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Dear Sue: 

I have what probably (to you) seems like a simple question, but I'm just curious how you would handle it. When you have more than one dog, what is the best way to train them, separately or together? My two haven't gotten past "sit" because by the time I get the second one to sit, the first one has assumed that he must have gotten the instructions wrong and has begun to go through any other tricks he knows.  Thanks. 

Signed, Just Curious


Dear "Just Curious,"

That was actually a very good question! You should spend about 5-10 minutes a day training on a one-on-one basis with one dog, while the other(s) are in a different location. Also, the problem you're having with "My two haven't gotten past 'sit,'" is that you need to teach them the complete command, which means beginning, middle, and end.  In other words: attention, command, release. Here are the steps to do this; it's actually quite easy and takes little time:

1. Attention: This is a key tool in training; if you don't have the dog's attention, then there's no use in asking for a command (it will also help the dogs understand which dog you want to do what). Start out by saying the dog's name in a bright happy voice, and the instant the dog looks at you say "Yes!" and give her a treat. She'll associate her name with something wonderful and you'll start to get instant attention.

2. The Command: Once you have her attention, give the command, don't "ask." A lot of people make the mistake of asking; it's a dog and it's looking to you for guidance. So instead of saying it like "Siiiiit?" you would say it like "SIT," as a command, not a question. Also, don't repeat the command over and over and over or you'll end up teaching her she doesn't have do it until she feels like it. Give one command and if she doesn't do it right away, lure her into a sit with your treat, then say "Yes!"

3. The Release: This is why you haven't gotten past sit. Think of it like this: you put a child in "time-out" then walk away and get distracted.  The child has no idea when it's over, so he leaves time-out. Same with the dog; you need to teach them that the command is not over until YOU say it is, hence the release. The word could be anything you want; OK, DONE, FREE, for example. If your dog doesn't know release, all you have to do is say the release after the command, then pat your leg to get the dog up.

Here's how the whole thing should work:

"Fido" - "SIT" - "FREE"

Keep in mind when training not to always release the dog as soon as they do the command; teach her to sit until you give the release.  If she gets up before you give the release word, calmly say "No," and put her back in the sit (without giving a reward), then give the release.

Once each of your pups learns to wait for the release word, you'll be able to move forward with your training, and start to work with the dogs together.

I hope this answers your question.

Happy Training,