Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Why Is Walking Two Dogs Challenging?
Many dog owners look for tips to walk two dogs at once, and this is often due to a matter of convenience. Perhaps you live alone and do not have the time to walk each dog individually or nobody in your household can help. Or maybe you just simply enjoy having both of your dogs on walks with you.
Walking two dogs at once may look like an easy task, especially if you own two calm, small dogs, but things can get quite challenging if you own two large energetic and powerful dogs. But what exactly makes walking two dogs so challenging?
In order to understand the challenges of walking two dogs together, it helps to firstly gain a better insight into what makes dogs so eager to pull.
Why Do Dogs Love to Pull So Much?
First of all, consider dogs are digitigrades while humans are plantigrades. This makes them naturally faster walkers than us. While humans walk on the soles of their feet, dogs walk on their toes. Walking on the toes allows animals to move around more quietly and attain faster speeds.
On top of this, consider impulsivity. You'll notice how dogs who tend to pull the most are either young dogs (under the age of three) or just dogs who haven't received any training. A few others may pull as well when they are stressed or anxious about something on walks.
Here's the thing: Dogs who are young or aren't trained well lack sufficient impulse control and frustration tolerance.
In other words, dogs simply pull because it gets them closer to what they want and they get there faster. Sort of like a toddler running towards the merry-go-round or ice-cream truck. You don't see many adults running towards an ice-cream truck, do you? That's because as adults we have better learned how to control our impulses.
The Power of Reinforcement
Many things entice dogs on walks: intriguing smells, other dogs, open spaces, people they want to meet and greet. As a strategy, pulling works. Every time a dog pulls and gets to sniff something or meet another dog, his pulling behavior reinforces. Behaviors that are reinforced put down roots and establish.
Soon, dogs (which are masters of associations) learn that, in order to gain access to something they desire investigating, they need to pull, and pulling, therefore, becomes their default behavior in those circumstances.
It can be said that dogs who pull are dogs who haven't learned any other way. Like the toddler who runs towards the ice-cream truck, no parent has told him to slow down, and nobody explained to him that if he walks to the truck, he can still have ice cream; in other words, they haven't learned how to master yet the virtue of delayed gratification.
When Emotions Get in the Way
"But wait, I have been telling my dog repeatedly to not pull by telling him no and pulling him back! But it all just goes to deaf ears!"
In such a case, consider that when a dog is emotionally aroused such as when excited (or stressed) about something, that dog is too over threshold to learn.
In other words, his cognitive functions shut down, just like a toddler struggles to listen to his mom telling him to slow down or stop when he runs after a ball nearby a trafficked road or when he sees the ice-cream truck.
On top of this, telling a dog no and pulling back doesn't provide dogs with much information. For more on this, read 7 Problems With Telling Dogs No.
Dogs do best when they are provided with clear directions on what we want them to do instead. And consistency is very, very important.
The Risks of Inconsistencies
If you have worked on training your dog consistently to walk politely on leash for many weeks, but then one day it's pouring cats and dogs and you’re feeling rushed and allow your dog to pull just for a teeny bit, you can easily undo all your hard work and you're soon back to square one if you allow this to occasionally happen. Yes, it's easy as that.
This is because when we allow an undesirable behavior sometimes yes and sometimes no, we put it on a variable schedule. A variable schedule encourages persistence. The dog comes to learn to try his luck in pulling just as a person tries his luck when addicted to gambling at Vegas because he sometimes wins playing the slots.
So allowing these intermittent rewards allow the pulling behavior to gain force and you'll soon see a resurgence of the behavior.
The Challenges of Walking Two Dogs Together
Now that you have a basic understanding of why dogs pull, it's time to look into some problems commonly encountered when walking two dogs together. The challenges of walking two dogs together are various.
One of the biggest challenges is the fact that two dogs often feed off each others' emotions. In other words, they are more likely to get amped up and easily influence one another. They become a "team."
For instance, one dog may whine, accelerate, and look straight ahead attentively with the ears pointed forward upon spotting a squirrel, and the other dog quickly joins in the fun and you soon have the adrenaline rush of two out-of-control dogs pulling your arms out of your sockets and dragging you along for a ride.
How in the World Do Dog Walkers Manage?
Yet, you may wonder how in the world can professional dog walkers manage to walk multiple dogs at once without much effort. Actually, the dog walkers look like they are having a blast.
You may find it surprising to learn that most dog walkers didn't have to take a dog training course to learn how to manage walking a group of dogs. Training dogs to walk nicely on leash is rather a dog trainer's job.
However, most professional dog walkers know for a fact that they can make their dog walking services more effortless by consistently adhering to some basic rules. For instance, they'll screen the dogs to walk together, picking the ones that are more compatible together.
7 Tips on Walking Two Dogs Together
Walking two dogs together requires a certain level of composure on the dogs' part and skill on the owner's part. Not all dogs are good candidates for together walks. Following are some tips for success.
1. Know Whether Your Dogs are Good Candidates
Are your dogs good candidates for walking together? For instance, if you must walk a reactive dog who barks and lunges at other dogs, and add a second dog, there are great risks. Not only may the second dog feed off this dog's emotions, but they may also get into a fight due to redirected aggression.
Walking a dog who is anxious on walks, may cause the other dog to feed off the anxiety, with the risk of becoming anxious as well.
The same goes for if your dogs aren't trained well individually. If one dog does well on leash, but the other pulls, you will likely struggle. Not only because your normally non-pulling dog can get influenced by your pulling dog, but also because it's hard to train two dogs at once.
How can you praise and reward one dog for sticking by your side, while the other dog is pulling with all his force?
2. Plan Your Final Goal
When deciding to walk two dogs together, you will need to do some ahead planning. For instance, will you be walking both dogs together one on each side (one on the left, one on the right)? Will you be walking both dogs on the left side with one dog on the inside and one on the outside? Will you be walking both dogs in front of you using a leash splitter/coupler?
There are some pros and cons to some of these. For instance, if you are planning on walking one dog on each side, consider that it can be initially confusing for some dogs if they were trained to specifically walk on one side. Normally, most dogs are taught to walk on the left side.
If you have a smaller dog and plan on walking one dog on each side, you may find it helpful to have him attached to a belt leash. This gives you the advantage of having free hands so that you can use one hand to hold the other dog's leash and the other hand to deliver treats.
If your final goal is to use a leash splitter/coupler, you'll want to skip training a side position and teach a front position with a loose leash instead.
3. First, Train Each Dog Individually
It goes without saying the importance of training each dog to walk politely on leash to a high level of proficiency before adding the distraction of each other.
This means you'll have to do lots of separate work training separately, firstly in quiet settings and then progressing gradually to areas with distractions. You'll have to aim for great attentiveness to you and prompt responsiveness to you despite distractions.
Only once you have set these foundational skills and witnessed great proficiency, you can bring both dogs together to gauge where you stand.
4. Take Baby Steps
Once your dogs are under great control being walked individually, you want to take baby steps towards walking them together. Think about your final goal, in other words, where you want your dogs to be.
For instance, you can walk one dog on your left, while a helper walks the other on his/her left so the dog is next to your right if your final goal is walking one dog on each side (see picture one below)
If you are planning to walk both dogs on one specific side, you can walk one dog and your helper the other one, walking in parallel. In other words, you have your dog on your right and your helper has the other on his/her left so both dogs are next to each other (see picture two below).
If all goes well, afterward, you can then progress to walking both dogs, one dog on each of your side, or both on one side, and then if you are planning on using a splitter, you can walk them both with two leashes on one side, and then move on to using a splitter (discussed below) if that's your ultimate goal.
5. Problems With Lead Splitters
A lead splitter, also known as a coupler, allows you to walk two dogs at once without worrying about the leashes getting tangled. As great as this invention may be, it does have some disadvantages.
The main one is that when two dogs are placed that close together, they may become more competitive, which may lead to more pulling. On top of this, when one dog feels pressure on the leash from the other dog pulling, it's going to cause the other to pull as well creating a vicious cycle.
Of course, it doesn't help that the splitter puts the dogs often in front of you which can cause them to act a bit like pulling sled dogs, where they may team up and forget a bit about you. It's also difficult to praise/treat when they are in this position versus being next to you in the heel position.
Safety may also be a concern: should an off-leash dog approach and cause a fight or something unexpected happens, dealing with dogs tied up so close to each other without many options to give space can spell disaster.
6. Provide Lots of Feedback
When teaching two dogs to walk nicely with a leash splitter, you train your dogs a bit like a musher does with a team of sled dogs. Because it can be difficult to deliver treats since your dogs will be mostly in the front, you'll need to provide lots of feedback.
When you catch your dogs walking nicely, you should give them praise. Let them know you are happy.
When you catch your dogs speeding up and about to pull, start making loud steps that they can hear, signaling that you are slowing down and possibly come to an abrupt halt if the leash becomes tense to the point of pulling.
With time, they should learn that speeding up makes you slow down, and pulling makes you stop.
If there is a big distraction ahead, your best bet is to stop and ask your dogs to turn around and come to you for a tasty treat. Put the behavior of turning on cue by making a smacking sound with your mouth to grab their attention.
7. Practice Makes Perfect
It goes without saying that practice makes perfect. Those who practice walking their two dogs together daily, and in a variety of settings, always being consistent will be ultimately rewarded with a polite walking duo.
When Things Don't Work Out
Sometimes, things may not work out as planned. Maybe you have a reactive dog that is negatively influencing your other dog, or struggle in training your dogs to walk nicely. If so, don't feel bad. Many dog owners struggle walking two dogs together and some dog trainers discourage this too because it's difficult to give dogs the one-on-one attention and guidance they need to learn to walk politely on leash and maintain this skill.
Loose-leash walking is something that isn't taught overnight, but it's the result of lots of guidance and direction and the formation of a strong bond with the owner
In such a case, you have a couple of options.
Walk With Someone Else
You can walk one dog while a family member or friend walks your other dog. This is what I have done mostly with my Rottweilers. I had my female Rottweiler Petra trained to walk on my left and hubby had Kaiser trained to walk on his right.
When I was away for conferences/work, my hubby was still able to walk both of them together without any major issues because Petra was still walked on the left and Kaiser on the right.
Walk One at a Time
You can walk one dog at a time, while the other dog stays home enjoying something super-duper valuable such as a stuffed Kong. Once back, you can then swap them. The added bonus of doing this is that it gives each dog the opportunity to practice being left alone.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli
FlourishAnyway from USA on April 28, 2021:
When my grandparents were alive they had several dogs that were very eager to go for walks but since my grandfather was going blind from macular degeneration, they only went out in the back yard. My grandparents didn't discipline well anyway. My daughter and I would attempt to walk them, sometimes two at a time even though we are not dog people. What a zoo! I wish we had photos because it was what not to do. We had neighbors laughing. One dog would sit down, being low in energy, and the other would attempt to run.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 28, 2021:
I think you have given us great advice, Adrienne. I don't have 2 dogs at this time, but I have walked dogs in the past. I agree that practice makes perfect as we surely get better with practice. Thank you for a wealth of great advice, Adrienne.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 28, 2021:
I have not walked two dogs and if I did it would have been troublesome for me. Your tips are valuable are useful to anyone walking two dogs. The photo is perfect for this hub and you share he best hubs about dogs.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2021:
At one time, we had three dogs and walked them successfully. That is not to say that the leashes sometimes got twisted. Ha! Training dogs when they are young certainly helps!