TRAINING MULTIPLE DOGS IN THE SAME SESSION
If you are pressed for time in your training, then locking one or more dogs away while you work with another is time-consuming and tends to take away the spontaneity of a training session. Also, the dogs that are locked away and probably crying and barking to join you are not learning anything. It also makes planning your training sessions easier.
Teaching dogs to wait their turn off-lead and at the same time enabling observation is a useful skill and well-worth the time it takes to train. The Premack Principle also comes into play here as it does with so many of the skills you teach your dog.
What is the Premack Principle?
An individual will be more motivated to perform an activity if he knows that he will participate in a more desirable activity as a consequence. Stated objectively, if high-probability behaviours (more desirable behaviours) are made contingent upon lower-probability behaviours (less desirable behaviours), then the lower-probability behaviours are more likely to occur. The Premack principle has long been informally understood and used in a wide variety of circumstances. An example is a mother who says, “You have to finish your vegetables (low frequency) before you can eat any ice cream (high frequency)”. So with our Go to Mat game, we are reinforcing the high probability behaviour of the opportunity to train with you by making it contingent on your dog waiting on his mat (low probability behaviour) for his turn to train with you and at the same time reinforcing the low probability behaviour of waiting on the mat.
Step 1: For two dogs you will need two mats placed close together. Close enough so that you can stand in front of them and feed them treats without moving your feet. Give them three of four treats turn and turnabout, saying the dog’s name just before delivering the treat. Release them for a break and repeat the step a couple of times.
In this video I have added my pup to the lineup but the principle remains the same for two dogs. Notice how I handled Bo leaving her mat.
Step 2: For your next session, and provided all went well with Step 1, you can now move the mats further apart. You now must take a couple of steps between the mats in order to give each dog his treat for waiting patiently on his mat. If Dog A breaks and follows you to Dog B, then do nothing. Give Dog B his treat – say nothing to Dog A but walk back to his mat and wait for him to get on it. Only then does he get his treat. Do not say anything but just wait for him to make the right choice and get on to his mat. It might be that you have not taught the basics of Go to Mat thoroughly enough, in which case you need to revisit Step 1 and 2 of the basic GTM game.
Step 3: Only proceed to Step 3 if you are sure that each dog will stay on his mat while you move from one to the other or until released. With the mats positioned as they were for Step 2, and with each dog stationed on his mat, call Dog A off his mat and either on lead or off lead him a few paces away and do a couple of reps of an exercise that he can do well. At this stage, you do not want to be teaching him a new skill. You then take him back to his mat and repeat the exercise with Dog B. Alternate each dog a couple of times, and then release.