Training Dogs as a Group or Individually?

What could be better than owning a dog?

Answer: Owning several dogs!

If you own a dog, the chances are you will eventually succumb to temptation and get another canine companion…or two. This raises an interesting doggy dilemma, because discipline is even more important in a multi-dog household, but how do you go about training more than one dog?

Should you train the dogs as a group (or pack!) or as individuals?

The short answer is to start by working with individuals, and as each dog becomes confident with the basics, move to group training. Why is this?

Doggy Distraction

When you start out, the dogs are likely to have a different level of training. Trying to teach them as a group is like trying to teach primary and high school kids together. Some kids get the message and listen, whilst those who are bored or don’t understand are likely to disrupt the rest of the class. It’s just not possible to keep order and do the job effectively.

Equally, if the dogs are pals then coming together in a group in their minds equals playtime! It’s far more likely to end in a game than a serious learning experience. When you think about it, the dogs associate you (the owner) and getting together on a leash with going for walks, which again equals fun and frolics in the park – not concentration and learning. So it’s a bit like children assuming they’re going to the cinema, but being sat down to a math lesson. (Not that training isn’t fun, it is. But you have a vicious scenario where it is more difficult to keep order and make things fun when the dogs aren’t trained…).

Say you succeed, and manage to get the dogs sitting as a group, it’s only a matter of time before one dog breaks rank and distracts another, which means the individuals are no longer fully focused on your cues, which in turn means less effective training.

Starting Out

Dogs are a lot like children. Just like children, dogs flourish if they receive individual attention – it gives them confidence and makes them feel special. This self-confidence and trust then spills over into building a better relationship, in other words it helps you both to bond.

In addition, training requires the dog to pay full attention to you and your cues. No distractions. Working one-on-one means you can make direct eye contact with the dog and give him directed gestures. There’s no barging from the other dogs, or butting in, and so the training dog is less confused and learns faster.
A good idea is to start by building a firm foundation on the basics such as ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’. As you will read shortly, when all three dogs have a firm grasp of these you can think about group training.

A Group Activity

OK, so all your dogs now sit and stay on command. This opens the possibility to try training as a group. The trick with this is to work with one dog for a short time, while you enforce the ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ on the others. Then after a few minutes, move onto the next dog, while the first one works on his ‘Sit’, ‘Stay’. Cunning isn’t it?

So there we have it! If you want more information, consider grabbing the Holly and Hugo course Dog Socialization and Obedience Masterclass by dog trainer Ian Stone.