By Karen A. Soukiasian
Have you noticed there has been an increase in multiple dog families? With that come added joys, laughs, challenges, and questions. A frequent question dog trainers are asked is, “Should I train them separately or together?”
You need to know your dogs, before you can form a plan as to which would be the best way to train them. Dogs often respond according to their status in their pack. Just because one dog is deemed alpha, does not mean they are the smartest, nor most compliant. However, to show respect, there are times a subordinate dog will hold back, even though they’ve grasped the command quicker than the leader.
Dogs learn by association, repetition, and most importantly consistency. The single greatest mistake most inexperienced dog owners make, is failing to be consistent. Your inconsistency confuses your pet, which makes training more difficult and time consuming.
Another important consideration when training multiple dogs is how biddable each dog is. It has nothing to do with the dog’s intelligence. Biddable means how willing they are to please you. Some breeds are inherently more compliant than others. There are certain breeds and there are individual dogs that do require more work than others do.
Should I Train Together, Train Separately or Both?
When working with more than one dog, it is important to understand each will learn at his or her own pace. One dog may comprehend a particular command faster than another may. This doesn’t necessarily make one dog smarter than the other. They may be more biddable. If that’s the case, expect to spend separate training time, with the less biddable dog. You may have to experiment with a number of different methods, to find just the right way to get their attention and proper response.
What you will notice is once Dog #1 comprehends a command, and effortlessly responds; and Dog #2 sees, and associates the compliant dog was rewarded immediately, Dog #2 will often “copy” Dog #1. It’s a sort of “monkey see, monkey do” thing. When that happens, challenge them to see which one follows the command the fastest and smoothest. Immediately reward in the order they responded.
The “copycat” behavior is most obvious when you have a number of well-trained dogs, and a single untrained dog working together. When the handler gives the command to “sit” and the trained dogs respond immediately and are rewarded immediately, in the order in which they sat; it usually doesn’t the untrained dog long to grasp the concept.
Another point to consider, each dog would like to think he or she is special. Working them apart from the others could make them more focused and compliant; as now they have your undivided attention. Put the other dog or dogs where they cannot be a distraction, and give each dog some one-on-one time. You may be pleasantly surprised how they respond, because you made them feel extra special.
Bottom line: You are the undisputed leader of your pack. To maintain control over your pack whether you are training them, playing with them or walking them you must always maintain a leadership demeanor. Being fair, firm, and consistent are the keys to successful dog training. It may also be helpful to enroll in a local obedience-training class, that applies positive reinforcement, punishment-free methods. It’s a terrific way for you to gain the confidence and experience you will need to be the leader your dogs want to follow.
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