My name is Kelsie and I want to answer your questions about board & train programs.
Although there are some benefits to having your dog trained by a professional trainer, pet parents should proceed with caution.
Before I dive into details of what a board and train program is and is not I want to discuss briefly about the human expectation of a perfect dog. The thing is your dog owes you nothing. They have absolutely no obligation to listen or obey you... And the tough truth to face is sending your dog away to boarding school WILL NOT solve your problems or get more obedience.
Obedience is a construct we (humans) made up. It would appear to an outsider looking at us earthlings as though we were all drunk off some potion that made us entitled to control every other earthly being around us for our own benefit -- including other humans. So let's take a moment before trying to learn about board and train programs for dogs, please remember your dog is not a computer or robot. No you cannot "reboot", "reprogram", or "design" the perfect dog.
Moving on - When is sending your dog to boarding school a beneficial option?
Puppies!!! Young puppy's are developing at such a rapid rate and it benefits them to have exposure to a variety of stimuli in a positive and productive manner. This also includes socialization with other animals, dogs, and people of all shapes and sizes. The last thing you want to do is shelter your puppy from the world. Boarding school for developing puppies can bring loads of lessons that they will carry long into adulthood.
The down fall to sending your new puppy away to boarding school is that you miss out on that beautiful and sometimes ouchy phase of puppy raising. If you choose your boarding school poorly you could damage your puppy physiologically and emotionally - this expensive mistake could cost you later on in adulthood. However, not socializing and learning how to maximize your puppy's experiences in your own home could also cost you dearly. Choose your puppies boarding program wisely, and we will talk more about selection in a minute.
Adolescent or younger adults under the age of 5 years old can be a good fit for boarding programs when dealing with issues like hyper activity, resource guarding, or basic manners.
Think about it this way board and train is essentially what a service dog would go through before they are matched with a disabled handler and put to work. Keep in mind the most successful service dog programs do not use aversives (shock, prong, or choke chains) in their training. Why these programs work is because 3 things are working for the service dog -- 1) genetics, these dogs were bred to be attentive, easily motivated to work for people with even temperaments. 2) They are primed as puppies by their breeding programs through early socialization and usually not taken from their family too early. 3) They are then immediately put into training programs and usually not put on the job until the age of 2 years old. That's almost a 2 year long board and train program.
So do board and trains work? sure! However, they are best attended by younger dogs who are more equipped to adapt and under go the some times heavy stress of learning. It's not that older dogs can't learn but they are going to be slower and the approach often needs to be more gentle for dogs over the age of 5.
This leads me to the next question -- How long is long enough for a board and train program?
Any trainer who says they are going to train your dog in a week does not understand a key concept about learning. (Remember I said dogs are not robots.) Well you can't expect any real progress to be made in a week. You, the human, could learn some valuable training techniques in a week that you could apply over months and eventually see results but your dog will not be cured in a week of their bad habits.
I mentioned earlier , ideally your dog would attend training and be in training for upwards of 2 years if you would like real lasting results from your program. This is one of the reasons why I often try to steer people towards a more sustainable training program they can commit to and continue to improve over the course of years not weeks.
Kind Animal Services sometimes offers boarding school on a case by case basis. Our recommendation is 2 week minimum for puppies under 6 months. 4 weeks minimum for dogs over 6 months. For real results we recommend 3 months. Why? It just seems to be the magic amount of time that at about 3 months dogs seem to finally gain enough knowledge and start grasping concepts. With most species that get sent away for training programs (I think of horses primarily) they are sent away for months at a time. If you want your board and train program for your dog to actually reap rewards in your home the longer you can send your dog the better.
If I'm sending my dog away for so long what can I expect to pay for boarding programs?
All boarding programs I'm aware of are upwards of thousands of dollars. Think about the fact that a fully trained service dog costs around $23,000 (this was a few years ago). So you probably wont be sending your dog to boarding school for 2 years but consider the work that goes into training a dog. For starters there are no days off! Every opportunity is a training opportunity. The best boarding schools are immersion programs that immerse your dog into a household, into an environment similar to the one they will return to. (Or at least that's what KAS offers.)
Kennel boarding environments are still expensive but in my opinion should be less expensive than full immersion training programs like the KAS boarding school.
In short when it comes to cost no matter how you try to slice the cake it's going to be a lot of $$$. Put that in your head now. You are paying for someone else's time to train your dog. If you want discounted training take a group training class and do the training yourself.
Alright it's time to talk about selecting the perfect boarding school for your dog. Now please don't be deceived by all the glitz and glamor you will be sold by many trainers. Again, it would be wise to proceed with caution, this is your four legged child you're sending away to get schooled. Ask questions, even the dumb ones!
Where will your dog be housed? During the day? How about at night?
Will they get bedding? If not why does the facility choose to operate this way?
How much time out of the kennel will they receive every day? (ask for an hourly amount and assume they are inflating that number. You can cut it in half.)
How does the organization ensure that dogs are doing well? To use an emotional term "happy". WARNING: heavy exercise and a physically drained dog is not a happy dog. Panting is not a smile. Don't be deceived.
Can you visit your dog? If not be warned! If they are concerned about attachment issues when you visit there are still ways to work around these concerns and not back slide any training that is taking place. The trainer may make rules or guide your interaction with your dog but you should always be allowed to visit.
How are dogs fed? It is not uncommon for boarding schools to withhold food from your dog to create motivation. Be sure you discuss exactly how this will be done as to not jeopardize your dogs health.
Will your dog be allowed socialization with other dogs? Is play involved? Supervised and organized play for young dogs is critical for normal development. If your dog is safe to socialize be sure that it's not a free for all "play group" but that the dogs are allowed time to play and interact.
What tools will be used on your dog? And drill hard as to why the trainer feels these tools are necessary. If you're reading this blog you probably already know that prong, choke, and shock collars have no place in training. Damage to the neck is a real concern from over correcting a dog labeled as "stubborn". I strongly suggest you only utilize a fear-free boarding school. Yes, fear free can solve aggression.
How many dogs do you board/train at time? The answer should be no more than 5 and that is almost too many in my opinion. Facilities that have staff can work with more dogs successfully but again the dogs in these places may not make as much progress because the environment is free from the original behavioral triggers presented in their home environment.
What follow ups and training for me (the human) is included in the program?
Do you send updates? (KAS board and train programs provide pet parents with a youtube playlist of all their dogs training sessions and instructional videos on what they can do to maintain the training long after the dog is sent home.)
Onward - the emotional & phycological stress that dogs in all boarding situations under go can be compounded when improper training techniques are used. What does emotional or phycological damage look like?
Board and train programs are really good at overwhelming the dogs system with so much stress. That the dog that goes home after a board and train feel magically improved. They are in a state of helplessness!
The vast majority of dog boarding school programs utilize crates, withhold food, under go multiple hours of training, are intentionally exercised to the point of exhaustion (so they sleep in their kennels at night), and "correct" unwanted behaviors using intimidation or forceful techniques. They restrict, control, and strip down the dogs existence to make the job of "trainer" easier on themselves with disregard to the dogs total wellbeing.
I have said it before a tired dog is not a good dog they are simply just tired.
I have witnessed some horrifying things that trainers do in the name of training when the parents aren’t looking and can get away with it. Your dog can't speak up about the abuse physically or mentally that they endure while in a boarding program. This is the reality... Your dog is sitting in a labor camp. Forced to preform tasks obediently and mindlessly.
If you want to crush your dogs sole in hopes of achieving the perfect dog then sign up for your nearest board and train program.
Look I don't want to say that ALL boarding options are a bad idea but I do want to open your eyes to the fact that MOST are operating in ways you probably wouldn't approve of if you knew better. Even well-meaning people who board dogs in their private homes are clueless about dog behavior but ready with loads of advice.
Again proceed with caution. This is your dogs education and ultimately their future that is at stake. It's not a decision that should be taken lightly.
The last and final point I want to cover is the human training and follow up procedures. Every program is different when it comes to how much and in what way they share information with you (the pet parent). KAS provides a video library where others might offer a group class that you attend with your dogs classmates. Others still might follow up via virtual consults or in person consults for a few weeks following your dog returning home.
When selecting a program ensure there is a robust follow up plan. You don't want to get your dog back just to have them fall back into old habits. It's up to you to keep in touch with your trainer and make sure you milk every last drop of information you can out of them.
It's important not only to learn the cues that your dog may have learned. In the programs I design I want you to go home with the tools to continue your dogs education from home. That you have an understanding of how to teach them moving forward in your life together.
In summery I would like to advice you to triple think about all the options before sending your dog away to boarding school. Most other options will be much cheeper in the long run as well. It is my suggestion that pet parents work closely with an educated trainer in behavior modification and fear-free positive reinforcement based techniques.
If you are interested in learning more about our immersion program or our boarding school please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Boarding programs are scheduled on a case by case basis that starts with a conversation because we encourage your to ask questions first and decide for yourself if a board and train option is the right choice.