What New Dog Parents Need to Know About ‘Board and Train’

Photo: Prompilove/Getty Images

Having a new puppy, or an older dog with challenging behaviors in need of training is exhausting. Add in the pandemic and it can feel overwhelming. Advertisements for “board and train” options where you send your dog to stay with a trainer for a few weeks and get a completely trained dog back can seem like a dream come true. After all, they’re selling behavior issues fixed, a  well-behaved dog and often promise quick results without you having to do any of the work. But if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Board and train options range from large “bootcamp” style kennel environments to smaller businesses where trainers bring individual dogs in their homes for training. While there are some board and train programs that treat the dogs humanely and use only positive reinforcement methodologies sending your dog away for training is risky and often ineffective. Here’s what dog parents need to know about the board and train options.

They’re unregulated

Dog training is a completely unregulated industry without any national standardized training requirements or certifications. This means that anyone regardless of how little experience they have can call themself a dog trainer. If you send your dog away to be trained you have no control over how your dog is being handled, or even direct knowledge about where they are staying,  how much time they spend in a crate, and other important aspects of your dog’s care.

This lack of oversight and regulation increases the possibility of dogs being mistreated or even abused. Although rare, in the most extreme cases you can find news coverage of dogs that have been lost or even killed while staying at board and train facilities.

Photo: nortonrsx/Getty Images

Despite board and train promises, there are no dog training shortcuts

If you have an untrained dog or one with a lot of behavioral challenges it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. In these moments you might want to wave a magic wand and have a well-trained dog but there are no shortcuts.

A dog isn’t a car to be sent to the mechanic to get fixed, and teaching your dog requires time, patience and dedication which includes working directly with a skilled dog trainer. San Francisco Dog Trainer Eva Lauderback of RuffRidersk9 explains that in their experience often “dog owners who are interested in this model are mostly looking for a quick fix or a magical solution to the behavioral issues they are having, or they simply do not have the time to invest in basic obedience training.” However, a key component of being a responsible dog guardian is making the time in your schedule to train your dog.

You need to learn how to communicate with your dog

“Board and train can be used to pre-install some basic things like loose leash walking, potty training, recall, and socialization but understand that as the handler you still need to learn how to work one-on-one with your pet going forward,” says Eva.

Meaning even if a trainer does teach your dog some basic skills, you’re going to have to learn how to communicate with your dog to maintain those skills once your dog comes home, and many skills can’t effectively be taught in a board and train style program.

”The main problem [with board and train]  is that dogs learn to do things for certain handlers and don’t generalize very well. There are very limited and specific behavior modifications that can easily transfer from one handler to another, environments, etc,” says Eva.

Most dog trainers will agree that the easiest part of training dogs is teaching the dog.  The hardest part unfortunately is actually teaching people how to work with their dog. Dog owners have to be taught to understand their dog through understanding the way dogs learn and experience the world, canine body language,  leash handling, timing of cues and rewards and more.

Owners who send their dogs to board and train “miss out on the theory and the technicalities as to why the dog is behaving the way they are and how to best change that” advises Lauderback which is why long-term training doesn’t tend to be effective.

Being an engaged part of the training process will not only help your dog to learn better, but   Eva encourages dog owners to choose to stay involved with training their dogs because  being part of training  is “such a crucial bonding moment between the dog and handler.”

Training a dog is a life-long process of communication and learning, for both you and your dog. Need help? During the pandemic, most dog trainers are offering virtual training options if group classes or private in person dog training lessons aren’t safe or available in your local area.

Ultimately, there are no shortcuts, and the best option is for you to invest in your dog’s learning and your relationship by training together.

3 thoughts on “What New Dog Parents Need to Know About ‘Board and Train’”

  1. Our job as professional trainers is to provide the fastest and most effective program to suit the family’s and dog’s needs and do so with the most humane methods possible. When doing our jobs right, we absolutely are more effective at installing and proofing behaviors than the average dog owner. We do provide the families with education in body language, we do teach them how to maintain behaviors we have installed, and we are a resource for them well into the future. To imply that every family needs to become technically proficient and an animal behavior expert is ridiculous. If you can’t meet a family’s needs, correct, you shouldn’t be offering this service, but there are plenty of us who offer it that can and have excellent and long-lasting results and happy families. In fact, it can very much be a kindness to the entire household, dog included to go this route when frustration is high and all are struggling in traditional programs.

    The entire service dog industry follows this model, why would it not be appropriate for pet dog families?

    Yes, there needs to be regulation, and yes, families need to vet their trainers heavily.

  2. Board & train with a qualified, positive trainer is the fastest way to jump start a dog’s training. Granted, this is an unregulated industry, but a wise dog owner should ask questions and be able to decide for themselves if they trust the professional. I’ve been doing board & trains for 10 years with great success. Good communication is critical. Follow up is essential for the dog’s continued success at home.

  3. First off, dog owners are not “parents.” Dogs are not children. Repeat: dogs are not children.

    Second, there are situations where “board and train” — by a trusted and qualified trainer — is the best solution. Dogs and owners can get locked into bad behavior patterns that interfere with training. Sometimes the best thing to do is change the handler and place the dog in a new environment for a time. I have done this twice. Once because my dog — with whom I had already done months of training — was extremely reactive and insecure. The reactivity was worst when the dog was on a leash held by me. So I had a trainer , who boarded the dog, slowly socialize the dog, work on building the dog’s confidence, and work on behavior modification for the reactivity. The other time was a dog who was a rescue animal with a history of trauma. Very high energy, easily triggered by movement, easily distracted. No serious behavior issues, but needed I help with firming up leash and attention skills. Having another handler work with him was very beneficial.

    No one should send a puppy “away” to be “fixed” so that the lazy owner can avoid putting the time into training the pup. Initial training should be done with the owner handling the dog. It’s even an important part of the bonding process. But if you have gone as far as you can with training, and your dog has developed some problematic habits, board and train may be a good solution. Just do your research about the trainer. Look online for training videos they may have posted. Ask them questions about their training methods. Put in the time. I looked into one highly recommended trainer and found a video of him HANGING a dog by the leash, as “training”! Be careful. Be safe. Be kind.

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