We get a LOT of questions sent in every day and we can’t answer them all, so we have decided to ignore questions from ‘random strangers’ unless they’re really useful to our readers – but we do always try to answer questions from blog friends or from genuine blog followers who comment from time to time!
This is one of the questions we were asked in Aug, from my blog friends: Riley & Enzo the Golden Retrievers:
Our human wants to start clicker training me again, and do some clicker training with the young one. I used do well earning treats that way, but she got the clicker out and we now both repsond to the sound of the clicker (and we’re both looking at her laptop with much interest when Hsin-Yi clicked for you as we were waiting for our own treats!) so she hasn’t yet found a way of training both of us apart from arranging for someone to take one of us off the property. She has tried changing the click sound, but we still both respond and both want a treat. Any ideas on what we can do? Do you only clicker train in private, or are you OK around other dogs when their human’s making the clicky sound for them?
(from Riley & Enzo’s human)
Having two dogs creates an interesting situation. Often I’ll be wanting them to do the same command e.g. wait at a door, sit, come (so I give the command without a name or use the world “Boys” in front of the command). I’ve also been trying to get them to do different things when they are side by side e.g. “Enzo down…. Riley stand”… and then “Enzo sit and Riley go to mat” to see if I can get them doing a little routine together. With praise, they do OK, but don’t learn as quick as they do with a clicker, and if I get the clicker out to try training a new behaviour and click for one the other wants a treat (and breaks from whatever command I’ve asked them to do last). I’ve also tried using different sounds for each dog (e.g. rattling a jar of coins, clicking with my tongue, etc) but they both learnt very fast the new sound means food!
What does Honey do if she hears the clicker (in your house or when you were leaning dance routines with other dogs around), and it is not clicked for her? Also have you ever tried cllicker training your cat to do tricks with Honey there?
We have several blog friends who own 2 or more dogs and train them at the same time – so I feel that they’re probably better qualified to answer your question than me! Hopefully they will add their thoughts as well in the comments below. But here’s my answer, for what it’s worth!
Training with other dogs around (one dog per handler)
Although Honey is an “only dog” at home, she has often had to be in class situations or even during training playdates with friends when she is surrounded by other dogs who are also being clicker trained and therefore she is being bombarded by “clicks” all around her. I find that she has no problems distinguishing the “clicks” that are not for her when they are being done by another human, with another dog, ie. she only focuses on ME and what I am doing (or whoever is working with her at the time – she is quite happy to work with other people).
One of the key requirements of dancing is the dog being able to keep their attention on you, despite being off-leash and possibly at a distance from you (during the routine), and ignoring everything else going on around them – so this has been good practice for us. In our dancing club back in Auckland, we often had to train & practise in a ring with several other dogs – we simply pick a corner and teach our own dog to just focus on us and ignore everything else around them. Of course, some dogs find it harder than others – if they keep wandering off, they may need to have a leash trailing from their collars so that you can step on it to stop them running off – but with consistent repetition & practice, most of the dogs learn to just focus on you and remain with you. To be honest, when many people first start dancing with their dogs (as a sport), they find the biggest challenge is not getting their dogs to do the tricks & moves but actually getting their dogs to remain focused on them and stay with them, when the dogs are loose, in public, with several distractions around.
So the answer to your question is that Honey just ignores the “click” for other dogs, if someone else is doing it – just like she has learnt to ignore everything other people & dogs are doing around her, when she is working with me.
One handler clicker training 2 dogs
It becomes a bit more complicated if I am training Honey and another dog at the same time. I have done this sometimes in the past – with friends’ dogs – and what I do in that situation is that I put one of the dogs into a Down Stay, to “wait their turn”. This has the added advantage of them practising their Stays with distraction, while I’m working the other dog – two for the price of one! Alternatively, I would send the non-working dog to a mat, again practising their “Bed” command. When they are released from their Down Stays or their Beds, then that is the signal that it is “their turn” now – and the first dog takes their place on the Bed or Down Stay. So effectively, both dogs learn to take turns and whatever is happening when it is not “their” turn has no significance to them.
I would keep each individual session very short when first introducing the concept of “taking turns” – so that you don’t set the waiting dog up to fail. So one trick, then swap over; one trick, then swap over. Then when the waiting dog is handling that well, extend it to 2 tricks, then maybe 3 – and so on. But you may never do more than short sessions with each dog and that’s fine. And each time I would click & treat the working dog’s last trick – then turn to the waiting dog, say their name and give them their release word, followed by click & treat for them too. Then swap them over.
The power of the Release Word
OK, so it’s all very well teaching the dogs to “take turns” but what if they won’t wait their turn quietly?
You mentioned the waiting dog breaking their Down Stay when they hear the click – I avoid this problem by making sure they are taught a ‘Release Word’ and I enforce this religiously. Therefore, even if they hear a click while they are lying down – if they haven’t been given their release word, they’ll know that it’s not a signal they can get up. It makes things very clear to them. eg. you can click Enzo for doing a Sit while Riley is in a Down Stay – and then turn around and say to Riley “OK!” (or whatever release word you use) – and then click again, for Riley this time, for getting up AFTER the release word. So each dog gets their own specific click for their own specific thing.
Having the Release Word for Riley makes it much easier for him to understand – because if he hears the click for Enzo and he gets up – well, he just gets ignored, no reward and put back into his Down Stay again. Why? Because the click wasn’t for him – he hadn’t been released, had he? It’s very obvious to him. But this only works if you don’t use the click itself as a release signal. This is the trap most people fall into – they ask the dog to do a Down Stay and then use the click or treat or praise as the release signal – when actually, they should only give the click/reward/praise AFTER they give the Release Word. This way, you’ll never have the problem of your dog misunderstanding the click/reward/praise and breaking their Stays, since they know that they must remain staying until they hear that specific Release Word. If they break before the Release Word, no reward.
Using a Release Word is really the key to the problem of dogs breaking their Stays early – a lot of people have problems with dogs getting up when they say “Good dog” or even if they look at them or walk towards them – this is all because they have released their dogs from their Stays using those words or actions sometimes. It is confusing to the dog because sometimes “Good dog” means “Good dog for lying there, continue lying there” and sometimes “Good dog” means “OK, you can get up now!” It is very unfair to them. So with Honey, I have a Release Word “OK!” and I am always consistent about this – she is NEVER allowed to break her Stay before she hears this word. If she breaks before, she is put back into the Stay. Therefore it doesn’t matter if she hears “Good dog” or “Yay!” or me patting her head or a “CLICK” or me jumping around her…they mean nothing at all, until she hears the Release Word. I might still say “Good girl!” after I give the Release Word but I use it only to mean praise, nothing else. Commands & words of praise must be consistent in their meanings, otherwise it gets really confusing for dogs.
Earning your turn
But of course, I wouldn’t just start putting a dog in Down Stay or Bed in such a challenging situation unless I knew that they had a pretty solid Stay to start with. So if I had 2 dogs, I would work on them both having solid Down Stays (or at least one!) before attempting to do clicker training together. If I haven’t got the time to do this first (or the dog has a very unreliable Down Stay and keeps breaking it – and I don’t want to keep interrupting myself to put them back) then I would just tether one or put him in a crate, while working with the other. I would not necessarily remove him to another room as I feel that it’s important to teach the non-working dog the concept of “waiting” for their turn. So they learn to stay quietly at the side and watch and wait, until it is their turn to work with me. (NB. See Mango Momma comment below about her way of putting the dog in a another room but still letting them watch you)
This has the added advantage of making the waiting dog very motivated because “working with me” becomes a valuable resource. People often say the waiting dog “gets jealous” – well, that’s just humanising things – dogs don’t feel jealousy the way we humans describe it – but yes, the waiting dog DOES want to come and get some of the attention for himself too, because working with me and attention from me becomes a valued resource that another dog is getting – so the waiting dog wants it too, just like food or toys or affection.
I understand, that some dogs will start barking or whining or generally making a nuisance of themselves and thus distracting the working dog. In those situations, I can understand that you might need to remove it to another room/area. But in general, unless it is unbearable or seriously distracting to the working dog, I would keep the 2nd dog nearby, watching, because:
- a) I would use this as an opportunity to teach the waiting dog that he only gets what he wants by being quiet & calm (ie. so I won’t release him or work with him until he shuts up) and
- b) I would use it as an opportunity for the working dog to practise focusing on me with a distraction (the other dog making a fuss). Again, two for the price of one!
I feel that if you can stick it out for a while, the 2nd dog will eventually learn that they have to wait quietly to earn their turn with you. But of course, a lot of this depends on how much you’re able/willing to put up with and how much it interferes with you training the other dog. (I can be very stubborn and I will sit through terrible howling and barking just to make my point! )
Ignore and Conquer
Another alternative – if you really can’t manage to get the waiting dog to do a Down Stay or to stay calm tethered – is to just ignore him altogether, when it is not his turn. I use this method when I am training Honey & Muesli together – mainly becaue I haven’t trained Muesli to do a Down Stay (not that I think cats can’t be trained to do it but I just haven’t had the time & energy to devote to teaching it).
Since Muesli has been “switched on” to the clicker, she is very keen and will rush over whenever she hears the “click”. So as soon as I start doing any clicker training with Honey at home, Muesli will be there within minutes, also hoping to earn treats. So now, pretty much any training session at home involves the 2 of them and what I do is I make them take turns.
When it’s Muesli’s turn, I make Honey do a Sit Stay or a Down Stay. You’ll notice in the videos that she still keeps trying to do things during that time – like wave her paw or “Look up” or anything else she can do in those positions, to try and earn a treat from me.
Here’s a video showing me doing a training session with Honey & Muesli together. Check out the bit where I’m trying to teach Muesli to weave through my legs and Honey is supposed to be just Sitting & watching but as you can see, she still keeps waving her paws around to try and get my attention! She has whacked Muesli on the head a few times doing this! Usually I just ignore Honey and whatever she’s doing when it’s not “her turn” but I do occasionally reward her, mainly for remaining in her Stay.
If the movie does play, try here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itiJ0SfwlAw
When it’s Honey’s turn, I pretty much just ignore Muesli – although I have to confess, I do sometimes slip her a treat for doing nothing other than hanging around us! I probably wouldn’t do this if she was a dog but I guess you do bend the rules sometimes with cats! In any case, Muesli isn’t really making a nuisance of herself. If she was meowing & wailing, then I would just ignore her.
If I was using this “ignore” strategy with a dog, then I might consider throwing a treat to the ignored dog whenever he sits or lies down quietly of his own accord. I wouldn’t click them for doing it – because I want to teach them that when it is not “their turn” , the clicks don’t apply to them – but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still reward and encourage “good” behaviour (in this case, lying down & waiting quietly) – and of course, the more you reward a certain behaviour, the more likely they are to repeat it. So in this way, I would be surreptitiously teaching the ignored dog that they will get rewarded if they lie down & wait quietly, rather than hassling and trying to get in on the action.
The other thing I do is that I make the start & end of each session/turn for each animal very clear. I always call their name to get them to come in front of me & make eye contact before I start any training. This is my signal that their “turn” has officially started and they have my full attention. I also always say the name of the animal before I ask him to do something, to make it very clear to him that I am working with him at that moment and that’s who the click & treat is for.
Then when I am finished, I use the phrase “No more!”. This is a consistent phrase I use with Honey when I want to signal the end of a game or activity. We have taught this to her from Day 1 as a puppy and she knows that once she hears this word, no matter how much she hassles or begs, she won’t be getting anymore. It only works if you’re 100% consistent, though – no exceptions! I have seen too many pet owners say. “That’s it! No more!” – and then relent and throw the ball just one more time or give just one more cookie…so the dog just learns to pester harder. Paul & I are religiously consistent about “No more” – so Honey knows there is no point trying after she has heard this phrase. It is THE END and she gives up and goes away.
We used this phrase to signal the end of a Tug game or Fetch game and we also use it when we don’t have any more treats/food to give her. (* I am naughty and don’t follow the golden rule of never feeding your dog from the table or from your plate – we DO feed Honey scraps from the table or our plates sometimes but our rule is: once we say “No more!”, that’s the end of it – we won’t be giving her anymore – no matter how much she begs around the table. So she tends to give up. This means I can be eating something and feed her some pieces – but then if I say “No more!”, she’ll turn and go away because she knows that’s the end. Sometimes I don’t feel like feeding her any pieces – so if she comes up to me to beg for some, I just say “No more!” from the beginning – and Honey understands that and gives up. I am not suggesting that people should feed their dogs from the table or whatever – that is just what WE have decided to do and this rule works well for us – Honey doesn’t beg constantly at the table or hassle visitors for food, in spite of being allowed scraps sometimes. But that is because we have a very clear, consistent language to communicate with her so she always knows exactly what to expect.)
So yes, if you have a consistent phrase that you use to signify to your dog the “end” of an activity – then you can use this to signal the end of each dog’s turn in the training session, so that they know they won’t be getting any more attention or treats from you, no matter what clicks they hear. Their turn is over.
Of course, if the animals get good at the concept of taking turns, you can relax things even more and possibly not have such “separate” sessions with them – so you don’t need to always clearly END one session with one animal before turning to the other – they can just keep taking turns alternately.
I do this with Honey & Muesli – they will be facing me side by side and I will ask them each in turn to do something – and click them for that – before I turn to the other one. But I will always say their name clearly before each one, so it’s clear who I am addressing. So for example:
“Honey – Sit – CLICK! (treat)” – turn to Muesli – “Muesli – Pretty – CLICK! (treat)” – turn to Honey – “Honey – Shake – CLICK! (treat)” – turn to Muesli – “Muesli – High 5 – CLICK! (treat)” – and so on.
I find that when I do this, neither Honey nor Muesli has a problem understanding who is being clicked. Yes, the one that is not being asked to do stuff will keep trying to do things too – but I just ignore them and don’t care that they are not being rewarded when they hear the click. They will soon understand when the click is for them and when it’s not.
I hope that’s been helpful in some way. Of course, I’m not a professional trainer and I don’t have a multi-dog household, so these are just my opinions based on my own (limited) experiences! You will probably get other/better suggestions from the people who actually do own 2 or more dogs!