Training Two Dogs At Once
Question: How can I train both my dogs at the same time? It's so frustrating! Whenever I try they play and wrestle and ignore me. When I separate them they don't really listen.
Answer: When we have more than one dog we get very used to doing things with both of them together and forget to train them separately. If you started as a one dog family you probably forgot how much time you put into that one dog. As we add more dogs to our family we work with each dog individually less and less.
One solution to this situation is to start working with each dog separately (whether you have two dogs or five dogs). This can be as simple as taking each dog for a walk individually. As we add more dogs to our family our training cues start to get diluted - we even get sloppy. We allow the dogs to play together without asking each one for a recall off of play.
Working With Dogs That Don't Like To Be Separated
I would start by taking each dog for a walk separately. This will give you a good idea of what each dog needs work on including if the dog isn't comfortable about being without his buddies. It will also tell you if the dog(s) left at home have a problem with being left behind.
If the dogs don't do well being alone you will want to start with very short sessions of harnessing up the dog that you want to walk, taking them outside and bringing them back into the house before they are upset. If the inside dog is upset you will only want to leave the house for a minute or two and come back inside. Do this 5 times each day.
If the dogs can't handle being apart much at all you might only be able to separate them by putting one in a crate (or behind a gate) and harnessing the other one like you are going for a walk and then just popping in and out of the view of the dog in the crate.
Work up to being 10 minutes out of view (but still in the house). Then work towards popping outside and coming right back in. Often times doors are triggers for anxiety and if the dog inside hears the door open and you and the other dog go outside it can be a trigger for anxiety. In fact, you might only be able to open the door but not actually go outside.
Remember that this IS training. It doesn't feel like training because you don't feel like you are doing much, but to your dog - dealing with the anxiety of being away from the family - it's a huge brain work out.
Working With Dogs That Are Okay Alone
A lot of times dogs are just fine away from each other, but when they are together they like to play and not listen. You still want to work them separately but in a different way. You want to have one of the dogs working at a PLACE cue and the other working on catching a Frisbee or recall.
What is going on here is that both dogs together IS the distraction. That means the dogs need to learn the CUES you are teaching in the PRESENCE of each other.
I would first train each dog a PLACE cue (stay on your bed until released) separately and then together. Then I would work up the distractions where I would call one dog off his PLACE while the other one stays.
When I did this with our dogs. I used a target (a stick with a tennis ball on the end). I asked one dog to target the tennis ball with his nose. I slowly stepped away from the target (I set it on the floor) while still asking him to target the tennis ball. Eventually I left the target stick on the ground and asked our dog Larry to stay by the target while getting random reinforcement (food tossed to that specific spot where the target was).
In the meantime I worked the other dog on shaping and fun behaviors in the PRESENCE of the target stick dog.
You could start by asking a dog to stay on a bed and tie them in that spot where the bed exists while reinforcing the PLACE. The problem with this method is the dog can often leave the PLACE (bed) while still being tied - in essence he is set up to fail because he can move around but not actually leave. This can even create anxiety. When we teach PLACE it gives the dog a job. When we tie the dog, it isn't teaching them anything.
It's not as complex as it sounds but if you need help getting started on working with a multi-dog household contact The Gentle Canine and we can get you on the road to success.
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