Training in a multi-dog home

If you have more than one dog, you may benefit from a few simple training tips. When I had two dogs, working with both of them at the same time was always quite fun… and it helped build my own patience while teaching them to work with me even when their buddy was around.

Teach a reward marker and attention

Basic dog training requires the dog to know that they did the right thing via a reward marker and to pay attention to the human. Do this by teaching a reward marker first (this will be the subject of an upcoming post). Next, you will teach the dog to respond to dog its name and then a simple cue like “watch me”. You simply cannot train a dog that is not paying attention to you. Do this one dog at a time. You could choose to use a distinct reward marker for each dog.

Train one dog at a time, when possible

Option 1: It is always wise to train a dog with individual attention when you can, even if it is only for a few minutes. With more than one dog in a household, this can be difficult. One way to do this is to separate the dogs, giving the dog who is not being trained something glorious like a stuffed Kong, food puzzle, bone, etc. If possible, train where the separated dog can’t hear the training; perhaps you will leave a radio or tv on.

Option 2: Crating or tethering one dog in view of where you train the other dog can be a good idea – the whole “monkey see, monkey do” theory applies here. It can be beneficial for dogs to observe the other training and getting rewarded for it. Be sure to praise and reward the dog who is not training frequently for maintaining calm behavior.

Use “monkey see, monkey do” to your advantage

Some dogs learn in a “monkey see, monkey do” sort of way. When working with more than one dog, you will often see the “a-ha!” moment when the dog realizes that working with you is worthwhile. I always laugh when a dog who initially did not want to work begins to offer all sorts of behaviors after observing their friend “winning” for working.

Reward the calm and polite dog FIRST

This goes back to the “monkey see, monkey do” theory. Reward the dog who is calm and polite first. Not only will you get more calm and polite behavior from the said dog, but the other dog will also likely learn from observing this.

Address the individual or the group

This is very important when working with more than one dog at a time. If a cue is for one dog, in particular, say that dog’s name before the cue (dog training 101). If the cue is for all dogs present, you need to have a word that lets them know. When I had two dogs, my word for both of them was “boys”. Doing this can save a lot of time and frustration.

Exercise before training

For rambunctious dogs, a bit of exercise before training can be very helpful as it can help burn excess energy. Just don’t tire the dog out, you want them to be focused and ready to train rather than ready for a nap.

Train with gear on AND off

When working multiple dogs, have sessions where they have their leash/harness/collars on but also train without them. You do not want the good behavior to be contingent upon them being “dressed” for the occasion, so to speak.

Daily training opportunities

There are lots of opportunities to train good behavior throughout our daily interactions with our dogs. You could have both dogs do a “sit” and “wait” before feeding; you could have the dogs “sit” when getting leashed; have the dogs “wait” before going through doorways, gates, crossing the street and so on; you could have the dogs do a “down” and “settle” when it is time to relax. While out for a walk with two dogs, begin to reward the behavior you do like. Teach the dog(s) that behaviors such as checking in with you, not pulling, and responding to obedience cues pay off.

We aren’t perfect and our dogs aren’t either. Be fair and realistic with your expectations of the individual dog, as well as when the gang is together. It takes time and patience to break old habits.