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Guidelines for Raising a Happy, Polite Dog

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

Click through any links you see for supplemental information about each topic.


Imagine sitting alone in an empty house or in a crate all day while your family is gone, coming out for a few hours at night, then it's bedtime. Pretty boring! Keep a variety of toys and chews in rotation - have a few out and a few stashed, then swap every few days. Imitate the mouth feel of the things he loves to chew.

  • Chair rungs? Get a ruff root

  • Rugs? Get a rope toy

  • Dog bed? Get stuffy toys

  • Cables? Try rubber or nylon chews

Pig ears, bully sticks, split antlers, and Himalayan chews are worth trying; be aware that anything harder than a tooth has the potential to create fractures in teeth over time and anything softer could be ingested. Look for products sourced in the USA or Canada to avoid health issues. Your vet is a great resource for more info. Kongs are the best option to avoid ingestion or fractured teeth. Check out how to stuff a great Kong by clicking here.

If your dog destroys toys, I like Kong Knots. They are like stuffies but with knot "skeletons" and are a little harder to destroy and definitely less clean up. You can also try a Qwizl with a Plato Thinker inside.

Work to Eat

Set aside a portion of your dogs's meals to use as training rewards. You may need higher value food like meat or cheese for scary things and difficult things, and outside (meat, cheese, fish.) Also, consider getting rid of the boring food bowl and instead use work to eat toys like an Omega Treat Ball or Outward Hound puzzle feeder or Kong Wobbler for mealtime. Buster Mazes or Northmates are good for large dogs. Lickimats are great for puppies and dogs with flat muzzles, like pugs. Search "food puzzle dog" on Amazon and all kinds of options pop up. Foraging for food wears out some energy and is fun for most dogs. "Broadcast feed" on nice days - just scatter food outside. More ideas here.

Exercise & Harnesses

Physical and mental exercise are good for dogs- endorphins are released and tired dogs are less inclined to look for things to get into. Fetch or tug with rules (sit first, no teeth on skin, give when asked) is great. High energy breeds could use up to 45 min aerobic exercise per day. Puppies should be mainly self-directed and have limited human-directed running and jumping until growth plates are closed, so training is a great way to go to burn energy.

Front clip harnesses are very helpful tools for minimizing pulling on walks. Some of my favorite brands are Freedom No Pull and Ruffwear Front Range. Perfect Fit and Balance are also good, and all are available online. Easy Walk is available locally although I have seen some dogs slip out of that brand, so be alert to fit issues.

Say Please

"Sit" (polite behavior) makes good things happen- leash clips on, door opens for walk, treats, petting, etc… Teach your pup to sit to say "please!"

Focus on the good

We tend to give lots of attention to puppies and dogs when they misbehave, and ignore them when they are quiet or calm. Reverse that. Prevent or ignore unwanted behavior and reward calm behavior. Eye contact, touching, and talking are all attention, even "No!"


Dogs don’t speak English and they aren’t psychic. Most of the annoying things they do are normal dog behavior. The training we work on is good to help communication between you and your dog and puts structure in the world. Focus on letting your dog know what TO do instead of what NOT to do; punishment can cause anxiety or aggressive behavior. I will help you figure out the most efficient ways to train your dog different skills that we can combine to get the polite behavior you want. Use food to reward your dog! It's the most efficient, effective option. Treat ideas here.


Check out a good book to enhance your knowledge. A couple of my favorites are here and here.

No time for a book? Subscribe to Whole Dog Journal to get excellent short articles or google Jolanta Benal to hear short podcasts. You can also look up good trainers on YouTube like Kikopup, Laurie Luck, and Donna Hill.

Diet & Grooming

Choose a good quality food. First and foremost, ask your vet. They will tend to recommend foods from the big names like Purina Pro Plan, Royal Canin, Iams, Eukanuba, and Hill's Science Diet. Canine nutritionist Linda Case recommends looking at the ingredient list for a food where the first ingredient is meat, second is a meat meal (e.g. chicken meal), and the rest of the ingredients are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and minerals. Grain free foods are controversial and potentially associated with increased risk of heart disease. Puppies need commercial food for the first 6 months or so in order to get proper ratios of calcium in their diets.

Shock Boundaries

Shock boundaries (e.g. invisible fences, shock fences, electric fences) are usually put in by people who want to give their dog freedom and can't put in a physical fence either due to the layout of their yard, HOA rules, or budget. However, those fences come with potential problems, and it's important to be informed about the risks. Some dogs become afraid of men, grass, driveways, and passersby, becoming reactive over a period of time. You can mitigate issues with reactivity by keeping the line well away from where passersby and delivery people are visible. Some dogs break through the fence and get lost or injured or killed. Some dogs get attacked on their own property with no way to escape. Some dogs leave and are unable to cross back over the boundary. Some dogs get electrical burns due to being shocked when wet. Some dogs become terrified of beeps from smoke alarms, appliances, and watches (sounds like fence tone.) If you notice your dog getting more anxious or reactive after installing, you may have to discontinue use of the shock boundary altogether.

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