Dog Training Boot Camp? NO!

The notion of “boot camps” has grown popular in a variety of industries, from short-term “cram sessions” to study for IT certifications to, you guessed it, dog training. We’re going to explore the concept as it applies to dog training and talk about the pros and cons.

Board and Train

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Dog training boot camps are most often conducted in a “board and train” environment, whereby the trainer will have your dog live with him or her for a period of time (typically 2 weeks or more) and will conduct training while your dog is away.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of trainers offering this service use what we refer to as aversive techniques. These vary, but some of the most common non-positive training techniques involve shock collars (euphemistically known as “e-collars”), electric fences, prong collars, choke collars, spray bottles, citronella sprays, and other similar techniques. Rather than beat around the bush, we’ll just come out and say that we do not recommend this kind of training and, in case that message isn’t clear, let us also note, unequivocally, that WE DO NOT CONDONE this type of training.

Dog Training Boot Camp

Perhaps the problem with this terminology is simply semantics. The term “boot camp” is pretty harsh. Ask anyone who’s been in the military if he or she enjoyed their boot camp and said individual a) will look at you as though you’re crazy or b) has a masochistic streak a mile wide!

“Boot camp” is almost by definition an unpleasant experience. We don’t really want your dog to have unpleasant experiences (and we feel that you probably don’t either). We prefer to think of our board and train service as a “working vacation” for your dog.

So if by dog training boot camp you mean “lot’s of training in a relatively short period of time,” that’s no problem. But if you mean “let’s put weird collars on your dog and make him uncomfortable,” we’re not down with that.

Positive Board and Train Services

A positive dog training service that falls under the board and train mantle is really just positive dog training at the trainer’s home or facility. Dogs attending such a positive board and train program will most likely sleep in the same bed they sleep in at home (or something similar), interact with other dogs or the trainer’s dogs, go for walks, and engage in plenty of positive training that involves positive reinforcement, counter-conditioning, and desensitization. In short, standard positive dog training, but with more sessions than usual.

A good trainer will understand the issues your dog may need to work on (resource guarding, reactivity, under-socialization or just the basics) and tailor a board and train program to your dog.

What to Look For

If you want to have your dog complete a dog training board and train program, you should assess available services in a very simple manner, i.e. – break it down into the two components.

First, select a good dog trainer. Obviously we only recommend purely positive trainers, and if you read enough you’ll probably come to this conclusion as well. If you’re concerned about qualifications, ask the trainer about his or her experience, years in business, official dog training certifications (the CPDT-KA being the most applicable), etc.

Second, make sure the home or facility where your dog will stay is a good one. Your dog should have a comfortable place to sleep, a cozy environment to live while not training, and a good place to train. Outdoor play areas are nice, as are nice places to go for walks. Again, it’s “board” and “train” – make sure each is what you want for your dog and you’ll find a good service.

Pros and Cons

Though we provide board and train services, we actually prefer and recommend that YOU train your dog. We spend most of our time teaching others how to train their own dogs, and feel that the bond that grows between you and your pup during training is something special.

With that said, the three notable “pros” to board and train are:

  1. If you’re busy and you simply DO NOT have the time to train your dog, board and train is a good option – having someone else train your dog is better than no training at all.
  2. It’s fast. Faster isn’t always better, but if you just need some “issues” worked on in an expeditious manner, board and train can help. It won’t “correct” aggression or resource guarding or reactivity – those things don’t simply go away in a couple weeks. But board and train does offer quite a bit of training in a short period of time
  3. Social Interaction. A good board and train service will also include interaction with other dogs, people, and life situations, even if your dog doesn’t necessarily need a lot of work in this area. Socialization is simply the process of having your dog interact with “normal life” in the form of other people and dogs, as well as cars, unusual sounds, etc.

Those are the positive of board and train. But what about the cons?

  1. The human/canine bond. Dog training creates a strong bond between you and your dog. When someone else is training your dog, you’re not going to get that same effect.
  2. Shy and fearful dogs. Shy and/or fearful dogs will often not do very well with board and train, and being away from home will make them extremely uncomfortable. Some dogs are simply not suitable for board and train. NOTE: we have to turn down more dogs than we take for board and train, because we DO NOT want to traumatize your dog.
  3. Aggressive dogs. Aggressive dogs are often better suited to individual training in your home, since YOU will be responsible for handling your dog after his training with a professional has been completed.
  4. There is no easy fix. Your dog is not going to come back from two weeks at a board and train program and be “fixed.” Dog training is a process that lasts a lifetime and requires both repetition and ongoing refreshers. You don’t need to keep going to dog training classes if you don’t want to, nor do you need to continue going to a professional trainer. If you want a happy, healthy, well-behaved dog, however, you will have to keep training with your dog.

A Very Important Note

We mentioned earlier that it’s best for you to train your dog, and it’s certainly true that you won’t have a trainer with you at all times after a board and train program is completed. DO NOT think that after board and train, your dog will no longer require training, or that your dog can be “fixed” by a trainer and you will never have any work to do in this area.

A good dog trainer that provides board and train services will never make claims like this, will certainly never make a guarantee, and will ALWAYS follow up on a board and train program by transferring the training lessons to you. What does that mean? Simply put, the trainer will teach your dog at board and train, then the trainer will teach YOU in a separate session (or sessions) so that you can continue and reinforce that training.

What Do I Do Now?

Unfortunately, our only answer to that is “it’s up to you.” If you’re simply too busy to spend a lot of time learning to train your dog, board and train might be right for you and your dog. If you’re going away for a few weeks and need to board your dog anyway, that’s another good time to consider board and train.

Otherwise, we recommend starting with a basic good manners class or perhaps a private dog training session. Then you can go from there!