Sunday, February 16, 2014

Teacher's Pet Training - Working with Multiple Dogs

Working With Multiple Dogs
by Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA

The great thing about training using positive reinforcement is that my dogs love to train.  When I am training all three dogs at once, they will literally push each other out of the way to be the one working.    While I appreciate the enthusiasm, it can be a bit chaotic.  Here are some tips for working more than one dog at once:

·         Teach new skills individually.  Learning will be easier for the dog in a quieter environment, and teaching a new skill requires more focus from you too, so don’t divide your attention between multiple dogs when working on something new.

·         Consider using different marker words.  For my dogs, I use three words.  “Yes” means Payton has earned a reward, “Ding” means Finley has earned a reward, and “Click” means Pepper has earned a reward.  This makes things a bit more clear for the dogs (but it can be a challenge for the trainer to keep things straight). 

·         Reinforce patience.  A great way to train multiple dogs at once is to ask one dog to do something while the others are in a stay, and then be sure to reward the dogs during their stays.  It is hard for one dog to watch another dog have all the fun, so make the watching and waiting patiently pay off. 

·         Be clear in your body language.  When treating one dog, you can do subtle (or for some dogs less than subtle) things to convey which dog you are about to reinforce.  This could be shifting one foot forward to block one dog, or moving your hand farther out to the side to treat.  This can help cut down on the dogs jostling each other for the goodies.

·         Recognize body language in your dogs.  Some dogs may find training in a group more stressful, especially ones inclined to guard resources (I have two of these!).  Know your dogs and be able to tell when a training session is becoming tense.  If Finley is giving Pepper the whale eye (when the dog is not staring directly, but looks off to the side so you can see a lot of the white of the eye), then I am going to respect her signal by moving Pepper farther away from her. 

Working with multiple dogs at once can certainly be a challenge, but it can also be a lot of fun.  Get creative – use one dog as a hurdle for another dog to jump over or run a circle around, have them play bow to each other, or do synchronized group spins – the possibilities are endless!

**Want to see this in video format? Check it out here:
Happy Training!