Training multiple pets

Oh, this is a big topic. I think I could do a whole week’s worth of posts on positive reinforcement training with multiple pets. But for the blog hop, I’m going to focus on one thing: names.

Every morning, two hours after he finishes breakfast, Emmett takes a pill. So, every morning, two hours after breakfast, I would go into the kitchen and call, “Emmett!” And from their scattered sleeping spots around the house came Emmett… and Lucas and Cooper and Newt. Their thought process goes something like, “Hey. Emmett’s getting called to the kitchen. We get treats when we come when called. Treats live in the kitchen. Ergo, here I come!”

Every animal in this house thought his/her name was Emmettlucascoopernewt.

Training multiple pets

In the grand scheme, not that big of a deal, but I figured for things like pills or individual walks or training sessions, it would certainly be more convenient if they all stopped rushing over when one name was called. And, you know, the dog whose name was actually called came on his own.

I didn’t for a second really believe Emmett thought all those names were his; rather, I had conditioned them to all come when one was called because I’d be doling out Emmett’s bit of cheese to give his pill, everyone would show up, and everyone would get a bit of cheese. The trick with training individual responses to individual names was on me to stop rewarding just anybody for showing up and to only reward the furball who was called!

But then we started working on individual responses. All three dogs would be in a down/wait side-by-side. I’d step back about a foot, and say one dog’s name. That dog would get rewarded for coming to me, and if the others stayed in place, they’d get rewarded, too. We repeated this exercise roughly nine hundred million times because, frankly, it took that long for Emmett to “get” it. Sweet Emmett… But it was hard. You know when you’re working on something, and you can see–actually witness–their wheels turning? That.

Then, I increased the distance until they were able to go the whole length of the upstairs hallway (it’s a short hallway) leapfrog style – I call Emmett, he comes, gets his reward, goes into a down/wait. I call Lucas, etc. Then we moved it into the backyard.

They are actually pretty good on individual name responses these days, even with games like chase the treat – all three are in a down/wait. I toss a treat, release one by name, while the other two maintain their down/wait.

Does it always work? Nope! Am I still rewarding when they all show up for Emmett’s morning pill? Yep! But it’s been a super fun training exercise. It forces them to think really, really hard, so it’s a good indoor/rainy day multiple pet training exercise.

As for Newt, well, that’s another post for another day…

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