How to transform any dog into a polite dog, in 10 easy steps

Polite dogs exhibiting basic canine etiquette really go hand in hand with their responsible owners. I came across the American Kennel Club pledge of being one in a dog magazine, cut it out, checked all the boxes, and placed it on our fridge, in plain sight.

The pledge breaks dog ownership down in 4 categories: Health needs, safety concerns, respect towards others, and quality of life.

AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Pledge


In order to present the benefits of a polite doggie companion, I came up with two similar scenarios, however using different parameters (the first one features untrained Fido, while the second ones stars trained Fluffy).

Unruly Fido

Imagine the following: You’re home with your dog, and the door bell rings. A split second before it does, your dog starts going bonkers, barking non-stop in anticipation of the excitement which is about to enter the house.

Fido is so excited that he even jumps up on the front door. You manage to push him aside in order to check the spy hole, and notice that it’s your mail person delivering a certified piece of mail, requiring your signature. Sigh.

There’s no way you’ll be able to invite him inside with a crazy dog running the house, so you shout a few angry words at him, then take extra care of not letting Fido escape through the front door while you somehow manage to squeeze yourself through. Phew!

You sign the piece of paper while mumbling an apology to your mail delivery person. Then back to squeezing your way inside, where Fido jumps up on you excitedly as you were gone for at least 2 minutes, almost knocking you over!

Trained Fluffy

Now let’s take another look at the same scenario, the only difference being a well behaved dog:

A few moments before the door bell rings, Fluffy let’s you know that someone’s outside by barking a few times. He stops immediately when you ask him to “be quiet”Β [<- here’s how to teach it].

You check the spy hole, see that it’s your mail delivery person, and consequently ask Fluffy to go to his place in the living room, where he lies down and stays put, as requested by you.

You then proceed to open the front door, greet your delivery person, sign the paper, and happily smile at his commendatory words regarding your well trained pup!

You close the front door, proceed towards Fluffy whom you praise for keeping his down-stay, release him, and then go back to your routine.

I’ve identified 10 components culminating in a pleasant canine companion such as Fluffy. Let’s take a closer look at them!

10 Basic Rules:

1. Obeying commands. Every dog should have a solid knowledge of the basic commands “sit, down, stay, come, leave it”. Not only do they translate into a polite pooch, but they can also be lifesavers in a critical situation ~ a dog getting ready to cross a busy street can be told to “sit-stay” or “down-stay”, for example.

Our Dog Buzz Standing On His Hind Legs For A Treat


2. No jumping up on people. Dogs exhibiting this behavior can cause serious damage by knocking the person over (imagine the impact of a German Shepherd on a fragile, old person or a little kid!), and are simply being disrespectful. Unless invited to jump up on someone (we taught our pups the “up” command for this purpose), a dog should never have any business jumping on anybody. You’d never see this type of behavior in a pack of dogs!

Dog Jumping On A Person

3. No storming out the front door, or any door for that matter. Teaching our dogs self control is not only being safe, but also engages them mentally.

I remember watching an episode of The Dog Whisperer, where Cesar Millan said: “An open door simply means an open door; it does not mean that your dog gets to storm through it only because it happens to be open, and not shut”.

I love this phrase, and it has stuck with me for 3 years now!

Our Dogs Missy & Buzz Sitting At Patio Door, Waiting To Go Outside


4. Polite leash walking. I’ve walked dogs who pulled on the leash, and G O L L Y, it is uncomfortable on so many levels! It hurts your hand, arm, entire body, and you can end up on the ground! I did just that once, and was very lucky I didn’t break any bones!

Goldendoodle Polo Walking Politely On Leash


5. No lunging at other dogs. Always check your OWN energy before letting your dog meet fellow canines. Dogs pick up on our energy, and will be much less inclined to lunge forward if we remain calm.

Don’t allow your dog to lunge at dogs you happen to encounter while outside. A perfect place to practice this is the controlled training environment of a dog school.

Our 2 Boxer Mixes & An Akita In A Down-Stay


6. No biting. Let’s face it ~ no one wants to be bitten, yet 4.5 million people do every year in the US! Prevention is the key element, and can be achieved by promoting responsible dog ownership.

Kids & people should be taught about understanding dog body language and how to safely approach a strange dog, as well as how to safely interact with a familiar dog.

Puppies are mouthy by nature (and have sharp puppy teeth!!): that’s how they interact with their litter mates and with their mother, and therefore need to be taught bite inhibition early on in their development.

Do this by making a high-pitched sound when your pup happens to bite you in mid-play, and stop dead in your tracks. Only continue the game-time when he has stopped biting you.

You can redirect his biting by removing your hand from his mouth, and offering him a safe chew toy instead. This will teach him that any human body part does not belong in his mouth.

Great Dane Haley Smiling!


7. No demand barking. It’s simply annoying and rude! I learned a great trick from my friend Kristina when raising my pups. Buzz is able to produce the most ear-piercing, high pitched demand bark I have ever heard.

He began exhibiting this habit when he was about 8 months old, and wanted to demand a game of fetch. Kristina had experienced a similar behavior with her Australian Shepherd Shade, and had nipped it in the bud with a spray bottle containing a mixture of water & white vinegar.

I borrowed her bottle, and carried it on me every single time I went outside with the pups. The moment Buzz demand-barked, I gave him a good spray right inside his mouth. The problem was solved within about one week! Thank you, Kristina!!!


8. No begging. It’s another form of canine rudeness, and only happens because it’s reinforced by us humans. Never EVER give your dog a single bite of your food, especially not when you’re sitting at the dining table, or he will remember it and hope for it to happen again.

It’s best to put your dogs in their beds/blankets/crates (whatever your designated spot for him might be) in a down-stay while you eat to discourage the begging behavior. Side-note: Giving in to begging also contributes to the problem of canine obesity.

9. No counter surfing. Another form of begging, if you will, except that Fido doesn’t rely on your hands to feed him ~ he’s taking that matter into his own paws when inspecting your kitchen counters!

This can be extremely dangerous depending on what type of food he might be able to sneak. Many human foods do not agree with the canine digestive system, and can even cause death.Β 

10. No challenging of the pack hierarchy. Dogs have a clearly outlined structure within their pack: The pack leader, and the followers.

The pack leader status will never be questioned by the followers, UNLESS he no longer has pack leading qualities:Β he has to be calm-assertive, providing rules and enforcing them (see Cesar Millan’s book “Be the Pack Leader”).

Enforcing rules has nothing to do with using physical force on your dog, mind you. It simply means that you set rules, such as no jumping on the counters allowed, and that you stick with them!

What’s the best way to teach these behaviors?

Now here’s when we, the human owners, have to step up our game. It is obviously our responsibility to ensure that our dogs behave in a polite, respectful way. We achieve this by training our canine companions using positive reinforcement techniques (verbal praise, treat rewards, clicker-training).

It’s great to pick up different books and to thus inform ourselves about the subject matter of training dogs; however, enrolling your pooch in an obedience class instructed by an experienced trainer is an invaluable experience.

I explored the self-taught training approach at first, and while I was fairly successful at it, there just wasn’t anyone watching me in an objective way, telling me what needed to be improved & worked on!

I remember our very first basic obedience session with our trainer Rhonda from Dog Day Afternoon in Leesburg, VA, who asked us all to have our pups sit, and then lie down.

“Oh, that’s easy, we got this!” was my initial thought, and I put Buzz into a “down” position. Rhonda immediately commented on his “BS down”.

I was baffled, and had no idea that there was such as thing as a “BS” down-position!! Turns out, there is! Our homework for the next week was clearly lined out: Practice a perfect “down”! Don’t accept a mediocre “down”.

Our Dog Buzz In A BS Down Position


Our Dog Buzz In A Great Down Stay!


Bottom Line: The money you invest in dog training, whether group sessions or private one-on-one classes, will pay off very quickly.

Just imagine a peaceful coexistence with the canine members of your pack: No wreaking havoc when the pups are left home alone, no complaining neighbors or delivery personnel, no barking frenzies…just well behaved dogs!

Has your pup had some obedience training? What are some of the positive surprises you experienced while taking the class? As always, we’d love to hear from you in our comment section!

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Barbara launched her blog K9sOverCoffee in 2014 and has been feeding her dogs raw dog food since 2015. As a former professional dog walker, she’s passionate about balancing species-appropriate exercise with healthy dog nutrition. Barbara is raw dog food nutrition certified from “Dogs Naturally Magazine” and the author of several e-books about minimally processed, balanced raw dog food.






19 responses to “How to transform any dog into a polite dog, in 10 easy steps”

  1. Pamela Avatar

    I’m in full agreement that a polite dog is a pleasure. And one you can enjoy so many more activities with.

    My training philosophy is to be absolutely that most fascinating and amazing creature my dog has ever seen. Because she never knows what I am going to do next, she keeps her attention on me.

    Even when we go to the dog park, she will check in with me frequently and leave when I’m ready to go.

    And I don’t do anything that will break her trust in me. I believe that’s at the core of having a strong relationship with our dogs.

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Having a solid bond of trust with your dog should definitely be the core of your relationship, and needs to be the foundation of any training! It sounds like you’re doing a fabulous job with your puppy girl πŸ™‚

  2. Lauren Miller Avatar

    You have some really good tips.. but I’m going to have to disagree with you on the Pack Leadership stuff and also the use of aversives. Dogs don’t form packs in the wild and the structure that they do have is linear. Pack and dominance theory has been disproven by science (the guy that came up with it actually came out and apologized and said he was wrong) and Cesar Millan is a dog abuser. I’m sorry to say.

    Links for reference:

    Great post, otherwise!! I agree with you that all dogs should have proper training and socialization.

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Thank you for your feedback & your perspective! I always appreciate other dog training enthusiasts’ opinions.

      I must, however, strongly disagree with your statement of Cesar Millan being a dog abuser. What makes you say that? You mentioned the “dominance theory” ~ Cesar Millan does not teach a “dominance theory”, nor does he use aversive methods (I suppose you mean alpha rolls, kicks, hitting, yelling, etc.?) This is indeed the wrong way of treating dogs.

      Cesar stresses the importance of DISCIPLINE, not dominance, when working with dogs, simply meaning that you follow through with the rules you set within your pack, e.g. the human being the first out the door, not encouraging pushy behavior such as jumping up on people or creating havoc whenever a house guest arrives at your home. He works with dogs by using his (calm) energy and the TOUCH of his hands ~ he doesn’t hit or hurt dogs.

      He is a wonderful ambassador of the American Pit Bull Terrier which is so often misrepresented in the media. His foundation rescues, rehabilitates, and places shelter dogs into loving forever homes, as well as educates about the importance of spaying & neutering, & responsible dog ownership.

      There is no room for any abusiveness in Cesar Millan’s work!

      I participated in his National Pack Walk in Washington D.C. in 2012 with my two dogs Missy & Buzz, and a family I am friends with along with their two wonderful Staffies. It was a fabulous, peaceful, force free environment which spread the word about
      community humane education programs (Mutt-i-grees Curriculum) & shelter pets.

      1. Lauren Miller Avatar

        Yeah, I’m sorry but I can’t support anyone who hits, kicks, pokes, hangs, etc.. Intentionally using pain on dogs. To me this is dog abuse. I don’t know how you could say that it isn’t since you already said that you don’t think it’s a good way to work a dog.

        I hope you will read some of the links I posted and I actually forgot one: Cesar does spout the dominance theory in every episode I’ve ever seen and trust me I’ve seen a lot of them. I do agree with you that he is a good ambassador for bully dogs but I don’t agree at all with his training methods.

        I hope there are no hard feelings with me disagreeing with you. I’m glad you had a good walk with him.

        I will also beg you to watch this video and say this: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.

        My dogs are extremely well behaved. I’ve worked with them on their training from day one. We use positive reinforcement and they are trained without intimidation. I would never squirt them in the face with water, let alone water and vinegar. πŸ™ I have house rules and they are polite and follow them. I honestly think that the most important thing to teach is impulse control. When they have that you don’t see demand barking, ect. We don’t even tell our dogs “NO”. We don’t need to.

        1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

          No hard feelings at all ~ there are so many training techniques out there, and everyone needs to figure out what works best for them, be it luring with treats, or a disagreeing “no” (I use “NO” rarely, and when I do, it is uttered in a calm, quiet tone. I NEVER yell at my dogs).

          I watched the video you provided the link for and had the impression that “dominance” covered a very large variety of techniques. The woman speaking in the video does suggest ignoring the dog when her training method fails ~ isn’t that also a method of negative punishment? Dogs thrive for attention, and ignoring them is one of the worst punishments.

          One thing to keep in mind is that not all dogs will respond to the same training techniques the same way. The woman in the video mentions that making kissing sounds and calling the dog in an upbeat tone of voice will get her attention when out in a field (I suppose off-leash). While I do agree with the upbeat tone of voice in general, it will not work for a dog who has a strong prey drive and who has sniffed out a squirrel, rabbit, bird, or similar animal of interest.

          It all comes down to what your dog is motivated by ~ I can get Buzz’s attention any day with a combination of upbeat sounds & a ball if we were out in a field, off-leash. Missy, however, would chase after the animal! Which is why I began tying her leash to Buzz’s backpack, hoping she will pick up on his off-leash skills.

          I do have the impression that we have different definitions of dog abuse and dominance ~ I don’t consider a light touch to redirect a dog’s focus to be dominant. To me, dominance is yelling at your dog, hitting her, kicking him, doing the alpha roll, pushing their muzzles into their excrements, etc ~ all actions I do not approve of.

          As far as the water/vinegar squirting is concerned: It is not a means of intimidation. It is simply a matter of cause & effect. It is me showing Buzz that I do not agree with his demand-barking, and that I do not approve of his behavior. Giving in to his demand barking and rewarding him with a ball would reinforce his barking behavior and ultimately teach him that demand- barking gets him what he wants.

          I appreciate this discussion, but I don’t think that the comment section is the right place for this due to the amount of space it takes up πŸ˜‰ Looks like this topic would make a great article!!

          1. Lauren Miller Avatar

            Yeah, you’re probably right about it being too long for the comments! I just wanted to mention one more thing in reply to what you said about prey drive.

            Also, I would recommend checking out some more videos from Kikopup (the video I linked above) she’s amazing and she’s got lot s of interesting and free training tutorials and her dogs are amazing.

            Anyways, I have a dog that has an extremely high prey drive. She lives to hunt! She’s actually killed 2 squirrels. I’ve had really good luck using the “Premack Principle” to train her. I can call her off prey pretty easily now, although it did take some work.

            Also, I have a friend who has been experimenting with using extinction for her dog’s demand barking. She doesn’t use any punishment at all. She just waited until the dog stopped barking and then threw the ball… then slowly built up the time where the dog wasn’t barking. It didn’t take very long and now her dog calmly sits and waits for the ball to be thrown.

            Anyways, I really appreciate that we could have this discussion and I really want to say thank you for looking at the links I posted.

          2. Barbara Rivers Avatar

            Lol, there is no more demand barking from Buzz, either! Let’s just agree to disagree on this one πŸ˜‰ Thank you for sharing your insight & the links. I am always open to hearing/reading about different training approaches.

    2. Elaine Avatar

      I appreciate the thoughtful and civil discussion and also the links shared. Thank you Lauren and Barbara. πŸ™‚

      1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

        Thank you for saying that, Elaine πŸ™‚

  3. jansfunnyfarm Avatar

    Good article. Marcus needs to read it! πŸ™‚

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Thanks, Jan ~ is Marcus your foster? I saw the (temp) under his name on your blog πŸ™‚

  4. Cathy Keisha Avatar
    Cathy Keisha

    The dogs in this condo community need to have some training. They all jump on Pop and TW.

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Yikes ~ I bet Keisha finds this behavior hiss~able..

  5. Daisy Pets Avatar

    Great post! I am currently working on a few of these with Diego because now that he is seven months, he is the size of his adult self, but crazy like a puppy so I need to have some order! We went to puppy classes, however, I am wanting to enroll in a proper adult class soon for the exact reason you went. πŸ™‚

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      Thank you very much! Diego is such an adorable puppy, I just headed over to your blog & looked at some of his pictures πŸ™‚ Enjoy the adult classes, we learned so much in ours!!

  6. Rascal and Rocco Avatar

    Thanks for all the great tips in training! It’s hard to be consistent, but it is so important.

    1. Barbara Rivers Avatar

      I’m glad you find them helpful πŸ™‚ Consistency really is key, and we’re fairly good about it…but hey, we’re only human, too, so every now & then we go “oops, wasn’t being consistent… “

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