By Vanessa Williams
One of the most common questions we get on Animal Sense is about Board and Train, which means sending the dog away to a trainer for a certain period of time (usually 2-4 weeks) usually for thousands of dollars and promises of a perfect dog. While there are a few truly worthwhile board and train programs out there and the right place can be a good option if you need to board your dog anyways while you are away, the vast majority of the time board and train is not recommended.
- The dog is stressed away from home. They miss their family and have to acclimate to a brand new place. They do NOT understand that this is a temporary change and that you will be back for them. They don’t understand why they are there. Stressed dogs often dont behave the same way as relaxed dogs, they don’t learn as well or as quickly, and stress increases the risk for developing emotion based behavior issues like anxiety.
- Much learning is environmental and not quickly generalized by dogs. That means that behaviors you see in your home may not manifest in the facility and vice versa. It also means that unless the program has you directly involved in the training process and thoroughly educates you on how to follow through after the program, your dog is unlikely to maintain anything he learned while away from home. The dog may listen perfectly to the trainer, but they may not listen to you because you were not involved in training them and they see no incentive to comply with your wishes.
- There is no regulation in the dog training industry and a LOT of abuse happens by people that call it “training”. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. Additionally, when the owner isn’t watching there are no checks and balances on the way the dog is treated while in their care. Dogs are choked, starved, beaten, etc. It happens a LOT more than you’d think and the stories of dogs dying in the care of a board and train facility are unfortunately not all that uncommon, as are the dogs that come out drastically underweight, bruised, and terrified of everything.
- Even those that do not directly abuse the dogs often use punitive and pain based training methods such as prong and shock collars to achieve compliance. These can have a lot of behavioral side effects, increasing reactivity, aggression, and fear in dogs that never displayed it before going to these places.
- They are often VASTLY more expensive than having a trainer work with you in your home and rarely achieve better results. This is because even when a dog is trained by someone else, you as the owner still need to put a lot of work into teaching your dog to perform for you in your life and circumstances. Many times people send the dog away because they don’t have the time to work with the dog to solve the issues, but if you wont put the work in with your dog with a 1 on 1 trainer, then the chances that your dog is going to maintain any behaviors learned at the board and train facility are slim, leaving you with a dog that still doesn’t comply.
- Most behavior issues like reactivity, aggression, anxiety, and fears are tied to emotions and take quite a bit of time to solve (think months-years). Most board and train sessions are not long enough to solve these things, but they ARE long enough to stress the dog into shutting down so that it appears the issues have been fixed. This leads to the dog going home, recovering from their stress, and then the behavior comes back even worse because of all of the negativity they experienced at the training facility.
What makes a GOOD program?
In order for a board and train to be acceptable in my mind they should:
- Trainers use ONLY positive based training methods with the dogs. NO leash pops, shock collars, prong collars, choke/slip leashes, throwing things at the dog, hitting with newspaper, loud noises, and other aversive things to frighten or intimidate the dog into compliance.
- Trainers video tape or have livestream cameras on all training sessions as well as where the dog is kept while not being trained. Taping the sessions allows the owners to see how their dog is being treated as well as how the trainer achieved their results so that the owner can learn from that to replicate the process. It keeps the trainers accountable for how the dog is cared for and makes sure they are providing the appropriate amount of quality training you are paying for.
- Involve the owner by having them participate in training sessions at least once a week and then at least one other session in their home after the program is finished to help transition the dog to success in the owner’s life.
- Do not claim they can fix any behavior or give you a set time for when they will be able to solve things. While a good trainer can teach a dog solid basic obedience skills in a few weeks, that doesn’t mean those skills will be proofed to be followed outside of the trainer’s environment or by people other than the trainer. Behavior issues such as reactivity, food aggression, noise phobias, etc take months of careful management to truly make progress on so a few weeks with even the best trainer is unlikely to be worth your money. Things such as separation anxiety or relationship issues with another human or animal member of the family cannot be solved in board and train at all.
- Have the dog living in a home situation with the trainer. Facilities and kennel environments cause extra stress on the dog and can create new issues such as excessive barking, separation anxiety, and more. Some really nice facilities have the dogs in a kennel where each kennel is like a room in a home, with a couch, TV, etc to make it feel less like a kennel environment. Additionally, dogs behave differently in different situations. If the owner is having an issue in the home, such as potty training or barking out windows, it will be difficult for the trainer to achieve results if the pup is kept primarily in a kennel.
- Follow all of the owner’s care protocols. This means feeding, medication, potty schedule, etc. You want a dog that fits back into your life when he comes home. Unless the changes are approved by you and part of solving the issue (such as a different potty schedule when the goal is to get the dog potty trained), the trainer should not be taking it upon themselves to change the dog’s diet, amount of food given (unless part of a fitness/weight loss program), medications and supplements given, etc.
If you are having issues with your pup that need professional help, your best bet is to have a qualified trainer or behaviorist come work with you in your home. They will be able to evaluate your situation and recommend the best next step and whether board and train is right for your situation. Go here to learn how to interview and select a qualified trainer: https://ruralveterinaryoutreach.org/2022/02/08/choosing-a-dog-trainer/
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