Training with Multiple Dogs

One of the most common messages I get from people who watch my puppy training videos are on how I can train one dog with the others just milling about.  Since most people in the dog world have multiple dogs, figuring out how to handle training time is a necessity.  Below I listed 3 different ways to handle the issue.

1.  Management.  Basically having this skill isn't important to you so you don't waste your time training it!  Generally the dogs not being trained are in crates, but placing them behind baby gates or behind closed doors will also do the trick.

Using management alongside training can also be a stepping stone if you need to work on your dog not barking while you're working another dog.  If your dog is below threshold enough to still eat, a manners minder/treat n train can be your best friend to be able to randomly reward quietness while at a distance.  But good luck with that!  I'm thankful to not ever had a dog who needed more than just a gradual introduction with distance/visual access/intensity of activity before they quit barking.

2.  Pedestal training.  A nice compromise solution can be to train the non-working dogs to go to a specific location and remain there until called off.  The spot can be an open crate, a mat, or some type of pedestal the dog jumps on.  Typically an object with some height is the easiest as it prevents the dog from being able to creep forward without you noticing and is harder for the dog to "forget" what he was supposed to be doing.

In order to start this training the dog should already have a good start on impulse control exercises: an automatic (uncued) leave it, and a solid stay with distractions.  In other words, before adding in a second dog you will want to work up to being able to send your dog to their place from a distance, be able to move around the room freely, and be able to drop food to the ground.  Remember to do this training without needing to make eye contact with your dog for them to stay there.  I also don't recommend using a verbal stay cue if you care about criteria on a stay.  Either one word like go mat or hop up should imply a relaxed wait, or use a different word that gives your dog permission to move around a bit as long as they aren't leaving their spot.

A second person to reward the other dog can be helpful, but don't rely on them too much.  You don't want it to turn into a 2 dog training session, one person per dog.  If the waiting dog is just staring at your helper than you might be practicing a skill other than the one you wanted to.  Generally I find that if a second person is really needed than that dog's prerequisites just aren't strong enough in the first place and management should be used until further along.  The dog needing eye contact to maintain it's pedestal with distractions is often the missing piece, or the dog is just too much over threshold and needs a more gradual introduction.

I personally only use pedestal training in the summer when I train outside and ask my dogs to remain on the porch when it's not their turn.  It isn't necessary for my crew, but for some reason I thought it would be good practice for them to do so!  It did come in handy this summer when I hosted a few agility lessons at my house and had multiple dog/handler teams milling around and the inability to put Vito in the house due to his separation anxiety.

This picture must have been during those short few days I was down to 2 dogs as I only see 2 dinner bowls!  Vito can move anywhere on the porch and it looks like he decided to relax until I was done with the Corgi.

3. Just don't interfere.  This rule is what I use the majority of the time with my dogs.  Mainly because I'm lazy and it's so easy for me in the long run!  I have the added benefit of having 2 dogs who are already very experienced with this rule so that with each new dog coming to visit they can learn from the elders.  I do believe that dogs learn routines and manners from the other dogs, good or bad.  This training goes the smoothest with dogs who already have a history of working with you, have a good automatic leave it, and a good stay.  That being said, I have successfully done this with many puppies.

I always start by abandoning any real training of my other dogs and focus solely on the new dog.  New dog gets trained first and I save a small handful of it to use for when I'm working the other dogs.  After the new dog eats I call dog #2 over to me and start very basic training.  I don't ask for anything difficult or too arousing as my focus is really going to be on the new dog.  But for the most part I try to completely avoid interacting with the new dog.  I don't make much eye contact and I don't really give any verbal commands to them.  I will body block, often quite a bit.  And out of the corner of my eye I look for calm behaviors to reward.  I try and keep my reward rate as low as I'm able to make it without getting the new dog too frantic.  If the waiting dog does the behavior I'm asking the working dog to do I might laugh but it's rare that I reward it.  Pretty soon they figure out it's not worth the effort.

My goal over the next training sessions is to get rid of the rewards completely for the non-working dog.  I don't want them continuously offering different relaxed behaviors in order to get a treat themselves.  With my own dogs there are personality differences on how they choose to wait.  The Corgi usually is the farthest away but he watches intently the entire time.  He can't wait until I am done training all the dogs so that he can run over and search for any abandoned crumbs on the floor.  The Toller alternates between sometimes almost sleeping to other times being a foot away and staring.  If a kibble falls to the floor Vito knows he can't get it, but he will stare intently at it until it is either removed by me or the working dog, or I take pity on him and allow him to eat it.  Zumi is still in the process of learning this household rule.  She has progressed to eating last (elders first!) and knows to politely wait her turn to train.  But she is still working on being patient if I'm using props in my training as it's fun to try and shove the other dog out of the way!  Zumi is also still learning that dropped food isn't hers and I will give some verbal reminders to her if I see her moving towards one.

Here's Lance being trained with 3 dogs waiting patiently.  Gracie chose to place herself on the cot while Vito and Fiona are not in stays but choosing to watch.

Ximena  – ( January 18, 2015 at 1:48 PM )  

This is super important to us, too! I'm impressed that you have dogs that can mill around while you're training. Both of mine are waaaaay too food driven not to have jobs to do while I'm working with the other. I primarily use platforms with them - either the couch or a mat.

Once Elli was relaxing on the couch like Vito on the porch (I was so proud of her for this! Her food drive is extreme and annoying). I was teaching a Shake cue to Riko and Elli started offering her paw while laying down. It was cracking me up!

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( January 18, 2015 at 2:19 PM )  

So cute about Elli! As long as you find a solution that works for you it doesn't really matter. I am always fascinated by super experienced dog trainers who just choose to use crates.

I don't think food drive should be your excuse though if you really want milling about :) I do have a corgi! And aren't labradors just stomachs on legs?!

Dachshund Nola  – ( January 18, 2015 at 6:38 PM )  

Loved reading this! I use the pedestal method all the time, particularly with the youngest two.

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