How do you train in a multiple-dog household?

I am a lazy trainer.

This is perhaps my least favorite attribute of myself as a dog owner. Now that we have two, I’m finding it even harder to make time to work with the girls on new behaviors. Since the nipping incident,* our commitment to working on P’s classical conditioning protocol for reactivity has been strongly renewed, and that has been encouraging and motivating. But everything else? Eh. Not much progress.

We tell people all the time, “Oh, Eden is SO smart,” and then they say, “Really? What can she do?” Umm… she can sit… and maul you at the front door when you come in? Oh, yeah, and she’s also really good at digging giant holes in the backyard… Yeah. Definite second-dog syndrome sufferer.

(*Side note: Thank you all for your gracious and kind comments about the nipping incident. You were honest with me about the difficulties we’ll continue to face with Pyrrha and children, but also encouraging that this is something we can continue to work on and be very vigilant about. Meant a lot to me.)

The babes.

One of my main training dilemmas/deterrents right now is the difficulty of training one on one.

Pyrrha is extremely attached to me — as in, obsessive level of attachment. She is uncomfortable and anxious if I’m not in her line of sight at all times. This is one of her many fear burdens. Eden, being much more laid-back, is fine doing her own thing, but she also doesn’t like being excluded from the action (and will voice her discontent quite enthusiastically).

What I’ve done in the past, when I want to actively work on new behaviors, is crate one dog, and then go into another room with the other dog and close the door. What’s happened so far is the crated dog pitches a fit with lots of barking and crying, either from mere separation or the knowledge that someone is getting treats and it isn’t them. This usually results in the dog being trained feeling rather distracted by all the commotion beyond the door.

Potential solutions I haven’t tried yet:

  • Give the crated dog a high-value bone or stuffed Kong, in the hopes that this will distract her
  • Train out in the backyard, in the hopes that this will reduce crated dog’s distress and minimize the noise distraction
  • If I’m working with Pyrrha, ask Guion to go play Frisbee or fetch with Eden, if he’s home (this solution has limited applicability, however)

I know there are little videos and podcasts on how to train with multiple dogs in the room at one time, but those dogs have killer down-stays and self-control, neither of which our pups have mastered yet (see introductory text: “lazy trainer,” etc.). So, those things need to happen first before we can reliably work on simultaneous, double-dog training sessions.

I really do want to work on this and renew my commitment to our girls. They could be SO much better trained than they are, and I take full responsibility for that failure. A partial motivation to revisit this conundrum is that I’d like to take Eden to an intermediate training class with our beloved trainer, but I don’t want the trainer to be disappointed by how little Eden has learned since we were last in class! Yeah. Chalk it up to the strong motivator of Dog Lady Shame.

So, help! Those of you with multi-dog households: How do you make solo training time happen? Even if you don’t have several dogs at home, how do you think I could manage this more effectively?


11 thoughts on “How do you train in a multiple-dog household?

  1. You may need to take “multi-dog training” as your first training goal. Let go of “good training session” and settle for, say, 30 seconds. The non-working dog will be just as important as the working dog. That’s how you build up to one dog on a bed while you work with the other. (Not that I have experience with this, but I’ve watched a lot of dog training videos that happen to have multiple dogs.)

  2. We did a couple of things:
    1. We worked really hard on good stays first (my husband and I each working a dog at the same time, and taking each dog to training classes to perfect these skills without the distraction of the other dog.) Having wait, stay, and bed on cue made a huge difference. A good stay was rewarded not just with a treat but with the opportunity to swap and train with me – a long and high value reinforcer! When we started to introduce “one dog works, one dog waits” as a concept, we used a tether and my husband tossed treats to the waiting dog so long as s/he was quiet and still, while making no eye contact and not engaging with the dog. (Mostly he was playing with his ipad and tossing some treats now and then. It worked well enough!)
    2. We borrowed (and eventually purchased) a Manners Minder – I think its a “Treat and train” now? It’s a remote controlled treat dispenser. I set it up on top of a wire crate, put a dog in the crate, and delivered treats from it for a few minutes, several times for each dog. Then I started working very basic behaviors with one dog (sit, down, paw, etc.; kept it basic so i could focus more on the crated dog lol) while the other got periodic treats from the MM. Rate of reinforcement was raised if the dog in the crate chose to down. Eventually I was working “heel” out of the room while the crated dog stayed in a down in the crate at a high rate of reinforcement, and gradually lowered the rate of reinforcement to the point that I didn’t need the MM anymore – the dog would wait quietly for a few minutes while one was worked, then was rewarded with a treat and allowed to hop out of the crate to work while the other dog went to it’s crate to chill for a few minutes. I did keep antler chews available in the crate if needed, but for my guys it wasn’t a necessary part of their success. A KONG or other wonderful stuffed toy would definitely help in a similar way, I suspect – “get in the crate while the other dog works and have a wonderful treat!”

    Good luck!

  3. This is a new challenge for me as well, and only this weekend did I start doing one-on-one sessions with Ruby and Boca. Mini-sessions are a great suggestion. For us, I utilize the dog gate between the kitchen and living room, and separate my two. Giving a Kong or high-value chew like a bully stick to the dog you’re not working with is something I’m experimenting with as well. Boca is pretty cool with it, as she is with most things. She just lays down and quietly watches what I am doing with Ruby. Ruby, as expected, is a little more demanding and tends to start whining and barking if she doesn’t have something else to do. I would like to revisit the Relaxation Protocol and eventually be able to have the dogs in the same room with one waiting on their mat, but Boca’s food drive is a little too high for that at this time when we are both getting started. We’re enrolled in a group obedience class at the end of the month and I think that will motivate me to get back to training regularly.

  4. This was a problem with Panzer and Shelby too. My advice would be make sure they are SUPER comfortable in their crates and if Pyrrha has an attachment to you, see if she will tolerate being in her crate where she can see you and Eden training. Here’s a youtube video of me training with Panzer one on one, and you’ll see Shelby is in her kennel lying quietly. The sessions are really short so no one gets fussy and you can elongate them as you go.

  5. I am not a multiple dog owner. For now I have my hands full with one. However I would like to offer a resource for multiple dog training. Feeling Outnumbered?: How to Manage and Enjoy Your Multi-dog Household 2nd Edition $9.95 (paperback) by Karen B. London, Ph.D and Patricia B .McConnell Ph.D. It is also available for Kindle. for details on what it covers. There is a DVD available which may be what you’re referring to. I’ve used several of Patricia McConnell dog training books successfully. Bet of luck. You are a super responsible canine Mom and a positive example for me.

  6. It can get a bit hectic, but you could always train them together as an option. Let them learn in a group like a classroom with you as the teacher. It works for my dogs and is usually what I resort to when the other dog won’t sit still.

  7. I’m with Jessica and Lara Elizabeth about the value of short training sessions. I think most dogs work better that way and it’s easier for us “lazy” trainers.

    I’m lucky that I usually have one dog and Honey is in good shape before I try working with a foster.

    But while working to train Honey to tolerate the bike cart, I discovered my fearful foster was fear-less when it came to the bike cart. Her willingness to jump right in helped Honey progress. I often try to alternate between training Honey and the foster, even though Honey already knows the behavior.

    And finally, I work with a foster in one room while Honey is behind a baby gate in an adjoining room. She doesn’t interfere as long as I toss a treat to her every so often. Of course, I’ve already taught her that because whenever she rests quietly on her bed in the kitchen I toss her a treat. It’s given her a rock-solid down stay.

    Please keep us updated. I’m always looking for multi-dog training tips for my next fostering opportunity.

  8. I do believe a quiet stay is more effective than crating in another room so maybe stay could be your main goal to work on for a while? Perhaps you could work them in closer proximity for a while so one dog is on a tie down only a few feet away from the one you are working with. Any time the dog on the tie down is quiet, you could toss a treat her way.

    I used to (and still do) practice having them both stay and call one by name and then the other and switch it up. And practice heel work around the dog who remains in a stay. This way both are working and have a job to do with a reward at the end!

  9. I have two dogs that prefer to be with me always too. But training one dog at a time does something really great (in addition to training them)…it strengthens your bond in a way that only one on one time can. So I put one in a room where they can watch the front yard, rest, bark even and I give them a great frozen Kong. Do they dislike it, sure. Do I feel guilty, yes. But we only train for 1/2 hour or so and then you find, it’s not the end of the world. Plus, the one that is having some alone time, is being trained in a way too. Good luck!

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