Just this month I was asked by two people (a fellow Karen Pryor Academy trainer, and a Toronto veterinarian) whether I do board and train or whether I had referrals for trainers that did.
My response to them was this:
“Most board and train facilities are terrible and rely on very harsh, physical punishment as their primary training tools. This includes choke chains, prong collars, and definitely shock collar training. This includes a number of popular board and trainers that operate in Toronto out of their homes.”
There are dozens of “dog trainers” operating in the GTA that train owner’s dogs without the owner present. And often enough, cases of abuse come to light. Two examples from recent history include:
Samantha Brown of Lead The Way Sam in Mississauga – Fined $2000 for causing distress to an animal
Craig Wright of FACW K9 of Oshawa – Convincted of Animal Cruelty
And the latest to emerge is the alleged cruelty inflicted upon a Toronto dog, White Socks:
White Socks’ full story can be read here:
But in brief, in a mere 8 days of a board and train stay, there is clear visible evidence of:
- Wounds to the neck area caused by either prong collar or shock collar (both tools were confirmed to be used)
- Stress-induced colitis – White Socks did not eat for 7 days and was pooping blood
- Starvation – In a mere 8 days he lost 4 lbs.
The owners pulled White Socks out on Day 8 of a 30 day stay and immediately sought veterinary care. Imagine what would have happened if he had remained for the entire 30 days…
For some reason, despite stories from 2010 and 2014 of cases such as those highlighted earlier, people continue to sign up their dogs for lengthy and costly board and train services. My intention in this blog post is to clearly argue why we do not support board and train services, nor offer them.
Board and Trainers Usually Rely on Harsh Physical Aversives
Board and Train services are popular amongst trainers that rely on shock collars and prong collars, because normal human beings that care about the welfare of animals would intervene and stop someone from using these tools on their beloved pet if they were there to bear witness. In a board and train facility, the training is done out of sight, so these trainers can inflict whatever level of aversive they feel necessary to get the job done. In the cases above, dogs suffer severe psychological and physical trauma. Dogs have even died in board and train facilities. Would you send your dog to a place like this where injury or death could occur?
Dog’s Do Not Generalize Well
If the training occurs on a barn or a house somewhere far away, the training done will not automatically translate back into your home, your property, and your neighbourhood. Therefore, the majority of the training should occur in the dog’s home and neighbourhood, which means the majority of the training needs to be done by the owner.
Behaviour Modification is a Lifestyle Change, Not a Procedure
Don’t like the fact your dog pulls on leash? If you walk your dog three times a day, it would only take a week or two of not reinforcing Loose-Leash Walking for all the board and train work to unravel. Your dog barks at strangers? Unless you continue to intervene and follow training protocols, any headway made in a few weeks of board and train will quickly dissipate.
This is why our focus as a dog training school is to teach owners how to train their dogs. It must become second nature to the owners how to reinforce desirable behaviour and become a lifestyle change for long-term behaviour change to occur. A couple of hours of “handover” training done at the end of a board and train is not enough to time for behaviour change in the owner to stick.
In Board and Train, The Dog’s Best Interest Comes Last
If I were taking $3000 from an owner and board and training a dog, I would feel immense pressure to “get the job done” and return a fixed dog. Unfortunately, dogs are not cars, and I cannot accurately predict how much time and effort is required to make improvement. If towards the end of a board and train session, I’ve failed to make good progress, I would feel pressured to rush and push the dog beyond what is appropriate, safe, or humane.
How long does it take to improve behaviour in a dog? The answer is, however long it takes. Board and train puts immense pressure on a trainer, sets expectations for the owner far too high, and the one who suffers for that is the dog.
When we help owners and their dogs, sometimes we see immense improvements in just a week or two (of the owner working daily on their own). In other cases, it’s a process that lasts the entire dog’s life. To impose timeframes and expectations is in conflict with our code of ethics to have the animal’s best interests at heart.
Working With Owners is Reinforcing for Us!
Instructors at When Hounds Fly are dog people for sure – but we’re also into people. Coaching people to become excellent dog trainers, seeing their progress, and hearing firsthand of the improvements they see in their relationships with their dogs – thanks to their own hard work – that’s what motivates us to keep on working.
In summary – board and train? Don’t do it! Most positive reinforcement trainers don’t offer it as a service, for the reasons above. Let us teach you how to train your dog, and you’ll see how it’s not a chore – it’s actually a lot of fun!
P.S. – One exception to our board and train rule is at Canine Country Kennels in Barrie, their board and train is done by Katherine Ferger, who is a very experienced Karen Pryor Academy trainer. However, as mentioned in the article, for the benefits to stick, the owners have to learn how to be excellent clicker trainers at home as well.