Crucial Skills to Teach for Household Harmony (And How to Teach Them!!).
Last month, I wrote a blog all about preventing conflict in a multi-dog household by identifying potential spots for conflict, managing spaces and resources, and treating each dog as an individual with individual needs (if you missed it, you can check it out here). This is all about setting your dogs -and you – up for success through management and prevention. But what about training? Training is the fun stuff, where you actually get to teach your dogs new behaviors and reinforce those behaviors so that they strengthen and are then useful in everyday situations. I compiled the top 3 behaviors I think are pretty crucial to harmony and ease within in a multi-dog household. Not only am I going to share them with you, but I’m also going to tell you how to train them.
Skill #1: Relax on a mat: This is probably the best dog training exercise, well, ever. It has so many uses and in addition to aiding in teaching basic behaviors like down and stay, it also teaches relaxation and reinforces dogs for voluntarily offering behaviors and being calm. In a multi-dog household, making sure each dog knows how to go their own mat and relax is an awesome way to minimize chaos at dinnertime, when guests are over, and when things are getting too rowdy. It also gives your dogs a platform for working together but in their own spaces. This eliminates any “Moooom, he’s touching me!” while you work with your little angels.
Teaching Relax on a Mat:
There are different ways to teach this exercise. I’ll give you one version.
- Lay out a thin blanket or mat.
- Place a treat on it so your dog goes to it.
- Continue placing very small treats directly on the mat so your dog’s focus is downward off the environment.
- Watch for your dog to slow down and stand in one place thanks to your slow, methodical treat placement.
- Start pausing a bit between treats. Your dog may sit or down on their own. If so, start treating a little faster again.
- Toss one treat away from the mat to reset your dog. Then begin again.
When your dog is reliably going to their mat each time, add a cue. You can say “go to your mat” or “relax” or “settle.”
Later you will need to add duration and distractions to this exercise, but for now, this will get you a solid start!
Skill #2: Wait until released: This skill is really helpful to prevent dogs from dashing out the front door, car door, or crate door. It also helps you have some control at a big hot spot: thresholds and doorways. By releasing each dog individually, you prevent them from going through the door together, bumping each other, and sharing choice words with each other. You also prevent them from knocking you or any children or older folks down with their zest for getting outside. This will help if you need just one dog to go through a doorway and not the others, as well.
Teaching Wait Until Released:
The really important cue you need to decide on here is the release cue. This is the cue that means “you may go through the door, you don’t need to remain in place any longer.” Since that is way too long, settling on one word to communicate this to your dogs is key. You may choose to use their names as well. Some common release cues are “free” or “release.” You can use “ok” but beware of the fact that we say that all the time so you may inadvertently release your dog when you don’t mean to do so.
Once you’ve got your cue picked, use that nifty mat exercise you’re working on to teach it. Have your dog on their mat, say your cue, and toss one treat off the mat. Invite them back, and repeat.
If things are going well, head over to a door or gate that is inside the house. Have your dog on one side and you on the other. Start to open the gate, and if your dog moves to go through, ever so gently shut the gate. Start to open again. When you see a slight moment of hesitation from your dog, say their release cue and toss a treat at your feet so they come through the gate.
Work separately with each dog and then add them together! Work to release one dog at a time for perfect household peace.
Skill #3: Take a break:
This is an awesome cue to teach and really crucial if you have multiple dogs that like to play, or even one dog who is playful and will try to engage an unwilling party. Putting taking a break on cue enables you to ask your dogs to stop engaging and come to you briefly. I define a break as just a few seconds, and then usually the dogs can resume playing. In the case that the play needs to end, the dogs can be physically separated by gates or sent to their mats (see Skill #1). By putting break-taking on cue and reinforcing it, the chances your dogs will take small breaks on their own increases as well. You’re teaching self-modulation, and you have a bit of control of how much chaos is occurring in your living room after dinner when you want to rest. But let’s face it, watching dogs play is one of the best things in the world, amiright? Who needs tv when you have dogs?
Teaching Your Dogs to Take a Break:
- Choose a word you will use as your cue. I like to use the word “break.”
- Work with each dog one at a time. Say “break” and feed a small treat. Repeat several times. By doing this, your dogs develop a strong positive association with hearing the word “break” and will want to come to you for the treats.
- When the dogs start to engage, call “break” early on before play has really gotten going. Go to your dogs and hold treats out to both noses from both of your hands so that each dog has a hand to go to and they are slightly separated away from each other.
- Tell the dogs to go play again and if they ask for more treats, ignore.
- Repeat as often as you can when they are just beginning to engage, before it gets really hard for them to listen to you.
If they don’t disengage, go to them, show them the treats, and lead them away from each other with the treats to their nose.
There are lots of skills our dogs can learn that really help in a multi-dog household. But I think these three skills are indispensable for dogs living harmoniously together, as well as us humans having solid tools to help keep the peace. These skills help prevent conflicts or fighting by fitting in to everyday scenarios so you can live with multiple dogs in a way that works. Keep in mind, these skills need to be practiced often and built on for fluency. Spending a bit of time each day – for instance, at night after dinner – working to perfect these skills is an easy way to fit training into your busy schedule. Your dogs will thank you for it!