How many dogs do you have?


How many dogs do you have and what are you training them now?

I asked this question of a group recently when I was doing a people training session. And you know what, nobody had less than two.  Several years ago I did a job explanation to students program for high school and asked a similar question and most of their families had three or more dogs.

I got to thinking about this after the program was done. Mostly everything is written as if you only have one dog, but maybe that isn’t the case. Personally that isn’t the case, we have three dogs and a cat in the house. Sometimes it’s hectic, especially since adding the new (8 yr old) Jack Russell.

On the what are you training them now question. Most people were working on sit and lie down for their young dogs, some mentioned coming, not jumping up or staying off of things and teaching the pup its name. The old dogs? Well they mostly weren’t getting any learning or maybe a little sit and down. Nobody mentioned any games and the only hunting was mentioned as something the older dogs had already been trained to do.

Here’s what I’m thinking (this is from my own experience especially when I was a “traditional method” dog trainer and from observing others):

  1. Get a new dog or puppy and it’s novel, funny, cute, and a new thing to play with, so there’s a bunch of initial attention.
  2. New dog/puppy and all these wild, uncivilized behaviors demand a response, so there’s initial focus on ‘don’t do that’ training, which, if done the usual way, reduces the dog’s desire for more training and adds some toxicity to the relationship on both sides.
  3. Time goes by (whoopee) and the puppy/dog becomes less novel, funny, cute and many of things he does get suppressed or the habit of managing him becomes ingrained. We love him but adjust our expectations downward or disappointment sets in about the abilities or temperament of this dog, or somehow the puppy-hood phase is fondly remembered and so another puppy joins in. Or the current dog is so wild that a buddy is the proposed solution to exercise and doggy entertainment. Or one person in the family wants their own puppy, not just a share of the family dog. Or someone tells us of their plight and we agree to take in another dog.
  4. Now there’s two dogs and they magnify each other, especially the barking, running, chasing, and protection aspects. Two is more than one plus one in this case. But competition can be used (carefully) to get higher levels of good behavior and faster games. I think, the more dogs you have the more they need to know how to be calm and controlled and there’s a couple of ways to do it – the most common is to get them suppressed, fat and lazy so they don’t have much capability, the other is do quite a bit of positive training, games and socializing that is fun for all involved.

Here’s a little of what I do with my three, plus one feline, 8 yrs, (morning training can take as little as 30 minutes or upward to an hour). Morning is all dogs out at once to potty and a quick run around the large country yard.Reggieandhydrangeassept202013 011 Then Reggie gets confined to eat a small amount while I play Frisbee games with Jazz and Max. Max gets done first (he’s a shepherd who is 10+) and he gets some brief training on different cues – sit, down, back, twirl, spin, get the dog dish, catch,  paw, pretty or whatever before he gets to eat all the food in his dish. Jazzie, 5 yrs, gets extra Frisbee runs with more control added – wait before release, go around, figure 8, directionals  then she gets the majority of her food in the game Cube so she needs to work to get it delivered. I do extra stuff with her, later.april13fencedogsroad2013-009.jpg

Then it’s Reggie’s turn. He has trouble releasing fetched items, so we’ve rewarded for release. Now he’s starting to drop the item early, so its back to encouraging holding it with a re-up of the tug game and then release. I shortened the toss and added a run-away on my part. He’s getting a lot better at catching the Frisbee in mid-air, he’s learned to go around me without trying to steal the Frisbee and mostly he’s not stopping to play push-the-Frisbee-around games with himself.

Several rounds and then off to feed the horses. Reggie found some half-grown rodents in the hay, so he’s thrilled there might be more. Back to the house, depending on weather two dogs might stay outside in kennel runs for a while or come in with Reggie (they end up confined inside while the Reggie education continues). I hand feed him the rest of his meal for doing stuff – we always play some crate games, we’re working on distance cues (about 6 feet away at this point), always rewarding seeing the cat and not chasing him. After our games he’s confined to his crate for a couple of hours and the other dogs are free to lounge near me while I work on other things.

He'll jump through the hoop or over a dog.
He’ll jump through the hoop or over a dog.

(FYI the cat gets to do some cat tricks for treats every morning, usually while I’m making my breakfast). Key training for Max – scent gamesSnowydayMay22013 005 and for Jazz I want to be able to interrupt her chase runs (ball, Frisbee…) for a sit or down – we’re still at the near me phase of that. (Breakthrough today, I threw the black ball w/tail, sent her to get it, three-fourths there I called her back and presented Frisbee to tug … very fast response – of course the Frisbee is much preferred over the black ball w/tail).

So it’s a combination of some group time where I check my ability to recall each dog and the group from a distance or from close interesting things (I have treats and tug in my pockets) and separate training for each, depending on what I notice they need most at the current time or what we’re preparing for, i.e., Monday night agility classes. What happens is that each dog remains novel and interesting for their whole life. They don’t hit a mid-life, fat and lazy slump of dullness. The draw of puppy newness is still a back-of-the-mind thought, just because puppies are puppies and a new, almost blank slate of possibilities.

If this is so, why do I have three? Well the two extra ones seemed to need me, I wasn’t actually looking to add.

Why do you have extra dogs?

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