There’s a new craze in dog training called board & train. Supposedly more convenient than the “old school” do-it-yourself dog training, board & train programs typically offer to take your dog for a certain number of weeks or months and train them for you. After a set upon time, you then pick up your newly trained, amazingly behaved dog and you’re set for life! Seems to good to be true, right?
The first issue I have with many of the standard board & train programs is, as I wrote about in my previous article (here), dog training is like 5% teaching the dog and 95% teaching the human. Board & Training programs do this in reverse. They teach your dog a specific set of skills in THEIR board & train facility then hand the reins back to a novice, untrained owner who takes the dog back into THEIR old house. If you recall, dogs are TERRIBLE at generalizing behaviors – one of the reasons you as their teacher have to proof their behaviors by training them in so many different environments and situations. Plus they go back to their old environment, so it’s so easy to fall back into old habits and routines.
There was actually an interesting trend (written about in Risë VanFleet in her book The Human Half of Dog Training) that dogs put into this situation typically get worse overtime. Humans too suffer from this same issue. The behaviors we didn’t want from our dogs (aka the reason we sent them to the board & train program in the first place) are improved, so we relax our rules. We start to let things slide. We fall back to our old routines, because they’re easy, familiar, and comfortable. We stop (or at least slack) some of the things the board & train trainer told us to always do. And shortly after we slack, our dogs fall back to what is familiar (and likely unwanted) behavior.
Secondly, you have 100% NO control over what methods the trainers use nor any control over which trainers do the training. Is the trainer a 20+ year old dog training “pro” who hasn’t read a modern dog training book in the last two decades? Or is it the kennel tech who’s fresh out of high school with aspiring dreams of being the next world famous dog trainer? I’m not saying you can’t have a good experience with either of these two hypotheticals, but the point of the matter is you simply don’t know who’s doing what.
Is your slightly timid or reactive dog having their symptoms masked using punishment instead of having the proper counter conditioning program setup and completed? Is an incorrect application of a punishment going to trigger a new fear in your dog? You won’t know because you aren’t there to be their voice!
Case in point, a recent news story about 41 dogs who were rescued from a kennel in Hancock, Iowa supposedly doing board & train for gun dogs. Three dogs were also found deceased with their owners having never been notified. Many others supposedly being trained at the facility shipped in from all areas of the country are still missing. There fate remains unknown. Of the dogs who were rescued, their kennels were completely lacking any food or water. The build up of feces in the kennels proved they’d been living in these poor conditions for some time.
You can read more about the developing Young Gunz Kennel story here: http://www.omaha.com/news/iowa/officials-find-dogs-dead-in-poor-health-at-pottawattamie-county/article_f348a5b8-dbf1-5ff3-8de5-71d7459f35c4.html
On top of all these issues, these programs cost thousands of dollars. Even Young Gunz Kennel charges $550 per month for a facility that can’t even provide the basics of food, water and clean shelter to the dogs in their care.
Dog training should be a team effort between canine and human(s). It should build the trust and bond between the two species using safe, positive, force free, scientific methods. Having the training done by someone else without your consent or knowledge is a recipe for disaster.
Training is also a never ending process. We all grown, learn and expand our knowledge everyday and our dogs are the same way. Even my 11 year old dog enjoys a good game of hide-the-treat! Also much like kids you don’t just stop giving them advice or helping them out when they hit a certain age. To this day, my mom still reminds me to “buckle up” despite me being a religious seatbelt wearer 😉
Take the time. Make it fun. And enjoy the opportunity you have to bond with your canine friend!