Ask the Behaviorist: Dealing With Multiple Dogs

Check out the Michigan Humane Society blog on Wednesdays to see common pet behavior questions answered by our Senior Director of Operations and pet behavior expert, CJ Bentley. If you have an immediate behavior concern with your pet, please call a qualified trainer or behaviorist! If you have a non-urgent question you would like answered on the blog, you can comment here or email us at mail(at)michiganhumane.org.

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

“I would like some tips for training multiple dogs at the same time.”

The easy answer here is “you don’t.” But I don’t REALLY mean that. Let’s say instead, that at FIRST you don’t. Believe me, I’ve tried. Here’s what can work. Train them one at a time. Since training sessions should be kept short anyway, maybe you can have one dog walked while you train one and then switch ‘em out. If you’re on your own, you’ll need to get creative to separate them while you train.

Really you just need about 10 minutes per day for your formal training sessions. The key with multiple dogs is to use their names (or a different cue word) for each dog. So Scruffy learns Scruffy sit. Or Scruffy stay. And Rover learns Rover sit, etc. Then when they are able to obey the commands separately, you can practice together and they’ll know who’s supposed to be doing what. You can also (dogs are so smart) teach them commands together so they know when you say “dogs come” that means both of them. A terrific booklet that can help with training multiple dogs is called “Feeling Outnumbered” by Patricia McConnell, PhD. You can order via http://www.dogwise.com.

“My bigger dog has never really enjoyed playing. Our newer dog has been experimenting with fetch. He enjoys it. The bigger dog takes any toy we play fetch with and destroys it. We want to make him feel included but when we try to play with him, he fetches the toy, takes it into the corner, and promptly rips it to shreds. The speed of his toy destruction is really incredible. He can get the head off a teddy before I can walk 4 steps across the room to save it. He knows he is not supposed to chew up toys but it is just more than he can bare when we play fetch. We can do all the things he loves to do first but the minute fetching starts he becomes this bully. What is going on (other than my dog is a toddler who doesn’t let anyone do something he doesn’t understand) and how can I stop it?”

One of the very best things we can do as doggy “parents” is to take special care to remember that our dogs think like dogs. They don’t necessarily feel human emotions the way we do. That being said, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on in your big dog’s head.

A qualified behaviorist may be able to observe your dogs and make a good “diagnosis” but based on your description here I would consider the following…1) your bigger dog isn’t really being a bully. He may be a little stressed over the activity, but doesn’t intend to be a jerk about it. 2) don’t worry about making the bigger dog feel included. He doesn’t seem to enjoy the activity anyway and would probably appreciate being “left out.” Again, he’s not a “people.” 3) Play fetch with lots of toys. I like the ones that can’t be torn up. Consider the Busy Buddy line…like the Barnacle (my dog’s fav), Waggle and Chuckle. If you have multiple toys, you can toss one and if it is “stolen” and removed from the game, you can continue to play with the others. Nice heavy duty toys that can’t be ripped up and also dispense food may keep the bigger boy busy while the game of fetch ensues with the other dog and other toys. That could keep everyone happy.

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