By Sophia Yin, DVM, MS Jan 2, 2009
Do you have suggestions for training in a multiple dog household? Of my three dogs, two are “sitting to say please” to go out. The other dog refuses. I started letting the two go on out and making the refuser stay until she sits. But she still refuses to sit at the same time as the others. How do I reinforce behaviors properly with three dogs who don't always respond the same way or at the same time? (All three dogs are eleven years old.)
Here's the trick. For the one who just doesn't “get it,” he needs a ton of practice in a short period of time—not just sitting to go out, but for other things throughout the day. It's like when you learn a new sports skill or dance move. If you practice it 30 times in a day, you may get the move down-pat. If instead you only practice once a day for 30 days, it may take forever.
So here's what I suggest if you want to make the behavior a habit with just 1-2 days. Have the slow learner earn every single kibble by sitting throughout the day. You may need to attach him to you via leash when you're home if he tends to blow you off. That way you have a lot of opportunities to reward him for sitting because he'll be near you.
You can randomly reward him for sitting or you can have short two-minute sessions where you reward him for repeated sitting. You can also add in several variation of an exercise called leave-it where he learns that he can't get to a dropped treat because you physically block him or have tossed it out of his leash range. Then once he figures he should turn and sit and look at you, you can let him get the treat. This exercise teaches him that when he can't get something, he should turn to you and ask by saying please by sitting. Do this after you've practiced a lot of sits in a row first so that sitting is foremost in his mind.
Then work on a similar exercise at the door. Open the door and toss a treat through. Block him from going through. Once he sits and remains seated, you can let him out. If he takes a while to sit, then once he sits give him a string of treats in a row. This helps him learn that sitting is a jackpot position! Once he sits quickly each time, they you don't need to give treats-the reward is going out. By practicing a bunch of times in a row, the lightbulb will finally click on.
Once he's great with the behavior on his own (which should just take 1-2 days) then practice the same thing with your other dogs present. With this focus-type of practice, he'll be sitting politely at the door in under a week!