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Brian’s Bite-sized Behavior Bits

A Certified Dog Trainer (IACP-CDT) and member of the International Association of Canine Professionals, Brian Bergford has extensive experience as a Dog Behavior Specialist and is the owner of Altitude Dog Training. He also owns Uptown Dog in Longmont, Colorado, and functions as the Director of Training and Behavior for this center which provides Behavior- and Pack Work-driven daycare and boarding. Brian specializes in Pack Work, People Development, Basic through Advanced Training, and Behavior Modification and Rehabilitation.

December 2015 – Multi-dog Households

You like the idea of a well-trained dog, but there’s one little challenge: you have multiple dogs in your home which makes training a bit more complicated. So how do you proceed when you live with a pack and every time you ask them to do something, it seems like one or two of your dogs get it right but the others just blow you off?

As with any training scenario, there are a plethora of techniques you can employ that will likely be effective to some degree. However, I always recommend hiring a professional to come in and help you design protocols specific to your situation. Every home with people and dogs living under the same roof will have unique considerations requiring customized training methodologies. For this reason, I tend to outline general training principles in my articles – as opposed to giving explicit step-by-step instructions – which allows you to tailor the information to fit your needs. Outlined below are three principles to abide by when training in the context of a multiple-dog household.

Principle 1: Begin by training each dog in isolation.

It takes more time to teach each dog individually, but that is the cross we bear when we choose to live with a group of dogs. Bring your dogs one at a time to a quiet place and teach them the behaviors they need to know. If they already know commands like Sit, Down, Come, and Stay, but are not especially reliable, you will still need to spend one-on-one time with them to build a more sturdy foundation before you consider issuing commands when they’re in a group setting. Just because your dogs intellectually understand the command “Down” doesn’t mean they’ve practiced enough repetitions, or have sufficient motivation to do it when there are other distractions present. Before you command any of your dogs to do something in the presence of the others, prep each of them ahead of time by practicing training around less tempting distractions. This way they’ll learn that they need to obey the Down command even when they’re interested in other things.

Principle 2: Stack the dogs slowly.

What do I mean by this? Let’s say you have three dogs. Once you’ve taught each dog the core behaviors they need to know in isolation, work them in pairs. Why not all three at once? Because it’s too much of a contrast from the work they’ve been doing on their own. As any of us with several dogs can attest, bad behaviors and non-compliance is at its worst when our dogs are all together. It’s like their hearing goes out the window somehow. So, you’ll want to be mindful of this and gradually bring your dogs together by working them in pairs first before moving to stacking/integrating the entire group.

Principle 3: Reward the dog that gets it right.

If you ask several dogs to sit and only one of them does it, don’t get hung up on the ones that aren’t complying: focus your attention on the dog that “listened” and give him a great big reward! This will create a sense of competition and get the attention of the others. Now ask your dogs to sit again. And again. And again. Repeat the process 10 times in a row, feeding each dog in order as soon as he sits, and I assure you that you’ll get more of the crew on board by the end. If you still have a straggler, take him on his own and do some more work until he improves, and then give it another go! If he still ignores the command, gently press on top of his butt until he sits down.


Content Copyrighted 2015. Brian Bergford. All Rights Reserved.