The Training Secrets to a Happy Multiple Dog Household

Multi-dog households can be a challenge. I know, I live it every day. I currently have four dogs in my household that range from age 4 years to 10 years. To complicate the matter more they are two very different breeds; three Australian Cattle Dogs and a Labrador Retriever. Plus they don't all get along 100% of the time. I also understand the time constraints of most families as my husband and I work full time. Therefore, I really have to carefully consider the amount of time I can spend working with each dog but one thing I have found; they all need a mental task to keep them happy.

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Each of my dogs are very different and each has their own style of training, engagement, and mental stimulation. I'll highlight them briefly so you can see the variety that can exist in a household. And even if your dog's don't do sports, I am sure they have very different personalities.

Squeak is a 10-year-old Australian Cattle Dog. He has multiple titles in AKC Rally, obedience, CDSP obedience, Nosework titles in both NACSW and Performance Scent Dogs. Just recently had TPLO knee surgery. Squeak is a managed dog-reactive dog. The majority of our practice is in nosework although we hope to get his CDSP Utility title in the future, so I also throw in some scent article practice as well. We are currently working towards his NW3 title in NACSW so I use all three odors and make the hides more complex. I also throw in fun tricks and shaping which he LOVES. Squeak is very confident and a really quick learner; he is my favorite dog to train with. Always eager to learn something new and does not get discouraged even with some repetition.

Heidi is a 4-year-old Australian Cattle Dog. She has no titles yet but has several legs in Performance Scent Dog and her Birch ORT in NACSW. Fully recovered from being heartworm positive last year. This recovery required a lot of savvy management! Heidi is dog reactive and a rescue. Since she had very little training when I got her the majority of our time is spent on basics such as auto-check in; name recognition and recalls. I have discovered that she is much more toy motivated than food and that has been a huge learning experience for me but
fun. You gotta play to your dog's preferences, and this has taught me a lot. We also practice her nosework skills with easier hides than Squeak but have started using odors other
than just birch. I also throw in some tricks and shaping based training as well. Her personality is much like Squeak; confident and a quick learner. She does not become discouraged or shut down but can become overly aroused which leads to cattle dog craziness.

Oz is a 5-year-old Labrador Retriever. He has novice titles in AKC rally, CDSP and WCRL Rally.
Oz is a very sensitive boy and I have to be very careful of my reaction to him when he doesn’t
necessarily understand what I am asking. If I'm not clear enough this can cause him a lot of stress and frustration. He is a quick learner but can be a “shark” when taking food and I tend to get impatient when he gets more grabby with the treats. Any sign of frustration on my
part leads to stress on his part and a lot of scratching and displacement behavior. He is very eager to work and enjoys training but definitely keep sessions short and always end on a positive note.

Aloha is a 10-year-old Australian Cattle Dog. She has multiple titles in AKC Rally and obedience, UKC rally, WCRL rally, and several legs in Performance Scent Dog nosework. She also passed her ORT in NACSW for both birch and anise. Aloha is my super sensitive girl who has very little confidence in herself. When she is on she is an amazing teammate but we struggle with enthusiasm and engagement under the stress of competition so I have to keep things interesting. Currently, she is loving the addition of both NACSW and Performance Scent Dog nosework, so that is what we will continue working on. I have also recently entered her in WCRL Rally trials again and she has enjoyed the experience after taking a year off.

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Okay, if you've stuck around and made it this far - -congrats! You are probably thinking what does all the above information have to do with training a multiple dog household. The point is that not all training can be “cookie cutter”. Each dog is an individual and some you may spend more time working with one dog and less with the other. I try to do something with each of my dogs every night even if it is a simple trick that they know well or a food puzzle. With the nosework dogs, I set hides at higher levels for Squeak and then lower the hide for Heidi and Aloha so they can be successful.

I never work more than one dog at a time. This is their “special” time and I want to devote my attention to whoever’s turn it is. An added benefit is that the dog “waiting” for his or her turn becomes much more eager to work and enjoy our session. I also do not practice more than 15 minutes and sometimes it is much less; depending upon the activity. If I am doing obedience or rally work the session may last a bit longer than 15 minutes but I throw in some play tricks as well. The last thing I ever want to see is that “OMG are we done yet” look on my dogs’ faces.

I also will end a training session if I feel myself getting frustrated even with Squeak and Heidi and especially with Oz or Aloha and I always end with the dog being successful, even if it is as simple as a hand touch! I also will not force myself to train if I just do not feel up to it. Some days are just plain exhausting at work and I know my patience level will be low; those are the nights where the food puzzles come out. The dog will be successful. I can enjoy watching them and sometimes that even brings me out of the funk and I do some simple tasks like the “shell game” for nosework or the beginning stages of a new trick.

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I do find that unless I get home from work early I only have enough mental capacity and time to work two dogs each evening with the exception of nose work hides. For example this evening I worked a new trick for both Squeak and Aloha; how to carry a basket for their next trick dog title. Squeak caught on rather quickly and was picking up the basket by the handle and started to bring it to me. With Aloha I was only able to get her to touch her teeth to the basket handle but that was great for her and we ended the session with a jackpot of treats when she did it. Because I shaped this exercise it took a bit of time so I wasn’t able to work with Oz and Heidi but that’s ok. Tomorrow night will be their turn to learn the basket trick! Tonight I just spent time snuggling on the sofa with them and telling them what terrific dogs they are! 

Some tools that can be used to organize yourself are a wipe board or a training journal. I personally use a wipe board. I will decide what tasks I want to do with each dog that week and write it down on the board. It is a great tool because I keep it on my breakfast bar where I have to see it and pushes me to make sure I am working on that particular task with each dog during the week. Keeping a training journal is also a great way to make sure you are working each of your dogs several times a week and what a great feeling when you can write down that your dog has achieved the goal you have set for the week! I am horrible at keeping journals and that’s why I found the wipe board a better tool for me. Many people are great at journals and find this is a very good motivational tool. Find whatever works best for you.

In closing, no matter what you do, even if it is a nice quiet walk around a local park or just connecting with your dog by sitting on a bench watching the environment, do something with your dogs! Make that a special time between you and that dog. Be in the moment. No phone or devices. Then repeat for your next dog. Don’t get upset or feel guilty because you didn’t get to work with everyone in one evening. As long as you spend time with them even just petting them and telling them how wonderful they, that's a great start. Then tomorrow try for more.