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Dog Training Boot Camps: A Smart or Stupid Idea?

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Dog Training By Erin Jones 25 min read January 13, 2020 2 Comments

Board and Train Facilities

With a hectic work schedule, the kids’ after-school activities, errands to run, and what’s left of a social life, it can be hard to find time to fit in a consistent training schedule for your pup. 

But lately, your pooch is jumping on guests, stealing food from the table, barking at the window, and pulling on her leash. You know that these issues need to be addressed, and you need a solution!

Is sending your pouch off to a board and train facility (akin to boarding school for kids) the right decision?

We’ll dive into the issue and explain the pros and cons of these facilities below! 

What Are Board & Train (AKA “Doggie Boot Camp”) Programs?

“Board and train” simply refers to sending your dog off to a trainer’s home or kennel facility for intensive training. 

These programs can also be referred to as:

  • Dog boot camp
  • Dog training boarding schools
  • Send away dog training
  • Dog training camp

This could be to teach your dog basic foundation skills, polish up her manners, or how to walk on a loose leash.

While there, your dog will receive one-on-one training time with a professional. An ideal training facility will implement short training sessions frequently throughout the day with lots of downtime as well.

When not training, she’ll likely spend her time playing with other dogs who are boarding, going for walks, and enjoying different enrichment items. And, of course, sleeping as well. A good kennel will also offer space for alone time where your pup can relax and have a snooze whenever she wants.

Usually, she’ll eat the food you provide. Make sure to stock up ahead of time and provide staff with any dietary requirements.

dog training boarding school

Do Board & Train Programs Actually Work?

Board and train facilities can benefit some dogs in the right circumstances. 

But there are also inherent problems with sending your dog off for training and relate greatly to whether you will get the results you are looking for.

Simply put, board and train facilities do work well for some pooches, but they don’t work well for others. Ultimately, you’ll just have to decide whether you think this type of program is in your dog’s best interest.  

We’ll try to help you do exactly that below. Although not exhaustive, this list outlines some of the things you’ll want to consider when thinking about using a board and train facility. 

  1. You have no control over how your dog is being handled and may be in the dark as to what is actually happening to your dog behind closed doors. This could be anything from the use of aversive training methods like shock collars to the lack of proper care, lack of social interaction and enrichment, or even abuse. In extreme circumstances, dogs have even died at bord-and-train facilities. While this is an outlier, it’s essential that you know the history and reputation of any training facility you work with.
  2. You are not learning how to communicate and interact with your dog. Training is an on-going part of life with our dogs and should be as much about human education as it is about dog education. While some board-and-train programs have a transition lesson for you included in the package, which involves teaching you how to handle your dog and continue the established work, it likely won’t become as ingrained compared to working directly one-on-one with a trainer yourself each week.
  3. Good training requires a strong bond with your dog. Sending your dog away will not help you with bond building, and training is a great opportunity to establish better trust. Board-and-train means missing out on some of that bonding.
  4. Dog training is an unregulated industry. Anyone can claim to be an expert. Unfortunately, there are ample uneducated “trainers” who are more than happy to take your money. However, they may use outdated intimation and fear-based “training” techniques. These methods can be emotionally harmful for your pup. When you have a trainer come to your home or when you join a group class, you are able to make a judgement call if things go wrong.
  5. There are no quick fixes. Training is a life-long journey. Training needs to be consistent and you will have to practice every single day. It is important that you learn the skills needed to follow through with the training.
  6. Dogs are not good at generalizing. Generalization means that a dog will perform certain behaviors in multiple contexts. For example, a dog may sit on cue at home in your living room but may not sit outside or when a new person cues her to sit. At least, not until that sit behavior has been generalized (meaning that you’ve practiced in multiple scenarios and contexts.) Therefore, your pupper may learn to walk on a loose leash at the board and train facility with the trainer, but as soon as she is home has no idea what you are asking or wanting from her. 
Board and Training Facilities

What Kinds of Training Methods Do Board & Train Programs Employ?

The overall concept of a board and train facility is that your dog will get frequent and intensive one-on-one training with a qualified professional.

However, the exact training protocols these trainers use will vary greatly — and that’s something you’ll want to investigate beforehand.

Training should employ humane, modern, force-free techniques, and come from a place of compassion and be backed by current research in the area of learning and animal behavior too. 

Unfortunately, many send-away dog training facilities utilize aversive and harmful tactics. Many of these facilities are even referred to as “boot camp” for your dog. This term alone rings alarm bells for me! 

Just be sure to ask the trainers what methods they use and philosophies they embrace before signing up your beloved pupper. If they don’t utilize positive, respectful, and compassionate training techniques, look for a different facility.   

Language and catch phrases to look for:

  • Force-free
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Reward-based
  • Science-based
  • Evidence-based
  • Fear-free
  • Humane training
  • Relationship-based training

Language and catch phrases to avoid:

  • Helping you become the “alpha”
  • Pack-leader
  • Control
  • Make your dog respect you
  • Calm and submissive (referring to your dog)
  • Assertive (referring to you or training style)
  • Dominance
  • Guaranteed results
  • Behavior expert (without credentials)
  • Balanced training

Which Dogs Are Best-Suited for Send Away Dog Training?

Some dogs can thrive in a kennel setting, but others are not as well suited for these types of training sessions. So, it is important to determine whether you think your dog will be a good fit for a dog training camp. 

Dogs that may do well in send away dog training camp are those who are:

  • Social and enjoy the company of people and other dogs.
  • Only in need of some refinement to their skills. There are no quick fixes when it comes to behavior modification, but utilizing a board and train may accelerate the process for the right candidate.

Dogs who are not suited to a board and train facility include:

  • Dogs who are reactive around other dogs.
  • Shy or fearful dogs may find the change in environment to be very stressful.
  • Aggressive dogs are not suited for this kind of environment. These types of pooches will benefit much more from in-home and one-on-one training.

One situation where board-and-train works particularly well is if you are planning on leaving your four-footer at a kennel while on vacation.

You need to leave your dog in the care of someone else anyhow, so why not with a professional who can help them hone a few skills? In these situations, a board and train “obedience” (aka, manners) school might be a great option if you choose the appropriate facility.

A good facility run by a well-educated training professional could be beneficial. 

Stay and Train your dog

What Dog Issues Can a Dog Training Boarding School Fix?

Every dog is unique and deserves individual consideration when deciding whether this environment is beneficial or detrimental. Some issues are best remedied in your home and can even become worse if your pooch is taken out of her familiar environment. 

Below is a guideline of what behaviors might be helped in a board and train facility and when you may want to avoid them:

Are Board & Train Programs Good for Treating Separation Anxiety?

NO! For dogs dealing with separation anxiety, taking the dog out of the home can introduce even more anxiety into the training protocol that works against positive progress.

Are Doggie Bootcamps Good for Correcting Aggression?

NO! For dogs with aggression, these issues need to be addressed in your home with a one-on-one certified behaviorist who has experience dealing with aggression cases.

Are Send Away Dog Training Programs Good for Addressing Leash Reactivity?

MAYBE! This is not what I would recommend for most leash reactive dogs (dogs who lunge and bark at other dogs when they are on leash).

dog bootcamp training

However, I do know of some very social dogs where this might work provided their environment is very controlled and there are only a small number of dogs at the facility at one time.

It may also work if you enroll your dog in an in-home board and train facility.

Are Dog Training Boarding Schools Good for Relieving Anxiety and Fear?

NO! This is an absolute “no.”

If your dog is fearful or anxious, being away from familiar people and a familiar environment can be incredibly stressful, so this approach is unlikely to help.

Are Board & Train Facilities Helpful for Manners Training?

YES! This can be a good environment for your social and behaviorally well-adjusted dog to work on polishing her manners. This might be learning to heel on a leash or learning impulse control.

These skills can also be accomplished at home, and working with a one-on-one trainer will also provide you with the skills needed to continue working with your dog daily.

Dog Boot Camp

Are Dog Bootcamps Helpful for Dealing with Resource Guarding or Food Aggression?

Maybe. Addressing resource guarding or food aggression in a board and train or dog boot camp setting has to be done very carefully.

An environment where there are several other pups close by and when there are shared resources (toys, treats, food, beds, etc.) could actually make resource guarding much worse. 

Are Board & Train Facilities Helpful for Stopping Nuisance Barking?

No! Dealing with nuisance barking requires you and a trainer to address the reasons your dog is barking in the first place.

Your dog’s barking may be fear or anxiety-based, it could be demand (attention seeking) barking, or it could be just a fairly normal amount of barking that is problematic for your lifestyle (for example, she may alert bark every time she hears someone, but you live in an apartment complex and the neighbors are complaining).

why-is-the-dog-barking

But no matter why your dog is barking too much, it would be fairly difficult for her to generalize the lessons she’d learn in a dog training boarding school facility and transfer them to her home environment.

Are Board & Train Programs Helpful For Getting a Dog to Behave Off-Leash?

Maybe. This is a “yes” for a dog who enjoys the company of other dogs but has difficulty behaving in a socially appropriate manner.

However, this is a “no” for any dog who is fearful or stressed around other dogs.

Exposing such dogs to a kennel-like environment would be known as “flooding.” This type of over-exposure without reprieve could be detrimental and may make her fears worse. 

dog send away training

Can a Dog Learn to Stop Barking at Guests via a Doggie Bootcamp Program?

No! Barking at visitors needs to be addressed in the environment where you want her behavior altered (aka in your home, with guests coming to the door).

Can Dog Send Away Training Programs Stop a Dog’s Constant Begging?

No! Again, there will be little chance that training will be successful outside of the environment where the begging behavior has been learned and practiced.

In most cases, begging happens around your kitchen table, so that’s where you should practice preventing it.

Can a Board & Train Facility Help Stop a Dog’s Destructive Chewing Habit?

No! Destructive chewing can happen for a number of reasons, and — like nuisance barking — you’ll have to address the reason why your dog is chewing up your stuff.

For example, boredom is a common cause of destructive chewing. Other puppies may chew stuff up because they’re still learning the rules. These types of problems require you to adjust the way you manage your dog at home, and provide increased enrichment and supervision.

Destructive behaviors can also be caused by separation anxiety, which is not something you’ll want to address via a send away dog training program.

puppy boot camp

Can Send Away Dog Training Eliminate a Dog’s Predatory or Stalking Behavior?

Maybe. Addressing predatory or stalking behaviors can be complicated. It usually isn’t a great problem to try to address via send away dog training programs, but there are some cases in which they may work.

Let me explain:

The predatory sequence (a series of behaviors dogs exhibit when preparing to capture prey) has eight steps, starting with eye contact and ending with the consumption of the prey animal.

However, dogs don’t only exhibit these behaviors when preparing to catch food — many dogs enjoy incorporating the stalk and chase steps of this sequence into normal play interactions. These dogs don’t have the intent to kill their playmate, and they give appropriate play signals to the other dog to communicate as much.

It’s also important to note that many dogs have a high chase drive, as opposed to a high prey drive — they just enjoy chasing their buddies. It is also instinctual for many herding breeds to stalk.

These types of “stalking” behaviors don’t usually require you to address them. However, these behaviors do need to be addressed if the stalking behavior is inappropriate, excessive, or results in injuries to other dogs.

So, to address these issues and teach your pupper the appropriate way to play, a send away dog training program could help her learn some alternative and more appropriate play strategies.

However, if she truly has a high prey drive, you’ll likely need to address the issue by managing your dog carefully, rather than using a board and train program. This means using things like leashes, fences, and even muzzles, if need be.

Ultimately, high prey drives can be modified, but it will not happen in three weeks, and I would be very wary of anyone who claims they can ‘fix’ this type of behavior in such a short time span.

Can a Board & Train Facility Help with a Dog’s Hyperactivity?

Maybe. Dogs who are hyperactive and hyper-aroused are not likely to do well in a kennel environment. And if your dog is hyper-aroused because she is anxious (a common reason for hyperarousal), a board and train environment could make her anxiety worse.

But, if your hyperactive hound simply has a hard time with impulse control, a board and train could help her learn some self-control. Success is more likely if you enroll your dog in a small-scale, in-home board and train facility.

Nevertheless, the best remedy will be to work on this with a positive trainer in your home.

FAQ: What to Expect from a Dog Boot Camp Program  

Different dog boot camp board & train facilities will operate in slightly different ways.

Some operate in a kennel type facility, others have a daycare during the day, others yet are simply in the trainer’s home. Expectations may also vary, depending on the environment. 

Nevertheless, here is a general list of what you can expect:

How much does a dog boot camp program cost?

In my experience, most trainers charge between $1000 and $2500 (or more) for a week-long stay at a board and train facility. But this will obviously vary based on a variety of factors.

Where does your dog sleep and stay at a board and train facility?

This will depend greatly on the facility. She may sleep in a kennel, a private “room,” or in the home of the trainer.

During the day, she may be a part of the daycare and play with other daycare attendees, she may stay in the trainers home, or she may be expected to spend a large portion of her day in a kennel or x-pen (which is not ideal).

dog training bootcamp

What’s a dog’s average day like at a dog boot camp program?

Again, this will vary greatly depending on the facility.

However, a good facility should offer at least 1 to 2 hours (or more) of one-on-one training per day broken up throughout the day, as well as daily walks, social time with people and other dogs, and loads of enrichment (KONGs, chew items, puzzle toys, scents, games etc.)

How long does a dog stay at a doggie boot camp program?

Most people opt for one to two weeks. This may be extended if the owners are planning a longer vacation.

What kind of training methods are used?

There are going to be facilities that understand humane training and how important it is to use force and fear-free training methods.

There will also be those who use aversive methods such as the use of fear, force, intimidation, pain, and aversive tools like shock, prong, or choke collars. 

You will need to do your due diligence to find one that embraces the former approach, rather than the latter. Reading up on our guide for how to pick a good dog trainer might also prove helpful.

Picking a Good Dog Board & Train Facility: 11 Important Criteria

If you are ready to go ahead with a board and train, there are additional things to think about.

First and foremost is “what kind of training will take place/tools used” and “will my dog be happy in that environment?”

As mentioned above, training is a completely unregulated industry. This means that it is increasingly hard for pup parents to be able to find reliable and accurate information.

How do you know what to believe and what to look for in a sea of false claims?

1. Look for Certifications and Professional Memberships

The type of certification also matters. Check out the organization’s code of ethics and make sure it aligns with LIMA (an acronym for Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive).

Photo from ccpdt.org

Look for the following certifications:

  • Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA
  • Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC
  • Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) or 
  • International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP

Additionally, professional memberships with organizations such as: 

  • Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT
  • The Pet Professional Guild (PPG
  • The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)

2. Ask for a Tour

Have a look around and make sure everything looks good. Are the dogs there happy? Are any of them wearing shock, prong or pinch collars? (Just walk right out the door if they are.)

Are there enrichment items provided for the dogs during down time, such as stuffed KONGs, puzzle toys and other sensory activities?

Also, are there cameras where you can check on your pup anytime while she is there?

3. Ask as Many Questions as You Can

Be sure to ask a lot of questions before handing over your pupper to a send away training facility. Some of the most important include:

  • Where will your dog sleep at night? Does she have her own bed, or will she be forced to stay on a hard cement floor? 
  • What will her day look like while at the facility? Will she be confined all day, or will she have the opportunity to explore the common areas or outdoors?
  • What type of training methods will be used? Are the methods positive?
  • What are their emergency and safety measures? Is there a protocol in place?
  • How many dogs are there at one time? Is it crowded and chaotic? Or is it well-managed and fun?

4. Ask About Training Methods

Not only is it important to be sure your dog will not get shocked or sprayed with the hose when she makes a mistake, but you should also find out how her new skills will carry-over when she returns home.

Many facilities will video record their training sessions in order to prove that your dog has learned a specific skill set.

Make sure to ask what they will do to ensure that these new learned behaviors are generalized and will transfer outside of the facility parameters. 

5. Consider the Location of the Facility 

Make sure you think about the location of the facility before signing up your dog. How far is it from you? Could you get there quickly in an emergency? For that matter, how far is it from the nearest vet? 

You’ll also want to consider the area surrounding the facility. Is it a quiet country setting or is it situated directly next to the freeway? 

6. Take Guarantees with a Grain of Salt 

Beware anyone who guarantees any results. There are no guarantees with training — ever!

Often “guarantees” come with a price, and these usually come in the form of shock or prong collars. A dog who has shut-down out of fear may comply, but that is not the solution anyone wants.

Furthermore, there is evidence to show that these techniques can have lasting emotional effects, including the increase of aggression and fear.

However, do look for guarantees such as: Your dog will have X number of one-on-one training hours or your dog will have Y number of hours socializing. 

7. Ask Other Owners About Their Experiences  

Online reviews mean very little to me as anyone can write just about anything, but word of mouth from trusted individuals means a lot! 

Check with vets, other positive trainers or behavior consultants to see who they recommend and why. Also check out the CCPDT and the IAABC directory for qualified professional dog trainers in your area, no matter where in the world you live. 

Even if no one on the list offer board and train, they can hopefully steer you in the right direction!  

8. Rarity of Injury

Accidents happen, and dogs can even get hurt while staying at the best board and train facilities. However, you obviously don’t want to sign your dog up with a facility that is constantly allowing dogs to become injured. 

So, try to look into their history of injuries — and this primarily means consulting with vets in the area. Do the local vets like them? What have their experiences been like with dogs from the facility?

Vets may not be able to tell you much about the training practices, but their area of expertise is health. They can certainly let you know if there have been many dogs who have had injuries or medical issues when visiting a particular facility.

9. Pick a Facility with the Best Environment for Your Pooch 

Is the facility an in home or larger commercial kennel? This might make a huge difference to your dog’s emotional well-being and will also make a difference if your dog is reactive or fearful.

 ProsCons
Commercial KennelPlenty of social opportunities
More resources
More staff
Stressful environment
High potential for mistreatment and the use of aversive methods in order to gain “quick” results
In-Home Quieter
More one-on-one time
Less stressful environment for many dogs
Fewer resources
Potentially less control or management options should something go wrong

10. Make Sure the Facility Employs Sufficient and Competent Support Staff 

This is important. It is likely that at a larger facility, not everyone on staff will be a qualified trainer.

But what is their experience? Have they taken any courses to become fear-free certified? How about dog first-aid? And how much do they know about dog body language?

board and train programs

Some of these questions may be answered during your tour or with a phone call, others may be obvious while viewing how the staff interacts with the dogs during your visit.

It is also important to note how many staff there are relative to the number of dogs staying at one time.

There should be a ratio of 10:1 or lower for humans to dogs in order for your pup to have sufficient attention and care.

11. Make Sure The Facility Has Proper Emergency Procedures in Place 

Make sure you are fully aware of what will happen in the case your pooch gets sick or injured, especially if you plan to be out of town during your pup’s stay.

By keeping these things in mind, you’re much more likely to get your pooch back healthy and happy. And ultimately, that’s the most important thing! If she has a few extra skills, then bonus!

Important: Do a Trial Run Before Signing Up for a Board & Train Program

After you’ve narrowed your options down to a single facility, ask if it is possible to do a one-night trial.

This not only helps you to assess whether your dog is suited for that kind of environment, but it should also help the trainer to assess your dog and flesh out whether she is a good candidate for their facility or that type of environment.

If your dog comes back and her demeanor has changed, or she seems worried or frightened, it might be a good idea to search for an alternative to board and train.

What Do You Have to Do Before Signing Up Your Pooch?

Most board and train facilities have some requirements and paperwork to be completed. So, make sure you’re prepared!

  1. Vaccines and parasite control: Most board and train facilities will require your dog’s vaccines, dewormer and flea treatment to be up to date. Make sure you request a copy of her vaccine record from her vet in advance.
  2. Emergency release forms: Your vet may require you to fill out some paperwork in order for a third party to be able to request treatment on your behalf in the case of an emergency.
  3. Medications: If your pup is on any medications, make sure you have enough to cover her entire stay and make sure that the staff are comfortable with the administration.
  4. Bedding: It is ideal to bring her own bedding to make the transition more familiar and comfortable. Check with the facility to make sure this is OK, and to find out what is provided for you.
  5. Food: Make sure that you have enough food to cover her entire stay, so stock up!

Is There an Ideal Time to Book Your Dog in a Board & Train?

When you first adopt a new dog or bring a new puppy into your home, there is a very important bonding time. Making good use of this bonding period is much more important than having your dog be able to sit on cue! 

I recommend taking some time to bond with your puppy before making the decision to send her to doggy sleep-away camp! 

So, regardless of your pooch’s age, at the very minimum, wait three weeks before signing your dog up for a board-and-stay program (and even longer for puppies.) 

doggie boot camp

Young puppies will benefit much more from being in a home environment and attending puppy classes than they would at a board-and-stay facility . 

I would not even consider sending your pup away for training if she is under the age of 6 months, unless there are no other options.

Puppies have a critical socialization window up to about 16 weeks and although controlled puppy classes and environmental exposure are key, it needs to be incredibly positive and there needs to be lots of downtime too.

Board and train facilities can be noisy, scary, chaotic and potentially isolating.

Some dogs are used to being kenneled or attend daycare already at the same facility. This transition may not be stressful for a dog who is acclimated to this type of environment.

However, just because your pup may have spent 6 months at the shelter before being adopted, doesn’t necessarily mean she will do worse or better. It’s much more individual and everything from personality to behavior history needs to be considered.

Vacations are ideal times to send your pooch to a board and train facility.

As I mentioned above, if she is going to a kennel to stay anyway, perhaps it could be useful to have a professional work with her while she is there! 

Pros and Cons of Board & Train

To sum up, there are a lot of things to weigh before making the decision of whether a board and train might be a good option for you and your dog. Here is a break down:

Board & Train Pros

  • Alternative to a boarding kennel while away on vacation
  • Helps with training during a busy time in your life

Board & Train Cons

  • Pricey
  • Doesn’t teach you how to train
  • Doesn’t help you build a bond with your dog
  • Potentially dangerous to leave your pooch in the hands of someone else
  • Many red flags to navigate when searching for positive trainers (and avoiding those who use scare or pain tactics)
  • Not a good environment for fearful, anxious or aggressive dogs

Alternative Options to Board and Train

So, if board and train facilities aren’t ideal in many cases, that begs the question: Are there good alternatives available?

Of course, it depends on your reasons and needs for a board and train facility. But there are always alternatives.

These might include:

  • Group classes (for general obedience and skill-building)
  • Private in-home training with behaviorist (for aggression or problem behaviors)
  • Hiring a dog walker (for exercise and – if skilled behaviorist – to potentially help with loose leash walking and leash reactivity)
  • Hiring a pet sitter or having a friend stay with your four-footer while you are away
  • Breaking up daily training at home into 5 minute “bite-size” sessions (which is ideal anyway) to make it more manageable for you.

***

There are many options out there for training your dog. One of the biggest things to keep in mind is the importance of bond-building that comes from being involved and using humane training methods. And, that training is something that happens all the time! 

Have you had a good or bad experience with a board and train facility? We’d love to hear your story. Let us know how your pooch’s stay went and whether or not you’d do so again in the future!

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Written by

Erin Jones

Erin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. After completing her MSc in Anthrozoology, Erin moved to New Zealand early in 2019 to complete her PhD at the University of Canterbury – New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies. Her research focuses on the ethics and social constructs of the human-dog relationship and humane training practices. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband and their dog, Juno.

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Dough

This is a tremendously helpful post – lots of information for me, as I was considering sending my dog to Boot Camp. I rescued my girl four months ago and we’ve been going through heartworm eradication for this entire time, so I have not yet been able to address her insecurities and fear.

I thought a two week ‘away’ program was my best option, because having a trainer come to me seems daunting, but my dog is very skittish. Sending her away for a couple weeks would just freak her out, possibly for good.

Thank you Erin. Being in a smaller town gives me fewer choices, but I now will cross a boot camp off the list.

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Erin Jones

I am so glad you found it helpful! It can be a challenge to find quality help in smaller towns. Good luck with your training journey!

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