Can group training work? You betcha. Sometimes.

Over and over, I’ve read that if you have multiple dogs, you should train them individually. If you try to train several dogs all at once, you’re just asking for trouble. And if you try to train one dog at a time while the other ones are right there in the mix, you’re probably asking for trouble, too.

I break this rule. All the time.

Why? Oh, I might have a lazy bone or two. Or, perhaps I’m overly optimistic. Or, I suppose it could be that I’m trying really, really hard to develop that thing called “patience.”

Sometimes, it’s so completely exasperating that I wonder why I’m such an idiot. I make a pinky-swear promise to myself that I’ll never, ever attempt to train my all girls at the same time again.

And then I break that promise. Because sometimes, it’s magical. Like, for example, a few weeks ago when I taught the big dogs “paw.”

It all started when Frankie kept whacking me with his big ole paw. It hurt! I mentioned this to a lady who’s dog-savvy. She said, “Why don’t you put it on cue? Then he’ll stop doing it at inappropriate times and only do it when you ask for it?” Well…duh!! Why didn’t I think of that?!?

So I did a little research on how to teach a dog to put his paw in your hand. It went something like this:

Step 1: Put a treat in your hand and show it to your dog.
Step 2: Close your hand, but hold it close to your dog’s face so he can smell it. He’ll try to get it. First, he’ll use his mouth. When that doesn’t work, he’ll use his paws.
Step 3: Click-and-treat when he raises his paw to your hand.
Step 4: Continue clicking and treating for paw raises, eventually turning your empty hand over and asking for the paw.
Step 5: When the behavior is solid, add the cue.

Simple, right? 

I started with Frankie. The girls were watching very carefully. Because, you know, Mom has a whole lotta treats and how do I get her to give me one?

Frankie learned the whole thing, cue and all, in about five minutes. Maybe less. See? Simple!

Next, I turned to JoJo. She was totally lost. She just sat there patiently waiting for me to GIVE HER THE TREAT ALREADY BECAUSE I’M SITTING, LADY!!!

Uh…okay…

Next, I tried Chassie. Same response. And Ginny. Exact same response.

Never in a million years did I think I’d ever be typing this sentence: Ginny, Chassie, and JoJo were all too polite to paw my hand. Too polite!

Now, in case you’re new here, “too polite” has never been used to describe these girls. Excitable? Sweet? Exuberant? Energetic? Oh yes. There’s a reason I call Chassie my Tigger dog: she’s bouncy-bouncy-bouncy!

So, I went back to Frankie and we polished the behavior for a couple more minutes. JoJo was watching veeeeeeeery carefully, so I turned to her. “Paw,” I said, and wham! She slapped her paw right into my hand. I thought it might’ve been a happy accident, but no, she had it down.

Next, I worked with Chassie again. She still had no idea what to do. But she wanted those cookies, so she switched to goofball mode. Being cute always gets her some positive attention (she makes me laugh!) and sometimes gets me to give her treats. Finally, she reached up and pawed at me. Click! Treat! A few more minutes, and she had the behavior down, cue and all. Score!!

Next it was Ginny’s turn. And that’s where we hit a snag. Now, Ginny’s not a dumb bunny, but she’s not as quick on the uptake as her sisters are. It was a no-go that day. And the next day. And the next. And the next.

We’ve been practicing intermittently for several weeks now and every time, Ginny just stands there sweetly or sits there looking pretty.

But then…

Out of the blue this week, she put her paw right into my hand! I jumped up and down, squealed with delight, and gave her every single treat I had in my hand. Which was a lot – enough to be a jackpot. But then she wouldn’t do it again.

The next day, same thing. She gave me her paw exactly once and she was done.

A couple of days later, it was an entirely different story. She tried to give me her paw when I was working with Frankie and JoJo. A good sign! She gave me her paw every time I asked her that night.

And now? Well, we just finished a training session and she gave me her paw every single time! It took her a while, but she learned from watching Frankie and her sisters. And they learned from each other.

It is, unfortunately, next to impossible for me to train Callie Sue and B’Elanna when the others are around. Since they’re little, they get shoved out of the way by the big dogs, so they tend to spend the whole training session running around in circles trying to find an open spot to catch a treat. My plan is to work with the two of them together while the others are hanging out in their crates. We’ll see how it goes.

Since I don’t have any training photos to share with you, here’s a picture of B’Elanna, who says, “Hey, I live here too, ya know!”

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One Response to Can group training work? You betcha. Sometimes.

  1. Nice replies in return of this difficulty with real arguments and describing all on the topic off that.

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