Calling multiple dogs may seem like a challenge, but the good news is that dogs are capable of discriminating their names if you take some time in training them.
Whether you should call your dogs' names one by one or stick to one word that tells your dogs to all come rushing depends on how many dogs you have, their names and your ultimate goals.
In some cases, it may be impractical calling them one by one, so that's one case where it's far easier just using a word to grab your dogs' attention and get them running towards you.
The Process of Discrimination
Discrimination is the technical term used to depict a dog's ability of recognizing and understanding the difference between one thing and another.
For example, scent discrimination is the term often used to train a dog to tell apart several different smells and to respond to only one specific one. To succeed, the dog will therefore have to recognize that smell and differentiate it from others.
In a similar fashion, dogs can be trained to discriminate objects. For example, you can train a dog to learn the name of different objects and then ask him to get the one you name.
Chaser, a genius border collie owed by retired psychology professor John Pilley, was very adept at this. Just think that this dog learned to identify and retrieve 1,022 toys by name!
In order to train your dog to come when called if you live a multi-dog household, your dog will therefore need to learn to discriminate his name from the name of your other dogs.
Importance of Individual Training
When training multiple dogs to come when called, it's important to firstly work with each dog individually. The goal is for the dog to associate its name with wonderful things.
The training needs to be started in a quiet setting, such as a hallway where a helper holds the dog (or keeps the dog on leash) and releases him/her, upon the owner crouching down and calling him.
The dog is then praised and fed several small bite-sized treats to reinforce the coming when called and leave a strong impact.
Helping Your Dog Succeed
Once the dog gets the concept, you can create some set-ups to help your dog succeed and further prove to him how great his name is.
For instance, when it's mealtime, you can have your helper hold one dog as you prepare the meal at a distance and build up some anticipation. You then call your dog with the bowl behind your back and your helper releases him. Once your dog reaches you, you praise and lower the food bowl.
The same exercise can be repeated for all dogs in different rooms, and eventually, you can skip the helper and can start asking your dog to hold a sit/stay at a distance and then you can call him when his food is ready.
Raising the Bar
Gradually, distractions are introduced and the training is taken outdoors. Treats should be higher in value to compete with all the outdoor stimulus package.
You can also separate your dogs and take turns calling each dog inside when out in the yard when you are ready to feed his meal.
Each dog undergoes this training until you obtain a fluent response. The dog should readily come running upon hearing his name, followed by the cue "come!" HIs name should become music for his ears!
Important Mistakes to Avoid
Never, ever call your dog to punish him or do something he doesn't like! This is one of the biggest killers of a recall.
For instance, don't call your dog in an angry tone, or when something unpleasant follows such as to give your dog a bath or trim his nails (if he hates these) to put on the leash and leave the dog park. Doing so can potentially undo all the positive associations you have so strongly worked on building or will at a minimum weaken it, making your dog more tentative towards coming to you.
Also, don't call your dog without letting something positive happen. If you call your dog repeatedly, and nothing great follows, you risk making his name irrelevant such as the sound of birds chirping and therefore loses its powerful meaning.
Introducing an Extra Dog or Two
After each dog responds to his/her name fluently, it is possible to introduce another dog. A helpful exercise is to have two or even three dogs hold a sit stay and calling them one by one.
In the above picture you can see the lineup of three dogs. We started by saying "Odie, come!" Odie comes rushing and is rewarded.
Then, we say "Kaiser come!" and Kaiser comes rushing and is rewarded, and then we say, "Petra come!" and Petra comes rushing and is rewarded.
If one dog happens to come when he is not called, he is taken back to the spot and asked to sit/stay again until he is called.
You can mix and match the order of the dogs being called and you can take turns calling with other family members so that the dogs learn to respond to them as well.
Calling Multiple Dogs at Once (Group Recall)
If we want all three dogs to come, we would say "Petra, Kaiser, Odie, come!" and all three dogs would come rushing, although, in some cases, it may be easier to just stick to a cue that tells the dogs to all rush together when called. In those cases, you can just stick to a general cue such as "Dogs, come!"
For even a better response, it may help to use a silent whistle. The whistle sound carries out well into distance and dogs are attracted to it. It also has a tone that remains the same, whereas, voice may have different tones and fluctuations.
Although it may seem challenging calling three dogs at once, it actually may be easier considering that dogs are often eager to come when they see other dogs are getting rewarded for it. Their fear of missing out and a little competition therefore acts as a very strong incentive.
Of course, avoid calling your dogs together if they are prone to fighting or resource guard foods from one other. If your dogs tend to fight, please consult with a reputable dog behavior expert such as veterinary behaviorist for the best approach.