What is an Ethical Dog Board & Train Program?

by Kerry Ryan, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Family Dog Mediator

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is your dog exhibiting behavioral issues? Do you think that if your dog could just get some round-the-clock care by a trainer, those behavioral issues could be fixed once-and-for-all?
  • Do you just want to do the right thing when training your dog, and are you willing and able to spend the money to make it all happen?
  • Do you want to pass off your dog’s training to a professional?
  • Did you adopt a puppy recently, and you now feel super overwhelmed?

If you answered yes to any of the above, two things are probably true:

  1. You are considering a Board and Train for your dog.
  2. You should not book a Board and Train for your dog.
     (With us or with anyone else.)

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that a blog post about why you shouldn’t book one of our services is… a strange sales tactic. Our job as ethical and science-based dog trainers, however, is to nurture and support genuine behavior change in dogs, and not to push the priciest service item on the menu. 

So let’s dive in on why Board and Trains are only effective under specific circumstances, why most of the Board and Train programs out there are TOTAL BUNK, and what (less costly!) services will allow you to achieve authentic behavioral improvement in your dog over the long-run.

All folks who request a Board & Learn with Dog Adventures Northwest for their pup must read this article and supply the secret code on their basic intake form, which is hidden within!

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The Fix

Are you seeking a Board and Train solution for your dog because you are desperate to just fix the damn problem already, so you can go on living your life?

Listen, if we could fix a behavior by devoting two straight weeks of round-the-clock intensive training, we’d be all in. As dog trainers, we would genuinely love this magic wand. 

The truth is, though, that problem behaviors cannot be completely extinguished in three days, two weeks, or even two months using ethical training… because real dog training is a lifetime commitment. Just as we don’t have children and expect them to fend for themselves after Kindergarten, we can’t wrap up a puppy training class and call it good. 

A trainer can work hard in a Board and Train to eliminate, for example, jumping on guests (and make tremendous progress!)... but all progress will go out the window if the new skills are not reinforced when the pup comes home. Why? Because many of these “problem” behaviors are actually inherently reinforcing to dogs, given that dogs are a different species than humans, with different genetic programming. Dogs are awesome at being dogs, but they are not so great at being people (which is what we are usually asking them to do when addressing behavioral “problems”). Because of this, dogs need continuous training over the course of their lives to reinforce what is acceptable in People Town. And unless you want to have a live-in dog trainer, you are going to need to be part of the equation.

It will therefore be much more effective (and significantly less expensive) to work with a trainer through private training to jumpstart acceptable behavior… and give you the skills you need to continue the work.

This is a good place to note that any dog trainer who offers a guarantee on eliminating problem behavior in a few days to a few months is almost definitely relying on inhumane methods that serve to suppress behavior through fear, pain, and/or intimidation. And the sad truth is that there are dozens of these “boot camp” companies who will be more than happy to take your money. But no matter how slick their website is, the only real “guarantee” is that these companies do not have legitimate credentials; their training methods will erode the trust between your dog and the people in their world; and their training methods will produce a myriad of unintended (and often highly undesirable) consequences. No matter how “balanced” or alluring these training outfits seem to be, take a deep dive on the trainer’s qualifications on science-based learning, learn what they do when your dog does something “right” and when they do something “wrong,” and then… close that website on your browser and back slowly away from the computer.

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The Situational Problem

Are you seeking a Board and Train solution for your dog because of your new baby, your crazy neighbor who encourages fence-fighting with his five backyard dogs, or your guests that get bombarded when they walk through your front door with 75 pounds of happy puppy energy?

It will be a significant short-cut to just work with a trainer in and around your home on your pup’s specific needs through private training

Does your dog have feelings about the new baby? Let’s spend some time desensitizing your dog to your child in a safe and supportive way. Does your dog bark at the neighbor’s dogs through the fence? Let’s work on training your dog an alternative behavior when those specific stimuli are in your dog’s environment. Does your dog jump on visitors to your home? Let’s have a training session at your very own front door. 

Dogs are not so great at generalizing. Yes, a trainer can absolutely train a behavior in a dog, and then build distance, duration, and distraction to that behavior to encourage generalization and increase the chance of success in a given situation. But let’s go with the easier option here.

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The Emotional Problem

It is common for behavioral issues to stem from fear or anxiety. Asking a fearful or anxious dog to leave their home, stay with a trainer, and learn something in an entirely new environment does not set them up for success. Not a lot of learning can happen when a dog is above threshold. 

For this reason, we rarely offer Board and Trains for dogs that are fearful, reactive, or aggressive, because it’s usually just not fair to the dog. It will be much more effective (and save you some serious coin) to work with a trainer through private training sessions in a place where your dog already feels safe.

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The Puppy Problem

So, you’ve just adopted a puppy and now you are up in the middle of the night, crying and frantically whispering “what have I done?” First of all: WE SEE YOU. Adopting and raising a puppy is hard, y’all. Even us, as professional dog trainers, sometimes question our judgement and our sanity in moments like this.

 Puppies are newborn babies who don’t wear diapers and who can already walk around and destroy stuff. To call raising a puppy a challenge... is an understatement.

The cool thing is that you have stacked the deck in your favor by adopting a puppy. You can likely provide your puppy the early training, socialization, management, and enrichment they need to live a well-adjusted life.

The uncool thing, though, is that you’re in the trenches now, and these puppy months can feel like eons.

When it’s 3am and your puppy is up and crying and you are exhausted-beyond-words, a Board and Train might sound REALLY, REALLY GREAT. And you know what? A Board and Train might actually be legitimately helpful for you by giving you a break from the super hard work of raising a puppy and entrusting your pup to a professional. But a Board and Train is definitely not the thing you’re looking for if you are hoping for a magic wand. Because even if we host your puppy for a few weeks… we will still be returning a puppy to you at the end of your dog's stay with us, with all of the attached challenges. Yes, we can jumpstart a ton of behaviors, meet your puppy’s critical socialization needs, and set the groundwork for a lifetime of learning… but we cannot “fix” your puppy... because dog training is a lifetime commitment, your puppy is engaging in very normal and developmentally appropriate behaviors, and YOU are an essential part of the equation.

When a Board and Train Might Actually be a Good Idea

Now that we have very thoroughly attempted to convince you to not request our priciest service, let's chat about a few ways in which a Board & Learn with Dog Adventures Northwest could actually be a good fit for your specific situation.

  • You have a puppy and want a professional trainer to handle socialization. A dog’s critical socialization period, when they have the most opportunities for positive development, is between the ages of 5 and 16 weeks. If a puppy is not properly socialized to their environment in these weeks, you may very well wind up fighting an uphill battle. For this reason, we will host young puppies in order to properly socialize them in a professional’s care.
  • You have a puppy, you’re going on vacation, and you’re looking for an overnight care solution. (Dog Adventures Northwest does not offer boarding-only for dogs under nine months of age, because to have a puppy is to train a puppy.) 
  • You have a puppy, and you’re not going anywhere, but... you just need a break for a few days. (Totally legit!)
  • You are going on vacation and would like for your adolescent or adult dog to receive some fun enrichment while you are gone and to brush up (or set the foundation for) new skills.
  • You are working with Dog Adventures Northwest through private training, and your trainer believes that a Board & Learn would be advantageous in working toward a specific and discrete training goal.

As you can see, Dog Adventures Northwest is extraordinarily selective about accepting dogs into our Board & Learn program… and we encourage you to be just as selective when thinking about a Board and Train for your dog, with us or with anyone else. Because, at the end of the day, authentic, ethical, and science-based learning is paramount. Don’t throw your hard-earned money toward ineffective or, worse, traumatizing training “solutions” offered by companies that use shock collars and other aversives.

Instead, consider working with us to develop an actionable and effective plan through private training… or for a Board & Learn, but only if all parties involved think it might actually be a good fit.

Note: Reading this full article is one of the prerequisites for working with Dog Adventures Northwest through our Board and Learn program! Use the secret code "BL4Barkley" when requesting this service, which you can do here.