Board & Train Programs: Challenges and Solutions
By Steven Appelbaum,
President of Animal Behavior College Inc.
As most everyone who works in a boarding kennel or at a doggie daycare knows, dogs behave differently there than they do at home. If you’re considering offering board and train programs at your facility, it’s important to understand the limitations of what can be accomplished, as well as how to manage client expectations.
Board and train means that, while a dog is boarded, a professional dog trainer trains the dog. Programs can be as short as a week or as long as several months. Cost varies by location and length of program but it is not uncommon for board and train programs to be priced at $1000–$2500+. Programs like this can be a great profit center for boarding kennels which is why many facilities offer them. Typically, the dog is trained to respond to obedience cues (sometimes called commands). Additionally, some problem behaviors might be addressed.
It is here that challenges with client perceptions must be taken into consideration in order to avoid potential problems. Dog owners looking to train their dogs usually have a list of items they want to accomplish. These include problem solutions to issues like housetraining, stopping the dog from chewing inappropriate objects, digging holes in the backyard, running out of doors and gates, stealing food from counters, jumping on people, walking comfortably on a leash, and learning to listen to obedience cues like, sit, stay come and down. While all of the abovementioned items are perfectly reasonable requests, obedience training and problem solving are two different things.
Obedience cues can be taught to a dog by a professional trainer and, provided the owner is taught handling techniques and follows them, their dog should listen to them as well. As part of any training program, dog owners should agree to take a specific number of handling lessons and promise to practice reinforcing the obedience cues their dogs were taught in kennel once they take their dog home. Commitments like this on the part of owners help establish reasonable owner expectations and create a much more realistic training plan.
Many problem behaviors that occur in the owner’s home environment are almost impossible to address in kennel. For example, teaching a dog not to dig in the yard or to cease eliminating in the house really need to be treated where these behaviors take place. That means in the owner’s home. While this might seem obvious, it isn’t always clear to clients.
Dog owners shelling out several thousand dollars for training might expect that, for that much money, problem behaviors will be solved. What’s more, owners don’t always differentiate between obedience and problem solving. In their minds both are included as part of “training”.
This isn’t to suggest that problem issues can’t be addressed in kennel. Some socialization challenges including fearfulness with people, overly rambunctious behavior like jumping, excessively rough play and some types of aggression can be effectively dealt with. However, even behaviors that can be modified in a controlled boarding environment won’t necessarily remain changed once the dog is returned home. That’s because owners must be taught how to properly reinforce learned behaviors and avoid encouraging improper ones.
Problem behaviors that can only be addressed at home must be the owner’s responsibility to address. Your training program can include advice, but short of moving in to a client’s home or taking the dog to live with them, there is little a dog trainer can physically do to housetrain a client’s dog.
Some board and train programs include an in–home component in which the trainer will go to a client’s home, assess the dog’s behavior issues and offer suggestions to the owner on how to solve them. These lessons are usually offered after the dog has completed the board and train portion of the program.
Problem behaviors that can be addressed at the kennel should be clearly spelled out. Additionally, owners must agree to continue reinforcement and training once their dog comes home.
Training In Daycare
Doggie day care facilities can also offer training programs. While many offer group classes at their locations, some may wish to offer a variation of board and train in which a trainer works with the dog once a day. The same basic challenges can crop up here if owner expectations aren’t managed. What’s more, consistency issues can become problematic almost immediately when this type of training program is offered in doggie day care.
Stop and think about it for a second; let’s say a client pays to have a trainer work with their dog twice a week while the pet is at doggie day care. During these training sessions the trainer properly reinforces the “sit” cue 40x a session, or 80x per week. By the end of the first week, the dog is sitting consistently on cue for the trainer regardless of distractions. Sounds great, right? Sure, but during this same week the owner also gives the “sit” cue 10x every day and doesn’t properly reinforce it. This means that 70x a week the owner is teaching their dog not to listen to them. After a week or three of this, the owner starts complaining that they don’t see any real improvement on the part of their dog. This is why any training program must include instructions for owners so that they don’t unwittingly sabotage themselves.
Board and train programs can be tremendously helpful for pets and the people who love them while being highly profitable for the facilities that offer them. However, to avoid headaches and real problems, client expectations must be carefully managed through clear communication. It is also vital to select a qualified trainer, a topic I will address in an upcoming article.
Steven Appelbaum is a professional dog trainer and founder of Animal Behavior College (ABC), a vocational school specializing in animal career training programs. ABC offers pet grooming, dog training, cat training and veterinary assistance programs and will be launching an aquatics management and zookeeper assistant program in 2019. The school also offers a variety of continuing education programs on subjects including; pet nutrition, pet massage, dog walking, pet sitting and training shelter dogs. Aside from managing ABC, Appelbaum works as a freelance author, lecturer and pet business consultant. For more information about Animal Behavior College, please visit the website at www.animalbehaviorcollege.com