Training Multiple Dogs

Liz Palika
Training Multiple DogsUse a leash on each dog while training.

I have three dogs. Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, is very well behaved. Although well trained, Bashir enjoys learning new things and so his training continues even at 9 years old. Sisko, also an Aussie, is 3 years old and well behaved. He’s still learning new things. My youngest is Bones, an English Shepherd. He’s a year and a half old and although a good adolescent, he still has lots to learn.

Training three dogs – or any multiple of dogs in a household – can be a challenge. Too much time spent with one dog (and not the others) can cause jealousy and hard feelings. Yet working with multiple dogs at one time can be difficult for you. There are a number of tips, though, that I’ve learned with my dogs that might help you.

Teach Alone; Train Together

My three dogs live together, obviously, and so my ultimate goal has always been that all three dogs must be well-behaved together. That applies at home, in the yard, out on walks, at dog events, and when out in public. I like to travel with my dogs and I have high expectations for their good behavior. This doesn’t just happen though. My dogs and I work at it.

When I’m going to teach one of my dogs something new, I do it when the two of us are away from the other dogs, family members, and other distractions. Even if we have to go outside by ourselves or into a bedroom; I do it. It’s much easier for my dog to learn with fewer distractions and easier for me to teach the dog.

How long I need this quiet and isolation depends on the dog and the exercise being taught. For example, Bones learned the watch me exercise quickly, but when I tried to teach him the down stay command, he had a harder time. Holding still was hard for him. So I maintained some solitude while teaching down stay while he was obviously still learning. When he seemed to understand and was reliably cooperating – and succeeding –I gradually added distractions.

I consider my other dogs the ultimate distraction. When the dog learning a new lesson is ready for that kind of distraction, I have all the dogs on leash and use the down stay command to help maintain control. One dog can work with me while the other two maintain a down stay. This doesn’t happen right away; it takes practice.

Follow the Leader

Young dogs can learn a lot from older ones. Sisko and Bones both follow Bashir, both during playtimes and when in new situations. When traveling one time, we had to ride in a glass-sided and glass-floored elevator. Initially, Sisko and Bones were concerned – looking up, down, and all around – but when Bashir and I were both calm, they relaxed too.

Even though I wasn’t able to do so with the glass elevator, in most situations I try to introduce new conditions with just two dogs; the dog who is well-behaved – Bashir - and the dog learning new things. I go through the teaching steps with the older dog, using treats and praise, and then repeat the exact same exercise with the younger dog. Even though my older dog already knows these things, I find the younger one tends to follow the older dog’s example.

You’ll find there will be less worry when the younger dog is able to follow the older one. The younger dog will absorb some of the older dog’s confidence and assurance.

Use Your Daily Planner

I tend to schedule training sessions for my dogs. My days can be so busy that it’s easy to procrastinate, “Oh, I’ll work the dogs tomorrow.” After a few days like that, I’ll have ignored several training opportunities.

I also jot myself notes as to what I’m doing with each dog. I may work with Bones on one exercise, Sisko with something else, and Bashir with another exercise.

Where we do the training exercise might vary. I may work with the dogs while we’re out on a walk at the harbor or at a local shopping center. I may work with them at the dog training yard. Or I may practice their skills at home. Varying the location of the training is always a good idea once the dog is ready for it.

I also keep notes as to what I’ve been working on with each dog. With three dogs at such varied levels of training, it’s easy to forget what stage each dog is working at since we do obedience, tricks, and nosework. Plus, Bashir does carting (and Sisko will soon be introduced to it) and Bones will soon be starting therapy dog training. There’s a lot to remember so I write everything down and save notes.

Be Patient

Training one dog can sometimes be tough, especially if you’re learning how to teach your dog at the same time. Training multiple dogs is an additional challenge.

Just be patient and visualize your end goal. With that visualization of well-behaved dogs in your mind, work towards it step by step. You’ll get there.

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