Training Two Dogs

Q. I’m a single woman with two dogs. I have a busy work schedule that leaves very limited time for training; I also live in a loft apartment and cannot easily separate my dogs. Is it possible to train both dogs at the same time?

A. I can relate to your situation. Ideally, I would like to spend more time working one-on-one with each of my two Pugs, but I also have a three-year-old and a full-time job. Luckily for both of us, limited time and space doesn’t have to mean limited training.

Dog owners often perceive training as a monumental task that requires a huge time commitment. Just like many New Year’s resolutions — which are abandoned because of unrealistic goals and expectations — many dog-training endeavors have a short life. Fortunately, training doesn’t have to be a specifically scheduled daily hourlong session; instead, it can become part of your day-to-day life with your dogs.

Working just a couple of short training sessions into your schedule each day will leave you with two well-behaved pups in no time.

Make Every Interaction Count

You may not be aware of it, but every interaction you have with your dogs is part of their training, even if it’s unintentional. Rewarding behaviors like barking and hyperactivity with attention and petting teaches your dog that these are desirable ways to act. Instead of responding to behavior you do not want your dogs exhibiting, train them to be calm and relaxed around people and in your home.

Start by teaching your dogs a couple of foundational behaviors, such as sit and down. To instill structured interactions, before giving your dogs a privilege — a treat or a toy or just some petting — ask for one of these foundational behaviors. If the dogs respond within the next 10 seconds, reward them. If they don’t respond, wait 10 to 20 seconds and ask again. If both dogs desire the same privilege at the same time, such as being let in from the backyard, allow each dog inside as he individually responds to your command.

Training Two Dogs at Once

Teaching two dogs a new behavior at the same time is possible, but it’s challenging even for professional trainers. The trainer needs to reward the dog precisely at the moment he does the right behavior; when two dogs are trained together, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when each dog does the desired behavior, which makes it hard to mark and reward that behavior every single time. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on training your dogs.

If you would like to attempt to train both of your dogs at the same time, the best way to do so is by using two distinct markers. You can use a different verbal marker for each dog, such as “good” and “yes.” Another option is to use a sound marker, such as a clicker for one dog, and a verbal marker for the other dog. This is a good alternative because the two markers can be delivered at the same time.

The simplest way to train new behaviors, though, is to work with each dog individually. If you are working with limited space, the easiest strategy may be to crate one dog while you work with the other. The crated dog can be given a food puzzle or a stuffed Kong to keep him busy during the other dog’s training session. Alternatively, tether one dog next to you while you work with the other dog. The tethered pooch can be rewarded for maintaining a sit and down stay or for lying on a mat. Treat the stationary dog frequently in the beginning to reinforce the relaxed position. Keep a reward rate of at least 10 to 12 treats per minute. If he gets up or moves around, wait until he resettles himself before rewarding and continuing with the other dog’s training.

If this sounds too complicated for you or your dogs, another option is to search for a dog trainer who will work with your dogs during the day. I train dogs while they’re boarded at a veterinary hospital or at doggy day care, and catch up the pet parent later in subsequent sessions. This type of service can be a big help to busy pet parents like yourself.