Home » Clicker Training Community Blog » Training

Training in the Multi-Animal Household

Filed in - Training - Dogs - Clicker Digest

I've seen this topic come up on multiple mailing lists recently: "I have two <insert favorite animal>. Do I need to separate them, or can I train them at the same time?" My standard answer used to be "Separate them," and I still believe that's best when shaping or when you (or your animal) really need to concentrate. But there are benefits to training in groups.

First, the animals learn from each other. From sled dogs to hunting dogs to carriage horses, trainers have paired experienced animals with inexperienced animals for centuries, letting the older, experienced animals teach lessons in a far more efficient, effective way than the humans could. Although scientists dispute that some species, such as dogs, are incapable of observational learning, anecodtes about animals learning cues and behaviors from watching their buddy's training sessions are common. One could argue whether the learning is observational or social facilitation or allelomimetic, but the bottom line is that training in groups or even just letting an untrained animal observe can speed up training.

I learned this when my curly coated retriever was young. I was having a hard time teaching him to back up. My Newf butted into the training session and responded to the cue to back up. Pax watched, offered the same thing, and hasn't had trouble with that behavior since. With my youngest dog, Aslan, I have intentionally done most of his basic training with Pax. Rather than have sessions where I work with Aslan on sit, down, stay, and come, I just paired him with Pax and cued those behaviors. Aslan copied Pax to try to get the reward... and learned the cues along the way. It was fast, effective, and fun!

Another benefit to working in groups is the spirit of competition can result in faster performances. Want to speed up your recall? Call the group and reward only the first to arrive. Want to speed up the sit? Cue the sit and reward only the first to sit. Working in groups can also help you teach a dog to respond to cues preceded by his name and only cues preceded by his name.

When you or your dog needs to focus, by all means, work without the other animals present. But if you have more than one animal, try working in groups and see what benefit you can derive!

About the author
User picture
Rita Ippolito's picture

training 3 together...

This blog and the subsequent posts has been so helpful. The cool thing about clicker training is it makes every body think.

I have recently moved to a new environment where my dogs are more restricted then they used to be. I started working on a 'sit and wait for the okay' at meal time using Aidan's 300 peck method. I found that I have more success with the three dogs together then with them apart. We have not yet gotten to the 30 (or 300) mark but it seems that is moving in that direction faster then when I was trying it separately. The other dogs were more distracting when I tried to feed each one separately then when I work with them together. Together each one can see what the other is doing, they all see me and they are becoming more aware each time that they have to work to together and be patient to get their dinner. I have to learn patience too! I have used a NRM (oop! or no) but my tone is easy and they have all heard it before so they know it is not punishment just an indication that they are not doing the thing I am asking. This is one case where working to together is better then working them separately.


Rita Ippolito


Group Training & No Reward Markers

In my experience dogs do benefit from being trained together at many points in their training. The only problem I have had concerns using NRMs. My lofty goal is to never use them, but the reality is that I do use them. Some dogs take it well, as I intend it. Just as a cue that they need to try something new. Other dogs do not take it too well. Sometimes I know I have made a mistake in my training, some dogs are just more sensitive, and training other people's dogs I am dealing with a lot of baggage at times where a dog has had negative training experiences. I have a rescued Golden Retriever who came with some of that baggage and is very sensitive as a whole, so I need to be very careful with him. When training dogs together I have learned from Max, my Golden, that a NRM meant for one dog can have a very negative effect on the other dog. Worse, the dog suffering from an undeserved NRM is usually behaving very well so the NRM is telling him not to do something he should actually be doing. If you use NRMs be careful when training dogs together so that one dog who is doing well isn't taking a NRM to heart that was directed at another dog.

BlueHairBob's picture

Multiple parrot training

I currently have two parrots - and training them in the same room appears to be a great way to go. I work with one at a time right now, but the other (and the dog) are always watching. The parrots seemed to be so intelligent that they pick up the training in some cases just from watching. Having the other animals in the room does cause more distractions, but the benefit of all of the animals learning in the same session may outweigh them. I think that they even learn what to eat and how to be handled by watch each other. Since this is how they learn from each other in the wild, it only makes sense that it would enhance our training.

Group training thoughts from a musher

Since my dogs have to work as a team I do much of my training as a team, but one-on-one time is also important. Each of my dogs is working on a different behavior (for example, a youngster working on 'four on the floor', a newly rescued team dog working on loose leash walking, &c.

I think the handler should pick and choose the setting and technique most appropriate for training the desired behavior, keeping in mind that dogs will learn inappropriate behaviors from other dogs just as quickly as they will learn desired behaviors.


"A good dog is so much a nobler beast than an indifferent man that one sometimes gladly exchanges the society of one for that of the other." William Francis Butler

teaching touch

I have two dogs, frannie and wilson, standard poodles. I am new to clicker training. After reading the Whole Dog Journal article about teaching touch, I thought I would try. I am training them together. That doesn't seem to work. Neither dog has really gotten the idea yet, though at times I think maybe. I guess I should separate them, totally. I have tried working one dog and then the other, allowing one to watch. but even with that, the working dog just doesn't seem to get the idea that I want her or him to touch the stick.

I must be doing something wrong.

Teaching Touch to Two Dogs

As you have two untrained (at least for this behaviour) dogs I would certainly separate them while working with one at a time - the other one can be in another room or in a crate.

You don't mention whether the target you want them to touch is a target stick or your hand, or something else, but if you are not getting touches you need to start off by shaping the behaviour. This means that at first you C/T even a look in the direction of the target and work from there. Don't be afraid to maniplulate the target a little to help get those looks - I find that it is a rare dog that won't at least glance in the direction of a stick that is being moved into touch range and out again, or a hand that is comming from behind your back into touch range. If necessary, rub your target in something that your dog loves - if nothing else works the smell of a favorite treat should have nose touches happening in short order. Good Luck!