7 Suggestions for Training Multiple Dogs

Sharing your home with two or three dogs is wonderful.

I share my home with an 11 year old Australian Shepherd, Bashir; a five year old Aussie, Sisko; and a two year old English Shepherd, Bones. All three of the dogs get along great together even though their personalities are quite individual. Bashir is the elder statesman and although he plays with each of the younger dogs, his word is law. Sisko, a rescue, tends to be a little worried and is more reactive in strange situations. He often looks to Bashir for guidance as to how to proceed. Bones is young, bold, and would like to step into Bashir’s footsteps when Bashir is ready to step down.

Although multiple dogs can be great there is one common complaint I hear from students in my dog training classes, “I can teach one dog but how do I train all of them?” Training multiple dogs in one household can be a challenge but it really doesn’t have to be. You can do it.

Think of Yourself as the Parent

Think about what good parents are. Good parents provide affection, nurturing and guidance; and raise children to be well-behaved, respectful, and to understand the rules of society. Ideally that’s what good dog owners should be, too. If the idea of being a dog parent bothers you, think of yourself as your dogs’ benevolent leader then. Disregard other phrases you hear, such as the alpha. That’s not the attitude you need.

As your dogs’ parent or leader, you will be affectionate and loving. You’ll keep your dogs safe from harm and will have fun with them. You will also provide them with guidance as to what the rules are in their world; what are they allowed to do and what is off limits. You will respect your dogs for who and what they are but you will also ask them to respect you. In other words, you’ll be a good parent. This should be true for all dog owners but is even more important when training multiple dogs.

Be Cheerfully Insistent

A friend of mine who is a dog trainer suggests that her students channel that famous storybook nanny who is so cheerfully insistent (the one who carries an umbrella). She doesn’t yell, hit, or otherwise act forcefully, yet at the same time she cultivates respect and cooperation. What’s good for a storybook nanny can be awesome for the owner of multiple dogs, too.

So how do you develop this attitude? There are multiple dog training methods and techniques available so choose a dog training technique that suits you and your dogs and then keep it upbeat and happy. Think cooperation rather than confrontation when training your dogs. Be upbeat, cheerful, and insistent and don’t lose your cool and get angry or confrontational.

At the same time, decide what rules you wish your dogs to adhere to and then teach them. Teach your dogs what to do and reward them for cooperation; and then interrupt any behaviors you don’t want. For example, if you don’t want three dogs on the sofa, place three rugs or dog beds in the living room and teach your dogs to lie down and relax on the beds. When a dog goes to climb up on the sofa, interrupt him, “Not there,” and walk him to his bed, “Go to bed,” and praise him. When he goes to his bed on his own, go to him quietly (if you’re too enthusiastic he’ll get up) and quietly tell him, “Good boy!” and drop a few teats between his front paws on the bed. Teach him what to do and reward him; and interrupt what you don’t want and teach him what’s right.

©istockphoto/RickSause

©istockphoto/RickSause

Teach Basic Obedience One on One

The basic obedience exercises are considered the foundation for anything and everything you do with your dog. Sit, down, stay, watch me, leave it, walk nicely (on the leash), and come are all important exercises that have real life uses. Have your dog sit and stay when the front door or gate is opened so he doesn’t dash out. He can lie down and stay when guests come over so he’s not trashing your guests. These are all important skills.

Teaching multiple dogs these exercises as a group is difficult, so do the initial training individually; take one dog to a room and close the door and leave the other dogs in another room; take one dog outside and leave the others inside; take one dog for a walk. After a training session with the first dog, then rotate and work with the second dog. There are many ways you can do this; it’s just a matter of getting in the habit of doing it.

Each training session can be short; five minutes per dog is actually quite a long time. Keep it short, upbeat and fun, and focused on that individual dog’s needs.

Use Leashes in the Beginning

Once all of the dogs have a good understanding of one or more of the basic obedience exercises, then you can work with all of them together. To make sure you and the dogs all succeed at this, have some really good treats you know all the dogs like and put all of the dogs on leashes.

Ask one dog at a time to do that exercise, such as sit, and then another dog. Reward and praise liberally, even if it’s an easy exercise, because there’s added distractions (and competition) now. If a dog is distracted or isn’t listening, help him do what you ask. No yelling, yanking the leash or other rough training; instead help him do what you want and then reward it.

Don’t be in a hurry to take the leashes off while you’re training. This is the most common mistake made and usually results in a dog (or dogs) learning to ignore you. Instead, use the leashes for quite a while; first in your hands and later dropped to the ground.

Teach Individual Names and a Group Name

It’s important each dog knows his name, especially when there are multiple dogs in the household. At the same time, having a name for the group of dogs is also useful. My dogs Bashir, Sisko, and Bones know their own names, for example, but there is also a group name, “Boys.” So if the dogs are outside and I call one specific dog to come inside I call that dog by name. However, if I want all three of them I say, “Boys, come!” and all three respond. Decide what you want the group name to be.

To teach this, have a bowl of high value treats close by so you can reach it. Have all of the dogs on leash and hold the leashes in one hand. Ask all of the dogs to sit and praise them. Say one dog’s name, praise him, and give him a treat right away. Go through all of the dogs this way two or three times. Be generous with your praise. Then with enough treats in your hand so each dog can have one, call them by their group name, back up a step or two and pop a treat in each dog’s mouth right away. Repeat a couple of times and then take a break, come back in a little while and do the whole exercise again. Within a few days your dogs will know they have two names.

©istockphoto/raywoo

©istockphoto/raywoo

If You Can’t Gain Their Attention

Some dogs can be wonderful at giving you their attention when alone with you, but in a group the concentration disappears. Thankfully, this is actually quite easy to remedy.

Stop feeding your dogs from the bowl for a while. Instead, feed them a bite at a time. Then, with all dogs on leash, ask them one at a time or as a group to do something for you in between each bite of food. You can ask for a sit, down, stay, watch me or other exercise, or you can ask for some tricks. It doesn’t matter what you ask your dogs to do; you’re simply asking for the dogs’ attention and cooperation.

Follow this routine for a while. When your dogs are more attentive and cooperative, then feed them bigger portions of each meal this way and then let them finish their meal from the bowl.

Don’t Play Favorites

In any group of dogs there is always one who is more charming than the others. Don’t fall for this as it’s important not to play favorites; this can lead to strife between the dogs. Treat all of the dogs the same.

That said, I do pet (feed, leash, groom, or play) with one dog first. I always give the oldest dog attention first and then the two younger dogs. I feel the oldest deserves attention first and so I give it to him. My dogs don’t take issue with this though as it’s the normal routine.

Having multiple dogs in the house can be disruptive and certainly leads to more shed hair in the house and tracked in dirt. The benefits are certainly worth the disruptions, however, once you get a handle on all of the dogs’ behavior. So be patient and consistent and insistently cheerful. It works.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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