How to Work with Multiple Pets at a Time

 

Last week we discussed the pros and cons of working with pets individually vs. with multiple at the same time. Check it out here if you haven’t yet read that post. Now that you’ve considered if you should be working with an individual pet vs. your whole crew, let’s get into the details of how to make that possible. 

 

Working individually

I observe body language for a living: canine, feline, and human. Often when I make the recommendation to someone to work with one of their pets individually, I’m met with a look of apprehension. Sometimes that apprehension stems from time or worrying about not being fair to another animal, but sometimes it’s because they’ve tried it before and it didn’t work well for them. In those cases, the client usually describes to me that their other pet– the one left alone– spent the entire time barking or scratching at the door. I can understand the apprehension of trying it again if that was the case before!

When this happens and it’s not a matter of separation, isolation, and/or confinement anxiety, then I recommend to my client to give the other pet something really awesome to work on while they’re alone: stuffed Kong, bully stick, food puzzle, etc. If that doesn’t work, we can work on building duration with the other pet in the separated room. If it is a matter of separation, isolation, or confinement anxiety we can work through a behavior modification plan to address those more serious behaviors. 

 

Working with multiple pets simultaneously

There are a number of ways to be successful at this task and each situation may look a little different depending on the specific needs of the animals and what you’re working on. Here are some tips for working with multiple pets at the same time (but know that there are other options out there than just these!):

 

Many hands make light work

So often I hear that people are worried about two animals trying to take the same treat at the same time and a fight ensuing. In that case, if your pets don’t yet have a great “wait” behavior, treat each simultaneously from two hands like in the picture below. 

 

You can also get additional help from others. Have 4 animals? Get 4 hands into the training mix. This can help with letting you focus on your particular task, too, if you’re working on growing your animal training skills. Many hands really do make light work in this case.

 

Baby gates can help improve safety

As I mentioned in the post about how Covid-19 is impacting behavior (read it here), I have a lot of clients at the moment currently working on dog-dog interactions within the house. I’ve seen a significant uptick in dogs having trouble living with one another and I know some of my colleagues have mentioned seeing the same trend. In those cases, we will eventually need to work with the dogs in relatively the same space. We’ll also need to make sure we do so carefully and safely. 

We can absolutely have both dogs on leash (and for those of you working on dog/cat relationships, we often get the cat comfortable wearing a harness and leash, too!) with two handlers. That said, it becomes trickier when we need to rely on multiple people’s schedules to work on the pets’ relationship. This is where baby gates can be incorporated. 

Set up a baby gate so that you can work with one pet on one side and one on the other. This usually brings some peace of mind to the humans as well which can make the session more fun for everyone. If having pets on just one side of the baby gate is still too close for them, then you can set up two gates with however much “dead space” you need in between, kind of like an airlock:

 

 

Stationing

The last technique we’ll talk about here is stationing: teaching a pet to go to a particular place and hang out there. Sometimes trainers will refer to this as place work, mat work, or something similar. With stationing you can have one animal on a mat or bed out of the way while working with another, then switch them. This is a more advanced approach in that you need to be able to focus on the animal in front of you but also keep whoever is stationing in mind and reinforcing each appropriately. I tend to give a treat to the stationing animal whenever I treat the one I’m currently focusing on.

This is a regular technique used in zoos where it’s more challenging to separate animals for training. Regardless of your feelings about zoos, many do a wonderful job of training their animals– usually to safely participate in husbandry and medical procedures– and can be a good place for inspiration of what’s possible with training. 

Check out this video showing crocodiles training and stationing from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Bronx Zoo:

 

It’s often easier to teach animals to station separately before bringing them together. A professional trainer can help you with this process; it will need to be well-proofed, especially if you have trouble keeping a high rate of reinforcement (aka how frequently you treat).

 

Now what?

  • Try your hand at training multiple animals at once. Choose one of the above options to start with.
  • Practice whichever option you choose before bringing your pets into the mix. Practice doling out treats single-handedly. Teach stationing separately. Practice splitting your attention between observing multiple individuals at a time. Whatever you choose, it will be easier for you and less frustrating for your pets to practice without them first.
  • Start short and sweet. Work with your pets just a minute or two at a time. Assess how it went and how it can be improved on then try again for another minute or two. 
  • Consult with your professional trainer or behavior consultant– especially if there are safety concerns between the pets. A professional can help you fine tune your skills, your pets’ skills, and help you keep everyone safe during the training process. Email us at info[email protected] to be paired with a consultant and set up your first session. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

 

Pros of Working with Pets Individually vs. Multiple at a Time

 

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

Saves time

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. 

 

Now What?

  • 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. 

 

Happy training!

Allie