We’ve been asking y’all what you want us to talk about and a topic that keeps coming up is training in mult-pet households. It just so happens that I had planned a short series of posts for this month talking about training in multi-pet households so the timing is serendipitous! This first post is going to go into the pros of working with one animal at a time vs. multiple animals at once. The cons for each are essentially the pros of the other so I didn’t feel the need to go in-depth on those. Next week we’ll get into how to work with multiple animals at a time.
Pros of training individually
For those of you who have multi-pet households and have used professional training services, you’ve probably heard at some point to separate your pets and train them individually. Here are some of the reasons why a professional trainer or consultant will recommend this:
- It’s easier for your pet to focus
- It’s easier for you to focus and be more effective
- Eliminates competition between pets if there’s concern for guarding
Let’s explore the pros of working with one pet individually in more depth:
It’s easier for your pet to focus
Distractions come in many forms, and one of them can be in the form of other individuals. If you’ve ever been reprimanded as a kid for talking with your friend during class, you know that’s true. One way of decreasing distractions is by working one on one with an animal. This can especially help if you’re teaching something brand new or something more challenging!
It’s easier for you to focus and be more effective
Unless you’re training with a multitude of different animals every week, chances are that training is still a skill that you’re actively developing. That means it will require you to focus more on the task at hand and will be more challenging to split that focus between multiple animals. Here’s an example of what I mean by having your focus be split being more challenging:
You’re driving down a route that you’ve driven many times before. You know exactly where you’re going so you have the music cranked and you’re singing along to a song you know well. You’re able to do both of those things because both activities are well-versed and fairly habitual.
Now let’s say you’re driving to a place you’ve never been before. Your GPS says that you’re getting close. You turn the music down so you can find the place better. Finding this new place requires more of your focus and attention so you prioritize it by taking away the distraction of the music.
It’s absolutely possible to train multiple animals at once. The question is, though, are you currently proficient enough at training to do so? Can you observe and make quick decisions on multiple animals behaving in different ways at the same time? Can you continue to keep a high rate of reinforcement with multiple animals so nobody gets frustrated working in this environment?
Eliminates competition between pets if there’s concern for guarding
While there are many other benefits to working with your pet solo, the last one we’ll talk about here is resource guarding. Training activities can have a lot of resources associated with them: treats, toys, your attention. If we’re not careful about how we’re going about the training, it’s possible for pets to guard those resources and end up in a fight. Training pets individually is a good way to mitigate this issue or potential issue.
Pros of training multiple animals at a time
Although pet parents likely hear that they should work with their pets 1 on 1 more often, there are also pros to training multiple animals at a time:
- Saves time
- Provides distraction more similar to real life for a multi-pet household
- May be necessary for certain goals
This is one of the main reasons I hear pet parents asking about training their pets together. If we have multiple pets and a busy schedule, it makes a lot of sense to work with everyone all at once. I also find many people tell me that they feel bad for sequestering one of their pets to another area while they’re working with another individually. Sometimes it’s less to do with time and more about the guilt we place upon ourselves.
Provides distraction more similar to real life for a multi-pet household
Wait… didn’t I just say that limiting distractions can be a “pro” of training individually? Yep! Distractions can be either desired or undesired depending on where your pet is in their training! If your pet is on the “proofing” stage of learning then it might be beneficial to have another pet around providing distractions. Learn more about the stages of learning here.
If you have a multi-pet household and want to be able to use a certain cue with a certain pet in day-to-day life, you’ll likely need to proof that cue with the other pets around. This is especially true if you’re working with pets who feed off the others’ behaviors.
May be necessary for certain goals
If you have, say, a dog who is getting into fights with the other dog living in your house, eventually we’ll need to work with both individuals simultaneously depending on what the goal is. This goes back to working in more real-life situations.
We’ll get into different options for how to work with multiple animals at the same time next week.
- Identify a behavior that you’d like to teach your pet.
- Looking at the pros of working with your pet individually or with multiple pets at once, where do you think you and this particular pet need to start? If you’re teaching a brand new behavior to your pet, it’s usually recommended to teach individually first.
- Start training!
- Stay tuned next week for tips on how to work with multiple animals at a time.