Double the Fun: Thoughts on Training Two Dogs at Once

I’ve been thinking lately about my two dogs, and how fun (and funny) it is to live with them both. Their personalities could not be more different, yet they are amazingly compatible. As you can see from the video Ruby (the tiny one) is the Queen and Bodhi (the black and white one) is the Court Jester.

For training purposes, there are a few things that make having two dogs more interesting. Here are a few tips I have found work well when both dogs need training:

First Things First

For an issue in which both dogs need much improved skills, like leash manners or responsiveness to their names, start by teaching each dog individually. This is super efficient, because you can devote your attention to one dog and visa versa. Trying to train them at the same moment may create unnecessary pandemonium and confusion. Get the skill looking sharp and then put both dogs together, first for a simple challenge (walking up the driveway and back), gradually working your way to trickier situations (going on your full walk together).

Spot On Training

Teach both dogs how to lie on a mat or dog bed on cue, and stay on their spot until you release them. That way you can train them individually, yet both in the same training session. While you work with one dog (around one or two minutes is plenty), the second dog can be chilling out on her dog bed. When you are all finished with the first dog’s session, cue him to go lie on his bed, then release the other dog for a short session. Repeat having them take turns until you are finished training. (For instructions on how to teach a dog to go to her spot and stay, see Puppy Savvy.)

I Am Free and You’re Okay

Give each dog his or her own release cue. Bodhi is released from whatever I have cued him to do with the word “okay.” Ruby’s release word is “free.” Those two words sound nothing like each other, so I am able to release one from their dog bed without the other hopping up, I can release one to race out the door to the yard without trampling the other, and I can do fancy training things like having them stay side-by-side but calling them separately (that’s fancy because it is harder to stay when your buddy takes off full-tilt, and because they run faster when they are trying to beat the other to get to me, which improves their come-when-called performance). 

Double Dog Dare

Here is a challenge for you that I just started with my dogs. (You can do it even if you aren’t yet ready to train both dogs in the same session.) I picked a trick that neither of them knows, stepping through my legs from behind and placing a paw on each of my feet, both of us facing the same direction. The interesting part is that normally in any given week I am teaching them different things, but this time I am teaching the same trick to both them. It is raising my awareness of different habits I have with each dog, revealing fascinating differences in how they learn, highlighting choices I need to make as I roll out their learning plan, and helping me appreciate the quirky and hilarious things they do. (I can only imagine what they are saying about me when they compare notes!) For example, Ruby is much likelier to offer me novel moves that I can quickly capture, whereas Bodhi is likelier to offer me a slew of things he already knows. We’ll see what happens as we progress!

What do you learn about yourself and your dogs as you try this? You can also pair up with a friend or neighbor and each teach the same trick. How do you do things differently? What do the dogs pick up on similarly or differently? As always, I welcome your questions and comments. Happy training (for two)!

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