Updated: Nov 7
This isn’t as difficult as you might think! It requires a little planning and strategy but can be done very quickly even in the midst of a busy day.
Two things are critical: Pay both dogs, and never pay with the noses close.
People generally have a hard time doing several things at once. Dogs, on the other hand, are great at it. When training a dog it is easy to look to one dog and ask for a behavior. What you may not realize is that the other dog in the field with you is learning too, and he may not be learning what you think he is.
Working with only one of the dogs in a pair can create stress and competition between them. The dog being rewarded may worry about retaliation from his partner. The dog excluded may feel left out and become jealous. None of this is conducive to a productive learning environment for either dog, but there is an easy solution!
When I teach a dog a new behavior, I work with that dog alone. I take the dog out of his working environment, away from the sight of his partner, and use a clicker and treats so that it is easy for the dog to learn what I am trying to teach him. Once the new behavior is learned I can ask for it and reward for it in the company of the dog’s partner as long as both dogs are paid.
This is how it works:
The dog I am looking at knows I am asking him for something. When I get the behavior I asked for, I use my verbal marker word “Yessss” to let the dog know he got it right. Then I get a treat in EACH hand, in my closed fists. I place my hands close together right in front of the noses of the dogs, right in front of me. In the beginning, I may need to repeatedly put my fist right in front of each dog until their noses are side by side.
When the noses of both dogs are together, I draw them away from each other using the lure of my closed fists with a treat inside. Once the dogs are my arm’s length away from each other, and the dogs are calm and focused on my hands and not each other, my hands open and each dog gets a treat.
It doesn’t take very many repetitions for the pair of dogs to learn that the only way to make my fists open is to give me their calm attention.
What am I rewarding the second dog for???? Well, if that dog is looking at me, or sitting near us, or standing quietly nearby, he is giving me behaviors I can reward for; these are behaviors I want to see more of! None of those behaviors can be done while chasing sheep or jumping on me. I don’t spend much time, if any, telling my dogs what not to do; instead, I reward them frequently for getting it right which increases the likelihood that they will do these things more often.
What do you do if that second dog just can’t handle this charged situation? In this case, the dogs need to work singly and be taught what behavior makes the fist open. Once that is learned by both dogs you can go back to working with them together.
Remember, remember, remember – have fun! Training should not be serious! An effective training session should be less than 30 seconds long! If you load your pockets with tasty things before you go out to do your daily chores it is easy to grab a few seconds here and there to reinforce good behavior. The dogs won’t even know it’s “work”!