Are Your Boring Your Dog?

Well, the short answer is YES, and probably for a lot of reasons! But today I’ll focus on just one aspect, BORING Kongs.

Lynn and I recently attended a seminar on enrichment with Mik Moeller and one thing that really stood out to me is “it’s not enrichment if it’s the same every day.” It’s so obvious, and yet I sat there gob smacked, he was RIGHT. I’ve been giving my dogs the same exact Kong every single day!

Two of my four dogs are kenneled for 8 to 9 hours most weekdays, and when I leave I’ll give them a frozen Kong stuffed with a kibble/pumpkin mixture. Don’t get me wrong, my dogs LOVE their Kongs and stand in their kennels, begging me to leave so they can have their special snack. But man, it must be boring to eat the same kibble every day fed out of the same slow feeder, the same training treat, the same Kong, the same walks around the same neighborhood, etc. Yes, dog’s thrive off of routine and structure, but it’s important to mentally stimulate your pets, too!  


After Mik’s seminar, I was feeling inspired. I already own an array of different Kongs so I went out and bought whatever I thought could fill them. I started experimenting with all sorts of vegetables—all of which my dogs gladly ate. Now we have Kongs stuffed with applesauce and carrots, spray cheese, peas, and kibble, frozen yam and peanut butter, blue berries and yogurt—If it’s safe for the dogs to eat, we’ll give it a try! I also tried filling their slow feeders with kibble & low sodium broth and freezing them overnight for a meal that’ll last at least an hour.

In a flight of fancy, I also bought some pet grass for the dogs, since in our desert setting, they rarely encounter it. When I brought it out, they all politely lined up and took huge mouthfuls like grazing cows!


I also recommend puzzle feeders to challenge your dogs, but don’t worry, you don’t have to run out to buy the latest and greatest. Some dogs are challenged by simply covering food with tennis balls in muffin tins or by putting food in a closed egg carton. All sorts of interactive toys can be made from recyclable materials! And for low cost you can make your own snuffle mat to really engage your dog’s nose! Enrichment is all about being resourceful, so start experimenting and having fun!

Get the Gear: Training Treat Pouch

treat tote.jpg

Get the Gear, where we review our favorite tools of the trade. This week we tackle the treat pouch a.k.a. the bait bag.

I’ve owned a variety of treat pouches for training over the years. Of course, I started out by grabbing the cheapest bag in the training section at PetSmart, the one most dog owners probably use if they have one at all. Lots of company's make pretty much identical versions of this. It’s relatively small, has a clip to latch to your belt, and has a draw string to close. As I got more serious about training, this just wasn’t cutting it. Either the bag stays open for easy access or it’s drawn shut, but when you’re navigating an agility course you need both easy access and for your treats to not going flying everywhere as you run around. The always-open bag lead to treats tumbling out when I bent over, plus the bag doesn’t have a ton of room and I found myself running out of treats or having to reload. Maybe this is a good option for an owner just planning on taking one or two basic obedience classes with their pup (and it’s definitely better than shoving a bunch of hotdog bits in your pocket or fumbling to get a baggie out of your purse every time you want to reward), but for more active owners or for serious trainers, not a great choice.


Another treat bag that can be found at most pet stores is the PetSafe Treat Pouch. This bag comes with a belt attachment so you don’t have to worry about the clip flopping off while you move around. It has a divider so you can keep two types of treats in the pouch and has a pocket where you may be able to store a cell phone, poop bags, etc. While some people may like the snap hinge, I found it to be a less desirable feature. Popping the bag open and closed just didn’t allow me fast enough access to the treats (and when you’re starting out and want to deliver that treat as close to the marker as possible, timing is everything). I even found myself sometimes having to use two hands to pry the bag open, totally defeating the purpose. Plus, the square design lead to treats getting smushed into the corners. Finally, my biggest issue is that it doesn’t take too many uses for that snap to break, it can only endure a few months of use.

There are many other snap hinge style bags I've seen other trainers use, such as the Kyran Pryor Treat Pouch. And some have a few extra features such as the Hurtta Treat Bag which is larger, comes with more pockets, and a poop bag dispenser. But after my experience with the PetSafe, I have no desire to try out these bags—that hinge just won't last.  

The bag which I currently use is by far my favorite, Starmark Pro-Training Treat Pouch. It has a rounded bottom so treats don’t get lost or crushed in corners, which was a big issue with the PetSafe pouch. The front zipper pouch is the perfect size for a cell phone and business cards. It has loops on the sides you could attach a carabineer to hold your keys or a drool rag for any mastiff owners out there. The belt is adjustable, and can fit most people. Most importantly, it provides easy access to treats via a neoprene overlap top. The design generally keeps treats from bouncing out, but is easy access to plunge your hand in. The only down side may be if you have a chow hound who will stick his nose into the bag and help himself, but my answer to that would be to just not let it happen. Once or twice I’ve had a dog go for it while I was on the floor clipping nails, but overall it hasn't been an issue for me. 

Amongst the bags I have not tried, but would be curious to test is the Doggone Good Rapid Rewards Pouch which is reportedly very deep, and has interior treat divider, two side pockets and a front pocket, and rings on the sides to clip keys, etc. It closes shut via magnets, which might be a good alternative to the snap hinge. I'd also be interested in trying that the OllyDog Treat Bag Pro, which also has more pocket features than my current pouch and closes via imbedded magnets. 

Do you have a preferred training treat pouch? Let us know! 

Your Dog Doesn't Know Sit! ...Yet.

Working at a shelter, I have witnessed many people’s first moments with their newly adopted pets. And I’ve noticed a trend in humans’ interactions with their new dogs that totally bewilders me. The moment some people have their new pet on a leash and are walking out of the building, they’re shouting commands at it. I’ve seen people walk outside, with a newly adopted and totally over-stimulated dog, and start asking it to sit, even forcing it into a sit. Why? Well, that’s how we humans communicate—with our words. But that doesn’t mean much to dogs. These dogs have no idea who these people are or what the heck they’re shouting about! Even more baffling than the insistence on commanding a new dog to sit, was an owner shouting “heel” at his new pet, followed with exasperated comments about how this dog is already proving himself to be stubborn.

It seems many pet owners believe dogs intrinsically understand certain commands, and it never occurs to them that these dogs, even if they’re older, have to be shown what it is we’re expecting. Heel especially is a difficult and strange command for a green dog, who previously may have never walked on a leash or been asked to engage with a person on that level. Why would that dog want to keep pace with a total stranger? He wants to go explore and this slow-poke is holding him back!

Even if a dog sat showed it could sit for a volunteer, that was in an environment the dog knew, with a person he’s been working with—out in the parking lot with their new owner and they may be too overloaded to perform those commands.

As a new adopter, you could be poisoning a command for your dog by saying it frequently without showing the dog what that word means. Pretty soon “sit” is just another one of the many words your dog learns to tune out because it doesn’t mean anything to him. Or worse if he starts learning “sit” means some guy is going to come over and force my rear end down, the dog could develop an aversion to the command.

So, the lesson here is, don’t expect your new dog to instinctually want to listen to you (a total stranger he has no relationship with) or to have been born the innate knowledge of basic commands. If your dog doesn’t sit, stop saying “sit!” Give him time and work with him to learn the behaviors you expect. And if you’re having trouble? Call a professional! 

Get on the Same Page! Why Everyone in a Household Needs to Be On Board with Dog Training

All dog trainers have been there, the dreaded moment when dog training turns into marriage counseling. Often when a dog is just not succeeding at home, inconsistency is the culprit. When one spouse isn’t on board with the training, it undermines the efforts the other is putting in. And sometimes this can turn into a self-perpetuating issue, while the committed spouse fails due to the other’s lack of involvement or outright contradictions, it justifies the behavior, “see, I told you it wouldn’t work.” “I was right,” is the bottom line, but ultimately the dog suffers.

This inconsistency can range from one spouse not participating to spouses who use different methods, different command words, or hand signals—the dog gets confused, frustrated, and pretty soon shuts down and tunes both people out. These household conflicts in training can also manifest in a spouse who encourages bad behavior, or who does not see a behavior as a problem. I can’t tell you the number of times one spouse is on board with crate training while the other finds it cruel, or one person in the household allows the dogs to jump all over the couch, while the other is trying their best to follow Nothing in Life is Free protocol. 

Sometimes people are set in their ways or may feel that because they could not train the dog, the dog must be "untrainable." To have a trainer come in could feel like a direct threat to their authority. In this case, the members of the household are clearly not on the same page. Before calling a trainer to come out, make sure you and your spouse agree on training the dog and want the same outcome. If you can’t see eye to eye, it will make it very difficult to accomplish anything with the dog and puts the trainer in a hard position. Don’t rely on the trainer to fight your battles for you!

This is why we always try to schedule our appointments with everyone in the household present, to make sure everyone can agree on goals and methods, and so everyone can practice at the same time to ensure consistency. Your dog doesn’t have to be a source of conflict for you and your spouse. Have the conversation, set goals, and support each other while training your pet. If you can't support each other and agree on what behaviors you'd like to accomplish with your pet, there may be bigger issues in your household than just dog training. Your dog will notice the difference when everyone in the household is working towards the same thing, and will thank you for the clarity. 

Training Seminar Review: Canine Language & Lost Dog Recovery

This past weekend Lynn and I had the good fortune of attending two one-day seminars (Advanced Canine Language on Saturday and Lost Dog Recovery on Sunday) with Nelson Hodges of Canine Content (and a huge thank you to Dogs Behavin’ for hosting). The weekend was jam-packed with invaluable information that we will be incorporating into our training approaches. If I were to try to summarize everything we learned it would take several pages, so I’ll try to narrow this down to a few of the most salient takeaways we gleaned from the lectures.

Number one from the Lost Dog Recovery portion is to think like the dog, not just any dog, but the dog you’re trying to find. When searching for a lost dog, consider the dog’s motives and personality. Where would he go check out first, what paths is he used to traveling? Is he running up to the first person he meets? Is he hunkering down and hiding? Is he cruising the neighborhood for some dog friends? Consider what would be a good place to hide for a dog, what resources are they looking for (where are sources of food and water), what “roadways” could they travel along (alleyways, railroad tracks, washes… paths of travel out of sight of humans).

One insight from Nelson that really rang true, is most of the time with lost dog searches the search team acts like a group of kids playing soccer—everyone’s just following the ball! There needs to be strategy and thinking ahead; think where the ball is going to go, don’t all go to where the ball just was. Everyone on a search team should have a specific job and area of search.

 An exercise that Lynn found particularly valuable from the Canine Language day was to literally put ourselves in a dog’s position. This exercise required one person squat down to dog-level and experience many different types of approaches from another person. Though we often feel like we know what a dog would think, it’s a very powerful experience to be in their physical position. Nelson ran us through many different drills, and most of the variations were only subtly different in terms of speed or where our eyes were looking or if we were passing the dog or stopping next to them or in front of them, etc. All of these small changes made big differences for the comfort of the person in the dog's position.

Because these two full days were just not enough, we are very excited by the opportunity to continue our canine education with Nelson this winter at his intensive 3-day Relationship Based Behavior Modification seminar. Here is a stellar review Troy Bogden gave Nelson’s 3-day workshop for those interested in learning more:

“You will not learn how to speak or communicate *TO* your dog. This is very different from most seminars where you typically learn to train a dog to pay attention to you with food, pressure, or play; training dogs to perform behaviors *for* you so that they can co-exist in the human world. 

This seminar is really more about learning to listen, learning to understand how the canine thinks, sees, and interprets the world. Once your knowledge is raised, you will then learn how to follow a dog instead of leading the dog (I know, right?), how to interact in a way that lets dogs know you really understand them and want to work *with* them. You learn to earn the dog's trust, respect, and interest in you by first showing them you understand them and how to truly fulfill their needs before asking them to do for you. As you gain this partnership, you will also learn how to improve your body language and use it without the aid of other tools to guide your dog to work with you, not for you. This seminar will change the way you think about training dogs. Well worth it!”

The Importance of Drive Fulfillment

Today is the National Park Service’s 100th Birthday, so I’d like to talk about the importance of wild spaces—not just for us, but for our dogs, too. Here at The Polite Canine we put a lot of focus on bringing rules & structure into a dog’s life and proper house manners for our pets. But dogs need outlets for drives & energy, dogs have needs and instincts that are uniquely dog (run, dig, chew, hunt). We’re not here to turn dogs into people or robots or anything they are not. We’re here to bring balance. If you want a nice, polite pooch, you can’t ignore their wild side.

Every few months, I take my dogs up to Flagstaff to visit my brother. Flagstaff has acres and acres of national forest to explore, which means loads of leash-free land. My brother’s dog (a former death row doggie at the shelter, known for being a bit of a brute) lives 95% of her life totally leash free. She goes to work at the brewery every day, she has a fenced yard to romp in at home, and on days off, she can hike in the forests. When I asked my brother what if she ever ran away, he said “why would she?” She never leaves his side, she doesn’t roam, she meets dozens of new people and new dogs every week, and at the end of the brewery shifts she goes home tired and sleeps well. She has freedom, she has purpose, she has routine.

When we go hiking, we walk for hours without encountering another person. And when we do, our dogs have solid recalls—we pull them over to the side of the trail so others can pass. If they see a squirrel or a bird or a deer, we can call them off of it. That’s part of the deal, with great freedom comes great responsibility.

I see a noticeable difference in my dogs when they’re off leash on hikes. They are loose and confident, they move as a pack (all the dogs and humans together). Whatever tensions there were from the previous day of travel and trying to integrate with my brother’s dogs, ease away. They are blissful, all of them. My heeler is built to travel miles a day, droving herds of cattle. He is fleet and active, alert. And the first time I ever took my shepherd mix out on the trails I saw just how much of a shepherd he was—checking in, and keeping track who is with the group, who has wandered away. He is steady and reliable, a pack mule.

If I could, I would take all of my dogs to the wilderness every week. It unwinds them and centers them in a way that leashed walks in the city cannot. It makes the control I can have in obedience, in everyday home-life, in the relationships between the pack, all smoother.

Not every dog would do great in the woods, I realize. I’m not saying the cure to all behavioral issues is a wild run through the forest. Of course not. My point is simply to be aware of your dog’s natural drives. Harness these drives in your training. Provide outlets, provide structure, provide purpose. If you can channel their instincts, they may surprise you. Training is not about boxing your dog in, squashing his dog-ness, proper training should be a means to freedom, choice, and balance. 

Canine Q & A: Bringing Home Your New Best Friend

This week for Canine Q & A we asked our friend Crystal over at Ruff House: What is the biggest mistake owners make when bringing home a new dog?

“I am going to give you the “BLUF” or the Bottom Line Up Front: The biggest mistake many dog owners make when bringing home a new dog is giving the dog too much freedom too soon.

Animal shelters are very stressful and regardless of how long a dog is there they will experience a lot of stress. They may have just been abandoned by their family or brought in as a stray animal into this new environment. One with lots of strange noises, barking, strangers, different feeding times, lack of exercise and exposed to aggressive dogs. It is no less stressful for a puppy from a breeder that has recently been taken away from its mother and littermates. So, here they are, in your home, you’re excited, your kids are excited and what you have is a dog or puppy that is already pretty stressed in a new and also stress-inducing environment. Then you let them off leash and let them cruise around your house with no direction, guidance or limitations. The dog has no idea where they are, how long they are staying and where they can go to feel safe.

Allowing your new dog to free roam your house, check out all the rooms on their own can cause the dog to just pace around the house because they don’t know where to go and calmly relax or settle as I like to call it. This often leads to an “accident” in the house because they don’t know where it’s appropriate to pee and they certainly don’t know which door takes them out to the right place to go to potty. In addition to that, the pacing causes increased heart rate, blood pressure and overall, more stress.

So, a best first step when bringing that new dog or puppy inside your home is to do it on leash. Start by leading them to the area of the house that you will want them to spend most of their time. Ideally, you will have placed and assembled their crate before they even come to the house. From there, take them outside to go potty so they learn what door they need to go to, to do their business. Crate training will give them a safe place to go and relax, help with housebreaking and prevent any destructive behavior.

It’s best to remain on a routine and be consistent as possible with your new dog. Dogs thrive on routine and they are more relaxed when they know what’s going to happen next and they don’t have to guess when they’re going to be fed or go outside to go pee and poop. So feed them around the same time every day, take them out frequently (every 1–2 hours) at first to help them with housebreaking. Additionally, you should take them out for daily walks to help burn energy and de-stress. So in the beginning have them on leash tethered to you while you’re in the house. Keep them within your sight, in an exercise pen, or in their crate to prevent them from pacing around, soiling, or destroying items in your house. As the weeks progress you can start to lead them into different rooms so they get use to where things are. As they become comfortable in your home (the time frame will vary with every dog) and with their new routine then you can start to give them more freedom. This will teach them to look to you for guidance rather than acting on their impulses.

So going through some simple steps like those above, will provide your new best friend an environment in which to find peace. And within a short amount of time they will bring great joy to you and your family.” —Crystal Blaker, Ruff House Dog Training

I couldn’t agree more with Crystal’s response and have to admit that I’ve been guilty of making this mistake in the past, back when I simply didn’t know any better. So many undesirable behaviors can occur when a dog is given too much freedom and no direction—from annoyances like chewing on furniture and having accidents in the house, to more serious incidents like snapping at children or fighting with resident dogs. Structure and decompression time are essential for a dog to adjust to a new environment—if more dogs were given a slower and more controlled adjustment period, fewer would end up returned to the shelter so soon after adoption.

Canine Q & A: What Is One Word You Wish You Could Eliminate From Dog Owners' Vocabulary?

This week for Canine Q & A we ask the question: what is one word you wish you could eliminate from dog owners’ vocabulary, and why? 

"Stubborn. Your dog isn't stubborn. Few are. Think about it. We take dogs for granted. They evolved alongside us, some 30,000 years ago. We are different species, with different languages. I'd venture to say they've come farther in understanding us, than us them. That said, that doesn't excuse our obligation to meet them half way.

Dogs evolved to cooperate and coexist with us, and are incredibly forgiving of our flaws. Our chitter chatter, our embracing, our inconsistencies (jump on us now, but not now!), our rules and artificial, unnatural constructs like leashes and fences.

I'm always amazed that there aren't MORE bites, considering we share our lives and homes with these predators and expect so much, so often with little understanding of what it is to be "dog."

If you are struggling with a behavior problem and are chocking it up to your dog being stubborn, take pause. Consider how clear you're being. Consider your intentions, your emotional state, your words, your consistency.

So often what I see when an owner describes their dog as "stubborn" is a dog either bored to tears of their owner, where the owner simply isn't relevant anymore, or a dog who is giving it their all, and just confused." —Rachel Molyneux, sol.DOG Canine Services

"I could only think of a sentence that I've been hearing for years: ‘He gets mad at me for leaving him alone.’ I promise you your dog is not mad at you. He could be nervous, stressed or fearful because he's alone. Dogs are pack animals and some do not have the coping skills when left alone. He chewed up your favorite pair of Connie's? That's because they smell like you and he wants to be close to you. The chewing is a form of stress relief for him.

So, what to do? Practice quiet departures leaving for short amounts of time gradually working up to longer, give him a stuffed Kong to chew on while you're away and try appropriately crate training your dog. Enlist the help of a canine professional and your dog will thank you." —Lynn Grenci, The Polite Canine

I would like add to Lynn’s response that your dog is not trying to spite you either, he's not peeing on the carpet to get back at you for anything. Your roommate might take these kind of childish tactics to prove a point, but your dog does not have the complex thought process to plan such an emotionally manipulative attack. 

Two more words I'd like to add to the list, two that I normally hear together are "dominant" and "alpha." It's not that these words can't have any place in the canine world, but more often than not when an owner describes their dog in these terms, it tells me very little. It's a lazy analysis of the situation and these words act as catch-alls that chock the blame up to personality traits, instead of anything preventable (same as Rachel's point with "stubborn"). Not to mention these descriptors arise out of a problematic and antiquated understanding of wolf pack hierarchies.

What would be much more useful than hearing these words, would be descriptions of specific behaviors and body language—objective observations instead of the general "he's aggressive." Is the dog barking and backing away, is he snapping when another dog gets close, is he lunging, does he only lunge on leash, does he growl and over what, is his tail tucked or flagged? 

"Dominant" does not equal unbalanced. Dogs have fluid relationships, same as people—if someone dominated every interaction with every person through physical intimidation, I wouldn't call them an "alpha," I'd call them a bully, an asshole, and probably mentally unstable. To describe dogs' relationships with all other dogs and people as either dominate or submissive drains all the nuance and complexity out of it. 

Dogs that are described as trying to dominate their owner and be "alpha" are often just lacking structure, lacking confidence, are confused or even anxious, or haven't learned impulse control.

Of course, there are dogs that have more assertive, independent personalities—I'm not denying this. My wish to eliminate these words would be so owners were forced to tune in and observe their dog instead of labeling them. And so owners stop viewing their relationship with their pet as a power struggle, instead of a balanced and respectful partnership. As Rachel so succinctly put it, we take dogs for granted, and we shouldn't be excused from meeting them half way. 

Canine Q & A: If A Dog Could Only Know One Command, What Should It Be?

Canine Q & A, where we ask several canine professionals to respond to the same question. This week’s question: if a dog could know only one command, what should it be and why?

"Although it's challenging to pick just one command for a dog to know, if I had to choose, I would choose recall. I like to teach my clients that recall not only means to come but also means to wait for permission to be released again. Having a solid recall can strengthen your bond with your dog and can also save your dog's life. I live in Colorado and I love to go hiking off leash with my dog. Without a solid recall, I could not grant my dog the freedom to explore off leash. He might get too close to large wildlife and get hurt. Once, he even joined a pack of bicyclists and dogs that had a more enticing, faster pace than our walking. A solid recall is the best way to keep your dog safe from dangers and temptations while still having freedom to explore and get exercise. To ensure that your dog does not associate recall with the end of freedom or playtime, call him often, praise him, and release him to play again." —Jaime Bessko, Erie Dog Co

"I do a lot of work training therapy teams to share the love with those in need in our community.  This group is often pretty good with the basic commands so for them I Iove to teach "Lap.”  Some dogs will instinctually put their head in your lap for attention, affection, etc. This is a great alternative to "Shake" or "Paw" to help a therapy dog connect with her audience.  In a situation where dogs are visiting elders or in medical settings, it's best if their paws—and the chance for a scratch from the nails or germs from the pads—stay on the floor. By putting their head in the lap of the patient/audience member, it provides access to interact and creates a connection between the dog and human in a safe manner. As many dogs already do this, I encourage clients to shape the behavior then attach their own word to it.  Most find this fun and rewarding and especially enjoy watching the patient's eyes light up as the dog places her head in their laps during a visit." —Kate Titus, A Loyal Companion

"I imagine most folks will say sit or down or even stay is the most important command a dog should know, so I will go out on a limb and say the most important command for my specific dogs is STOP!

Teaching your dog to STOP! all forward momentum, either by sitting, laying down or standing, can save their life should they be on an opposite side of a busy road.  Or while walking three at a time on extended flexis, I can quickly shout out STOP! when a car is approaching thus allowing me to gain control of my dogs by moving towards their "frozen" bodies without risk of them circling out into traffic to come in to me.  STOP! can also be used when you have a youngster with very little impulse control, who flails when you try to put them on the ground, risking loss of control and a bad fall. Teaching them to STOP! all movement decreases potential for accidents." —Linda Daves Siekert, Sinbaje Basenjis

When I asked Polite Canine owner Lynn Grenci this question, without missing a beat she responded “Come.” Lynn explained for safety reason a solid recall is essential. Even if you always have your dog on a leash, a leash can pull out of your hand or break. Your dog could be running towards a busy street or another dog who doesn’t welcome the interaction. Lynn recounted a time when her dog Nigel started down their driveway at the same time the neighbor’s loose dog was charging towards him—like a quarter horse turning on a dime, Nigel heard the word "Come" and changed direction, running back up to the house and avoiding certain conflict with the stray dog.

While I absolutely agree a solid recall can save your dog’s life, I’ll offer up another perspective. One of the most useful commands I’ve found is “place.” Having a dog who can stick to his designated place mat or cot can make life so much easier for you, and also teaches your dog excellent impulse control and self relaxation. If you have a dog who bolts out the door or jumps on guests entering the house, telling him go to “place” when you open the door prevents those unwanted behaviors. It also makes it so much simpler to take your dog out in public with you—you can tell him “place” while you enjoy your lunch on the patio and not worry about him tripping the server or bothering the other diners. "Place" is super practical command that I recommend all dogs learn.

Get the Gear: Ruffwear Haul Bag

Get the Gear, where we review some of our favorite doggie products & training tools. This week we’re reviewing the toolbox itself, the Ruffwear Haul Bag.

When I first started out dog training, being a resourceful and relatively frugal person, I found an old tote bag and threw everything I needed into it. Needless to say when the inventory exceeded a treat bag, a leash, and a towel, things started to get complicated. In comes what I like to call my “doggie diaper bag.” The Ruffwear Haul Bag is the ultimate solution for a trainer’s needs in both organization and capacity. This bag fits a lot of stuff, while managing to keep it all organized and compact.

Sizing specs: approximately 16'’ long x 11'’ wide x 12'’ high and 25 liters in volume.

The bag features both a shoulder strap and two handles for easy carrying options. And what is in my opinion the best feature, the “gatemouth” which opens the bag into a rectangle for easy loading/unloading and full access to the interior. No more digging around!

On the exterior of the bag you’ll find one large zipper pouch that runs the length of the bag and three stretchable mesh pockets, two larger in size and one smaller. The interior storage features mirror the exterior with one large zipper pouch and three mesh. Business cards, poop bags, water dish, towel, note pad, e-collar, spray bottle, pet corrector, water bottle, paracord line, grab tag, treat bag, long line, slip lead, drool rag, tug toy, emergency kit—you name it, it fits.

This bag is great not only for trainers, but anyone who has an active lifestyle their pet is a part of. If you’re traveling or camping with your dog, organize their food, toys, and other gear in one easy to transport place. No more searching through the car for where the tennis ball rolled to.

For a quality bag like this, it’s not exactly cheap. But as they say, you get what you pay for. I can guarantee you’ll get years of mileage out of the Haul Bag. Made of ultra durable material, this bag can take a beating and is made by a brand I trust.

If you’re a professional, make sure to check out Ruffwear’s pro purchase program for discounts.

Canine Q & A: What’s the Most Difficult Part of Dog Training for Most Owners?

Canine Q & A, where we ask several professional dog trainers to share their insights on the same question. 

This week’s question: what’s the most difficult part of dog training for most owners?

“The most difficult part of dog training for most owners? Changing their own behaviors, how they interact with their dogs, and learning to stop talking and listen more. Most owners talk "at" their dogs and get frustrated when their dogs simply ignore them. Learning to talk with body language instead of their mouths is difficult for most. Learning to be quiet and patient and try to truly listen to how their dog feels as well as respond properly takes time. Once dog owners understand how to communicate in a language dogs understand, everything else becomes much easier.”
—Troy Bodgen, Paws to Trains Your Dog

“The most difficult thing in dog training that I come across is: the dog won't listen to the owner. I think the answer to that is that most of them just hook a leash up to the dog and expect to go. They don't take the time to build the relationship through the leash and teach the dog what they are expecting. At that point, they are frustrated with the dog and that conveys through the leash.” —Amanda Jensen, Dogs Behavin’

“A few thoughts came to mind when I looked at this question.  These are the issues I spend the most time working through with owners. 

First of all, I find most clients have trouble learning to relax with the leash.  Even though they understand it’s important for the dog to feel they are relaxed, it’s about muscle memory and having to rewire their own brain to respond differently.  Even when everything is calm and they are nicely walking their dog in a heel, I will see them tense, put pressure on the leash, lift their arm and/or wrap the leash around their hand.  It’s one of those things that doesn’t change automatically if you’ve been doing it your whole life.  Even more challenging is getting them to relax when there is an external stressor like another dog.  It takes awareness, time, trust and practice to master this new skill.

Another biggie is repeating commands.  Again, even though they see how much more effective it is to say it one time, many owners are in the habit of repeating themselves as their voice gets louder with more urgency/frustration. 

Consistency is another issue.  Keeping the mental and physical exercise going over the long-term can be difficult for people with families and demanding work schedules.  Most owners are hugely motivated when they begin training.  To help keep the momentum going, each owner receives printed instructions with ideas and games they can easily play with their dogs in short sessions.  I also offer free Sunday morning off-leash pack walks to clients.  The owners who take advantage of these walks get the added benefit of additional socialization with other balanced dogs, practice their newly learned skills under my supervision/guidance, and confer with other owners about their own experiences.  I know this has made a significant difference for owners who participate.  Bottom line, owners that get the most out of training appear to be those who want their dogs to be included in some part of their active lives.  People who jog, camp, hike, go to doggie friendly restaurants/Starbucks, visit friends with their dogs, play, etc. tend to have an easier time and a better result over the long term.” —Susan Del Signore, New Dogs Old Trix

“I feel the most difficult part of dog training for owners is understanding the foundational steps necessary to solve their predicaments. In most cases, clients consult with me wanting a very specific issue tackled which is vexing them in everyday life. Taking the time to explain, and having the owner vested in the process, the importance of creating productive, long lasting behaviors to fully resolve the issues takes time, repetitions, and accurate timing. For example, it may require that the owner create multiple behaviors (and hence, a couple weeks of training preparation) such as leave it, sit, and watch to start the process of retraining a reactive dog in a controlled environment before putting the dog back into the real world. Not only does the dog need to learn these coping mechanisms/default behaviors, but the owner will need to hone their skills to 1) predict a problem, 2) have the physical skills conditioned into their muscle memory to respond, 3) put the repetitions in so that the dog responds appropriately.” —Tami McLeod, Baja Dog Training

“What I find to be the most difficult part of dog training for most owners is realizing dogs have their own needs and those must be fulfilled. They think dogs come preprogrammed and should just know how to behave. When they start a training program, they realize that isn't the case. Then they have to work hard to do what is needed for each individual dog. We always hear "our other dog didn't do this,” or "our other dog didn't need these things.” Every dog is so different and it varies in what is required to keep them happy and well balanced.” —Brittany Brauer, K9 Guidance to Inclusion 

Thank you to all of these trainers for taking the time to respond to this Canine Q & A. Some really insightful quotes and perspectives to think on!

The biggest themes I see are changing your own habits, tuning into your dog, and investing the time. In my experience, owners really struggle with that last one, and without the time commitment none of the other pieces can fall into place. Learning to communicate effectively with your dog is essential for a healthy relationship, and is so much more complex than simple obedience compliance. Don’t expect results overnight! Sure, a dog can learn some obedience commands in a week, but to truly change their behavior and how they think about & respond to certain situations can take weeks or months, not to mention some dogs need a lifetime of behavior management. Behavior modification requires owners to be tuned into their dogs, and to work with them at every opportunity, which is an investment that many dog owners struggle to make room for. However, for those who do put in the time, the pay back in ten fold. Living harmoniously with your companion and finding that mutual understanding & respect is a beautiful thing. 

Hot Dogs, Cool Solutions

Tucson is hot. Like 110 degrees hot. And if I’m feeling the heat, you better believe your dogs are too. Here’s how we at The Polite Canine keep our pups comfortable during the brutal summer months.

Lynn and I both have bully breeds and due to their shorter snouts, their breathing can be more restricted than other breeds. We have to be extra vigilant when exercising them in heat like this. We advise owners to also be very aware of their elderly or infirmed pets in the extreme heat. And remember that dogs with short fur and exposed skin (those bully bellies!) can get sunburnt too.

The most obvious way to keep your pets cool is to keep em inside. Draw the blinds closed, set the AC to a comfortable temperature or have fans directed at them to keep them cool. Above all, keep them out of direct sunlight (and don’t even get us started on not leaving them in a hot car). If your dog is outside for any amount of time, make sure they are in the shade and have plenty of water.


Beware signs of heat stroke such as:

  • excessive panting & drooling
  • increased heart rate
  • uncoordinated gate
  • falling over or laying down and unable to get back up
  • disoriented
  • skin on neck not snapping back when pinched
  • dark red tongue and pale gums (gums will turn a deep red as condition gets worse)

Do not take the “wait & see” approach, get your pet to a vet immediately if you suspect they are having a heatstroke. Heat stroke can end in seizures, coma, organ failure, and death.

Wait until the sun sets to take your dog out for exercise, and be conscious of the asphalt’s temperature that your dog may be walking on. Check out this helpful infographic created by Gorda Gives Back.

That’s all the scary stuff to beware of–what about the fun ways to keep cool?

Get out the hose, kiddy pool, and super soakers! My shepherd, Bonus, loves to plop right into the kiddie pool and lounge around. The air around him acts as an evaporative cooler as the water on his fur evaporates. For my less water-enthusiastic pups, I spritz them with cold water on their ears and bellies, where the skin is more exposed and blood vessels closer to the skin surface (the water evaporating cools the skin, which cools the blood, which circulates and cools the whole dog). Or I soak a rag in water and stick in the freezer for a few seconds, and put it on the back of their neck.

Looking for a bigger splash? Check out one of these local facilities with a dog pool: A Loyal Companion & K9GTI. Remember water-safety is as important for a dog as it is a child; don’t just throw your dog in your pool if he’s not comfortable getting in himself, and always supervise pool time. 

If your dog’s hanging out in his kennel you can freeze a water bottle and wrap it in a towel or sock and leave it in your dog’s kennel to lay down next to.

And finally, let your pup enjoy some icey homemade treats! Who doesn’t love a tasty pupscicle on a scorching summer afternoon? Here are some ideas to get you started: 
Cool Treat Recipes   
Pupsicle Recipe 
But if you're creative you can come up with your own. If you're unsure if a certain fruit or veggie is safe for your dog to eat, look it up first before trying it.

The Advantage of In-Home Training & Collaboration Between Trainers

Tucson has a pretty robust dog training community. Off the top of my head I can list off dozens of trainers in town without even trying. So what makes The Polite Canine stand out?

The most immediate answer is a simple one: we do in-home training & consulting. Why in-home? Well, most problem behaviors occur in or around the house, and are a part of the dog’s daily life & routine. We want to help change those behaviors at the source. When we come out for that initial eval session we want to see exactly how the dog acts, not just how the owner describes it. We want to dissect the dog’s routine, and observe both his habits and the habits of the people he lives with. Many times, we as owners are on autopilot and it takes an outside pair of eyes to clearly and objectively view the situation: what the triggers for a behavior may be, when & why the behavior escalates, and all the tiny steps that lead up to those big frustrations some owners experience. As the old dog training adage goes, it’s not about training the dog so much as training the people!

It’s also important to note that dogs have a harder time generalizing than us humans. So learning how to sit/stay/come in group obedience class, doesn’t always easily transfer to sit & stay in home or coming when called in the yard. That’s where we come in! To help bridge the gap between group classes or board & trains and at-home application.

With that said, we truly feel that the professional dog training world should be a collaborative one. We have many connections with other local trainers who we refer our clients to for certain services. Group classes can be great for exposure to new places & people, and learning to work with plenty of distraction. We recommend dog sport classes to many of our clients as well. Some dogs need more intensive behavior modification and benefit from time in a board & train program, or immersive socialization with other dogs. This is a big part of our consultation process: figuring out the many pieces to each dog’s puzzle, starting to fill in the gaps, teaching owners how to continue working on their own, and referring to others with their specialties if needed.  

Some dogs really excel with certain types of instruction or need a combination of different approaches and outlets, which is why there is plenty of room in Tucson for all types of trainers. Plus, the more we work together, the more we learn from one another and better ourselves. We don’t all see eye to eye, certainly, but those conversations help us articulate our own positions more clearly and also allow us to consider alternative view points.

As The Polite Canine emerges onto the Tucson dog training scene, we are eager to start changing the lives of dogs & their owners for the better.