Sending dogs away for training has become an extremely popular training choice in recent years.
We certainly offer board & train programs in our business and have great training success with them.
While it sounds great to send away a wild and crazy dog and receive back a perfectly trained companion, is anything ever really that simple?
Here are some tips to help you set realistic expectations for your dog's board & train program, and how to ensure your dog doesn't end up in the wrong hands.
Ask the right questions
Here are some of the questions we recommend asking a prospective trainer:
- How and when will my dog be confined?
- Be sure your dog won't be excessively kenneled or crated.
- How many dogs do you take at a time?
- We recommend no more than 2-3 dogs at at time per trainer.
- What happens when my dog gets it right?
- Correct answer: the dog is rewarded with something valuable; food, a game of tug, etc.
- What happens when my dog gets it wrong?
- Correct answer: the reward or desired outcome is withheld. Aka: the dog doesn't get what he wants.
- Beware of physical corrections or collars.
- Do you use corrective collars?
- We do not recommend the use of corrective collars.
- Do you require vaccine records for the dogs in your care?
- Be sure they require up-to-date vaccines and a negative fecal test.
- How can I check in on my dog's progress?
- You should be able to check in on your dog's progress during a board & train. We provide photo and video updates every other day for our clients, and we can be easily reached in case of issue or emergency.
- What are your training qualifications?
- The most standardized certifications can be found through the CPDT and IAABC. These organizations require a strict code of ethics that protects you and your dog.
What a board & train can do
A board & train can be highly effective for teaching new behaviors and solving many problem behaviors, and is an excellent jumpstart for good manners at home.
We love teaching foundation obedience, leash walking, and house manners in a structured board and train setting.
Reactivity training can also be effectively worked on in a board & train.
Most of these behaviors can be well-generalized away from your home, and then you're given the skills to transfer those skills into your home environment. But as you'll read below, your work doesn't stop there.
What a board & train can't do
A board & train is not a quick, magical fix. This always reminds me of the quote: "All magic comes at a price."
Anyone promising guaranteed behavior in a few weeks' time is most likely using less-than-humane methods.
And method matters; the end simply doesn't justify the means when working with sentient animals. Heavy-handed punishment can certainly cause fallout in other areas, potentially causing or exacerbating fear and aggression.
A board & train cannot grow your puppy up for you. In puppies, nipping, potty training trouble, and attention-seeking behaviors like stealing items are age-specific, and also very tied to the human behavior in your home. For this reason, we recommend starting with private training in your home for these specific goals.
Look for a program that can offer you effectiveness and ethics, and is upfront about what they can effectively do for you during your pup's stay.
What really happens behind closed doors?
When you send your dog away for training, you are entrusting their physical and mental health with their trainer.
There is no standardized code of ethics nor any required certification or testing for being a dog trainer, which can lead to under-qualified people taking in dogs and taking advantage of the fact that no one is watching.
Be your dog's advocate. Find a training program with transparency.
You can find specifics on our methods here.
Navigating the weeks after a board & train
One of the biggest determinants of success in a board & train program is going to be your family's behavior upon your dog's return home.
You simply cannot send your dog away to learn an entirely new set of rules and behaviors, return them home to the exact environment and family behavior you started with, and expect a different outcome.
Behavior in dogs is fluid; a learned behavior won't stay that way without practice. What happens when you learn a new language, but then don't speak it for years? You'll simply lose the fluency you had acquired.
As trainers, we coach our clients that training is never done; you will be continuously maintaining what your dog has learned and ensuring that the rules and boundaries in your home remain consistent.