I am the proud owner of multiple dogs. I like having more than one dog and I’ve always had at least two since I was eighteen years old.
Growing up, my parents were reluctant to let me have even ONE dog. They finally caved, and we got ONE dog, a Chow Chow, much to my delight. But I still begged my mom for another. She always countered with,”Then she’d be part of a pack and would need and love us less.”
I think this was just an excuse. 😉
So anyway, when I moved out and got my own house, it wasn’t long before I owned two dogs. The most I’ve ever had was four dogs; currently, I’ve got three living with me.
And it highlights for me, the more dogs you have, the more you must work at keeping them trained and bonded with you, not just with one another.
I’m frequently asked: “How do you train more than one dog at a time?”
It’s a great question because I know there are plenty of multi-dog homes out there.
So today I’ll offer you my thoughts:
Can You Train Two (Or More) Dogs Together?
Dogs are like toddlers with fur; they’re energetic and find it difficult to concentrate, even when there are NO DISTRACTIONS. You really have to work to build a good foundation to get control of your dog’s behaviors in distracting environments.
And, like toddlers, dogs are super competitive. They don’t like to share. And they don’t want to share. So when you start training a couple of dogs together, they’re not thinking about what they’re doing — they’re anticipating you rewarding the other dog.
So training takes longer… or doesn’t produce results at all.
It’s not the way to build a strong foundation of skills in each individual dog.
Imagine taking toddlers to a ZOO and trying to teach them to read or do math problems. Would it work? Of course not. There are too many distractions; the toddlers won’t focus, and they’ll become frustrated.
That’s why you’ll never see a police or service dog trainer working with TWO DOGS at the same time. Even if one dog is already highly trained.
Professionals know that dogs don’t learn as well together.
The dogs are too distracted. And the handler isn’t effective — it’s impossible to give TWO DOGS timely rewards, corrections, and attention.
The Argument For Teaching Your Dogs One At A Time
I separate my dogs when I am teaching one of them something new. I put everybody else in a crate or outside or in another room and I work ONE DOG at a time.
This way they have my full concentration and their little minds aren’t spinning about who else might steal “THEIR” cookie. They don’t have to worry about giving stink eye, or stiffening or growling when cookies are shared; they can simply concentrate on the command I am teaching.
And by giving my FULL ATTENTION to one dog, I notice the millisecond that he/she makes a positive step toward the behavior, and offer positive reinforcement.
This offers the dog clearer communication… speeds their learning… and motivates us BOTH, with faster successes.
Training my dog separately also allows me to bond with each of them as individuals. I don’t want my dogs to be overly reliant on one another. I have had several dogs come and go and get cancer and die and I don’t want my other dogs to not know how to function without the other. This training gives them individual attention and shows them how much fun spending time with me can be!
Do my other dogs throw fits when I take another out? Sometimes. But I don’t mind and ignore them. It tells me they’re excited because they know it’s THEIR TURN next.
If I really hated it, I could teach them to be quiet when I leave with another dog.
When It’s Appropriate To Train Your Dogs TOGETHER
Is it EVER a good idea to train your dogs together?
Yes and no.
No, I cannot effectively teach them something NEW when I have more than one.
Yes, once they’ve learned the behavior, I can ask them to perform the behavior TOGETHER. For example, I often walk all three dogs together on-leash. But, of course, I taught them each leash manners and heel one at a time.
Some people ask me if they can use their dogs AGAINST each other in training, to speed it along. Absolutely! This is a great way to improve your dog’s overall focus and can be very motivating and fun for them. Dogs often get to a place in their training where they challenge you with a “Make Me” attitude. This is when I like to bring in another dog.
Assuming the dog truly knows the behavior I’m requesting, I’ll bring in a second dog and ask THEM to perform it for me.
If the second dog performs the behavior, he gets a JACKPOT of treats, praise, and affection. (Provided you’re confident this won’t instigate a dog fight with your crew.)
The first dog watches all of this … and suddenly is DESPERATE to perform for you, too. 😉
When I trained Service Dogs, they all had to master consistent, reliable retrieval of ANYTHING… even metal, which tastes gross.
So when they’d eventually refuse to retrieve items they didn’t like, I’d bring in my star pupil, “Nix” who would do ANYTHING for a cookie. Nix would immediately retrieve the item on command and enjoy his JACKPOT of treats and affection. While I intentionally ignored the other dog.
I would then repeat this scenario with Nix a few more times…. until I could see the first dog was frustrated and now eager to please.
Competing for the opportunity to perform almost always made these obstinate dogs decide they wanted to work for me.
Again, though, be sure your dog understands the basic command and can reliably perform it for you without distractions before you try this!
Otherwise, it’s not fair!
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