate on behalf of all animals and to ensure their legal, moral and ethical consideration and protection; to provide for the well-being of animals who are abandoned, injured, neglected, mistreated or otherwise in need; to promote an appreciation of animals; and to instill respect for all living things.

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