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Does Your Dog Favor One Person in the Household? They May Have Imprinted.
Here’s how you can tell if your dog has imprinted on you, and some steps you can take to improve your bond!
While your dog likely loves every member of your family, have you ever noticed that your pup seems to have a favorite person? Wherever this person goes, your dog will want to follow. And they will always be your pup’s first choice for play companion or snuggle buddy. Most likely, your dog has imprinted on this person.
Imprinting is a process that happens early in life for many animals, including puppies! It’s best described as a learning period where animals begin to understand what species they are, how to behave, and may pick a person or other animal to trust and learn from. For example, human babies are born pre-programmed to imprint on their mothers. In the case of puppies, this is the time period where they learn how to be a dog from their mother and littermates.
There are three stages of dog imprinting:
1.) The first stage is called the canine imprinting stage. It begins after puppies open their eyes at around 2 to 3 weeks old and typically lasts from 3 weeks of age to 7 weeks of age. This is a critical period in puppyhood where puppies are observing and learning, primarily from their mother. Through interacting with their mom and littermates, the puppies learn what species they are, how to behave in a pack, and develop crucial behaviors and instincts that are important for well-rounded dogs to have. This is why it’s typically standard for puppies to stay with their mother and siblings until they are at least 8 weeks old.
2.) The second stage of imprinting is called the human imprinting stage. This typically happens once the puppies are adopted between 7 and 12 weeks of age. This imprinting typically means your puppy has chosen one owner with whom to bond particularly closely. However, they can also imprint on another pet in the household. During this period of learning, puppies need to learn how to interact with people and animals who are different from them. Therefore, it’s important to start introducing your puppy to other people and animals during this stage in their development.
3.) The third stage, called the fear imprinting stage, overlaps a bit with the human imprinting stage. When your puppy is 8 to 10 weeks old, they are most likely to develop lifelong phobias from even minor stressors. Therefore, it’s important to keep interactions and introductions with your puppy positive and try to avoid possible stressors as much as possible for this two-week period.
Although we are focusing on puppies, the process of imprinting will continue throughout your dog’s life as he meets new people and animals. So even if you adopt a senior rescue dog, they could still imprint on you. Imprinting behavior in dogs is essentially how they bond with their pet parent. Dogs typically pick one human to imprint on, although they can still love other members of the family. But this human will typically stand out to your dog because he or she fulfills what your dog is looking for. Your pup may see this person as a source of food, shelter, safety, or simply as the most fun.
So, how can you tell if your dog has imprinted on you? In addition to following you everywhere, there are some key behaviors to look for. Notably, your dog is happy to make eye contact with you, is very excited to see you, and seeks out physical affection from you whenever possible. In other words, he wants to cuddle with you and feel your touch. When you’re not available, your dog may snuggle with your stuff, such as dirty clothes or blankets you’ve used, because they smell like you. They may also carry your stuff around, such as shoes. Typically, your dog’s body language should be relaxed in your presence.
Additionally, your dog will listen to you and come when you call them, and will check in with you on walks and in new environments. Dogs who have bonded with their pet parents tend to look at them a lot in general. This doesn’t necessarily mean your dog will be a “velcro dog” who is constantly glued to your side, but he will look at you often to make sure you are nearby and comfortable with the situation — particularly in new environments. For example, your dog may look back on walks to make sure you are still right behind him.
If your dog hasn’t yet imprinted on you, do not despair. Dogs are naturally loving and trusting creatures, and there are many ways you can strengthen your bond. Consider some of the following suggestions:
Give your dog space if he needs it. Many people want to bond with their dogs by giving them constant love and attention. But if you’ve adopted a rescue dog who has only known a life of abuse or neglect, they may initially be nervous. If you are too loud or trying to play too rough, your pup could become scared. Instead, give your pet a safe, quiet space to decompress and allow him to come to you on his own terms. Your patience will be rewarded with a lifelong bond.
Teach your dog that you are a resource. Typically, the person your dog bonds with the most will be the person who feeds them. If you want to get closer to your dog, take the lead in preparing and feeding him his meals. Between mealtimes, earn his love with some high-value treats (given in moderation). You can also occasionally feed your dog by hand to make it very clear that you are his provider.
Take the lead in your dog’s training. Working on basic obedience skills is a great way for you and your pup to bond and establish boundaries. If your dog is already an obedience master, start teaching your furry friends some new tricks. They will certainly be crowd pleasers the next time you host friends or family members in your home!
Include your dog in your exercise routine. They say a tired dog is a happy dog, and exercise releases lots of feel-good endorphins for both you and your pup! Dedicate some time each day to exercise with your dog in a way where you can both be present in the moment by going for a walk, hike, or bike ride. Alternatively, try out canine sports like agility or flyball where you and your dog can burn off excess energy and work together as a team.
Become your dog’s playmate. Especially if you have a puppy or a young dog, they likely love to play. And they’d love nothing more than to play with you! Even spending an extra half hour a day playing your pup’s favorite games can enhance your bond!
Cuddle with a purpose. While your dog appreciates an absent-minded pat on the head here and there, make sure to pencil in some cuddle time when your dog can have your full attention. Petting your dog is relaxing for your pup and makes them feel safe, but having your full focus while you pet them means so much more.
Create a grooming routine. While some dogs need to learn to love grooming, practice and patience should make grooming feel like a relaxing spa day for your fur baby. For example, many dogs grow to love the attention they get and the soothing feeling of their owners brushing them.