Are you struggling to train your dog? Perhaps you have an unruly puppy who is peeing in the house. Or maybe you have an older dog who jumps on you when you come home. Your dog’s issues might even be more serious, such as reactivity. There’s no doubt you could benefit from professional help, but is board and train the solution? Learn more about board and train and why it might not be all that it seems.
What is Board and Train?
Board and train facilities are like boot camps for dogs. Owners place their dogs in the facility’s care for two or more weeks and are assured a well-behaved dog at the end of the stay. While your dog is at board and train, they will work with at least one trainer to tackle anything from basic obedience to the promise of eliminating problem behaviors like aggression or fear.
Why Board and Train Isn’t a Quick Fix
Board and train sounds like the ideal solution for a perfectly behaved dog, right? After all, somebody else does all the hard work and you reap the rewards. Well, in truth, it doesn’t work like that. There are many reasons why board and train might not be right for your dog. First, dogs don’t generalize well. That means when they learn a behavior, they learn it very specifically. If you teach your dog to lie down in the living room, they will think “down” means “lie down in the living room.” You need to teach them to expand that behavior to the rest of the world.
So, if your dog learns a new skill at the board and train facility, they won’t necessarily understand the same rules apply in your home. For example, if your dog loves to door dash and the board and train teaches your dog to wait at doorways, you can’t be sure your dog will wait at your front door. The environment has changed, so your dog’s behavior might too. You will need to continue the training to ensure it generalizes.
In the same vein, if your dog lives in your house with you, you need to look for a board and train facility that keeps their charges in a home environment. Many facilities keep their dogs in kennels. How is your dog supposed to learn the rules of your home if they aren’t even being trained in one?
Second, along with helping your dog generalize, it’s key that you continue the training process to ensure the new behaviors stick. If your dog learned to sit at the board and train but you never reward sitting when they get home, it won’t be long before your dog stops sitting for you. If you want to maintain good behavior, you need to reinforce it with treats, toys, games, praise, and so on. Training is a lifelong pursuit.
Third, you may need to change your lifestyle, particularly if your behavior was contributing to your dog’s issues in the first place. Antecedents matter. For example, if you leave food on the coffee table, you’re luring your dog into bad behavior. Although they might learn “leave it” at the board and train, continuing to offer such temptations is inviting your dog to regress to previous bad habits.
Finally, the key to good behavior is building a solid relationship with your dog. Your dog should want to listen to you and have a vested interest in doing what you ask. It doesn’t matter if they will listen to the board and train staff if they don’t care about listening to you. That means you need training too. The board and train facility should teach you all the verbal cues and hand signals they taught your dog as well as the techniques to continue working with your pet. And then you need to put those skills into practice to show your dog that you are worth their attention. As an added bonus, the time you spend with your dog engaged in positive training will strengthen your bond and build your dog’s trust in you.
Dangers of Board and Train
Not only is board and train not a quick fix, unfortunately these facilities aren’t always safe. There have been numerous documented cases of animal abuse and even death at board and train facilities. Many of the trainers associated with board and train use harsh methods including shock collars and other aversives. These techniques can lead to dire consequences for your dog from stress to physical harm. This reliance on aversive techniques may be a result of the brief time frame available to produce results. Some trainers find it easier to suppress behavior through punishment than to build behavior through positive training. And because you aren’t there to see what’s being done to your dog, you’re trusting the board and train facility to put your dog’s welfare above their guarantees.
How to Assess a Board and Train Facility
Even knowing the amount of work you need to do when your dog gets home and the importance of finding a safe and positive facility and, you might still be interested in seeking this service. If so, here are some tips for assessing the suitability of a board and train facility:
- Discuss the methods and equipment the trainers will use as well as the behaviors they will teach your dog. Get them in writing.
- Inspect where your dog will live while at the facility. Is it in the trainer’s home or in a stark kennel outside?
- Take note of dogs currently at the facility. Do most seem happy and relaxed? Do they respond positively to the trainer or show signs of resentment or fear?
- Insist on visitation privileges and take advantage of them.
- Ask for references from former clients and follow up with them.
- Be wary of anybody who guarantees results. Dogs are individuals and each one learns at their own pace.
Alternatives to Board and Train
Unless your dog has issues around other dogs or strangers, dog training classes are a fabulous alternative to board and train. They provide socialization, distraction training, and help your dog generalize behaviors to other locations. Plus, the instructor will help build your skills. If you want one-on-one support, private training can be the answer. You can even have a trainer come to your home if you feel your dog’s concerns are best addressed in their usual environment. For problem behaviors, you can enlist the help of an experienced trainer or a veterinary or animal behaviorist.
Dogs are not cars. You can’t fix problems with a trip to the mechanic. Whether you use board and train to jumpstart your training or use classes and private training, you still need to put in the effort. Your pet is a living, thinking, and feeling being, so teaching them means you can’t pass the work onto somebody else. Training your dog should last for their lifetime and is part of meeting their physical and mental needs.