HOW TO TRAIN TWO DOGS AT ONCE
When you’re trying to teach new behaviours (or work on undesirable existing ones!), having two dogs can make things more challenging and complex. How do you calm them down when they’re riling each other up? How do you ask for a behaviour and reward one without confusing the other? What do you do if you’re trying to train your dog and the other is always distracting it and getting it hyped up?
Here are my top tips for training two dogs!
1. Train each dog separately
I always recommend you start all training in a low distraction environment, and if you need to you should go back to basics and teach each of your dogs the basic commands such as sit, down and stay separately. When you’re working on a specific problem, such as barking or pulling on the lead, it’s also best to separate your dogs for focused training sessions. This will allow you to give your full attention to the dog you’re training, and teach and perfect each behaviour without added complications. This is easier because to teach a dog something, you have to accurately pinpoint the behaviour you want (I do this by using a clicker to make a “click” when the dog does what I want, then following up with a food reward, read about how to use a clicker and alternatives if you don’t have one here). If one dog is doing the right thing and the other is doing the wrong thing, while marking the right behaviour for one dog you may end up encouraging the wrong behaviour for the other dog. So for your ease, start separately.
2. Slowly bring them together
Once you’ve mastered the behaviour you’re trying to teach in separate training sessions (whether it’s to greet people nicely, not jump up, stay or heel), slowly introduce the dogs into the room together, using a clip station to keep one dog contained while you focus on the other. Start by clipping one of your dogs up in the corner at a clip station, and rewarding calm and relaxed behaviour (if your dog has not been on a clip station before or used to being tied up, you’ll need to teach your dog to stay on a clip station in a relaxed way first). Bring the other dog into the room, and go through the commands you’ve been doing with them – now with the added distraction of their dog buddy in the room! If this all goes well, unclip the dog in the corner and repeat the training again. When you’re confident in this situation, have both dogs off lead, clicking and rewarding each of them for successful responses. You can also put one dog on an umbilical lead (a lead attached to your hip e.g. looped around your belt), while you work the other dog off lead in safe places.
3. Proof the behaviour
If your dogs are performing well together at home, slowly take them into more and more distracting situations, continuing to train and reward them throughout, so that even in the most exciting situations (like out walking at the beach, or when someone comes to the door), you remain in control and able to get both dogs’ attention back to you and what you’re asking. You may prefer to start in a more distracting situation with one dog, then gradually introduce the other dog.
4. Focus on one dog
When you need one dog to do something, become adept at focusing your body language on it, so that one dog knows you are asking it to do something. Look at the dog you are communicating with and ignore the other, turn your body to face it, use its name, and direct your voice at it when you give a command. Click and reward for a positive response. Once you have taught your dogs separately how the clicker works and done some training with each of them, they should become very aware of which dog you are focusing on. Dogs are postural communicators, so are very good at reading our posture and focus! If one is getting confused, again use your clip station to keep one contained while you practise.
5. Reward both dogs for good behaviour together
Once you’ve worked on any behavioural issues, practise having both dogs together, rewarding them both for good behaviour. If you ask for a sit and both dogs sit, reward both with a treat. Or if they’re both calm or both come when called, reward them both.
Here’s an example of how this might work if you’re teaching your dogs to stop barking:
- Have Dog 1 in a quiet room, with Dog 2 away somewhere out of sight and hearing
- Teach Dog 1 the “speak” and “quiet” commands, as outlined in this article
- Do as many training sessions as is necessary to fix the problem for Dog 1
- Proof Dog 1’s behaviour in a variety of distracting environments
- Repeat steps 1 – 4 with Dog 2
- Once you’re getting a consistent result, go back to the original distraction-free training room and have Dog 2 in the room, but clipped up in the corner
- Repeat the barking training with Dog 1, but this time with Dog 2 present in the same room. While training, click and reward Dog 2 for remaining quiet and calm on the clip station
- When Dog 1 is performing consistently with Dog 2 clipped up in the same room, try unclipping Dog 2 to make the situation more distracting
- Repeat steps 6 – 8 with Dog 2
- Then proof the behaviour in different settings e.g. in a different part of the house or outside in the garden before moving to highly distracting situations such as a walk in the park
Need training help?
If you want to teach your dog all the most important commands, if your dog has persistent behavioural issues, or if you simply want your dog to listen to you more, my interactive Dog Zen Virtual Dog School covers how to train your dog and solve common behavioural issues. Work through the training with me showing you exactly what to do with step-by-step videos. Find out more here.