Our company specializes in rehabilitating what are commonly referred to as “problem dogs.” These dogs are usually presenting some combination of aggression, fear, bad manners, obsessive behavior, anxiety, inability to relax, leash pulling, counter surfing, etc. A good trainer can quickly stop these issues in the short term, but the true test for a professional is whether his or her clients can handle their dogs when the trainer isn’t around to guide them.
That being said, we don’t usually shoot for the “quick fix”. Most of the time the dogs that come to us have practiced bad habits for a long time - sometimes years. Our job is to not only eliminate these old patterns, but also teach and drill new behaviors until they become ingrained good habits that alter the way the dog makes everyday choices in life.
Your typical in-home training session consists of an hour or two of instruction from the trainer plus some homework to reinforce the lessons until the next time he or she comes back. And it’s effective! *With a couple of caveats.* It works best when the dog is (1) an ideal, happy dog that just needs some basic training and (2) the client has the time, energy, and patience to work consistently with their pet. Under these conditions, there will be results, and the dog will learn the appropriate ways to behave. Even better, the owner-canine bond will be stronger because of the time spent together.
However, extreme behaviors cannot wait. If your landlord is about to evict you for not controlling your dog, or you can’t have guests over because your pup freaks out, or you can’t go on walks without being nervous of a dog fight, the last thing you want to hear is a solution that takes many weeks with gradual improvement. Especially when you haven’t yet developed the necessary skills to ensure safety in all situations.
Why We Use Board and Train Programs
The average dog owner doesn’t have hours per day to work with her dog and learn all the little tricks and techniques necessary to make solid, quick improvements. It can sometimes take years to learn and get good at communicating effectively in order to rehabilitate issues in dogs and troubleshoot when the first approach doesn’t work.
Instead of giving our clients headaches with this overload of information and unfair expectations, we find it important to teach their dogs the fundamentals first (that are essential to the dog and can’t be skipped) and then transfer that relevance we built up over many repetitions back to their handler (as they begin to learn with a dog that is now in a better place).
Some of you may have been warned against a board and train program because, “You can’t just send a dog away and expect him to be perfect when he comes back.” And we actually agree with that. Put a dog back into the same environment and conditions where he struggled before, and he will inevitably struggle again. But our approach actually ensures lasting results (and even continued improvements) as long as the owner is willing to commit to the process.
Our Board and Train Program
Most reasons that typically result in clients bringing their dogs to us are usually just symptoms of the actual issue itself. Coming to us first, provides the pups with a massive head start. These dogs have deep rooted troubles that need to be addressed before their physical expressions (aggression, possessiveness, whining, etc.) will fade away.
Coming to our facility is like a fresh start. The dog leaves the setting of his past behavior and learns a new way of being. The first thing we do is teach him the basic fundamentals of communication – the “language” of the leash, verbal markers, how to work for food, remote collar communication, etc. We get him great at listening and responding, all the while conditioning him to a new lifestyle. We teach him how to behave for his meals, when and where to sleep, how to walk on the leash, how to be polite around people, how to socialize with other dogs, and so much more. He not only learns these concepts but practices them every day until they are so ingrained that he does them without any prompting (similar to our everyday habitual choices that we are often no longer aware of).
It’s this repetition that truly makes a lasting difference which is why most of our board and trains for behavior problems are for a minimum of six weeks. Creating a new normal for these pups without pushing too hard takes time. Dog training expands a dog’s comfort zone by motivating and asking for more, but asking too much too early causes problems. Think of a balloon - to expand the balloon, you have to add air. But adding too much at once pops it and all your previous progress was for naught. So we take our time while trying to maximize the client’s time and budget.
But that isn’t why our program works. If we spent all our time on the dogs and never taught the owners, all that work could be undone in a matter of days. By the time the program ends, not only have the clients been able to keep tabs on their dog through social media, but we’ve also been in constant contact with them since day one. We send updates, videos, tutorials, and notes about how to use the tools, what to expect when they get back, as well as training concepts to help in the future. This ensures that we can hit the ground running when we get to the go home session.
That’s not to say we expect owners to simply take the leash and go on their way. Go home sessions last two to four hours and consist of working outside, in the city, as well as inside the center. We walk them through how to work with their dog, teach proper use of tools, demonstrate socialization techniques, tell them what to look for, and explain how to handle unplanned situations.
Compare it to restoring a car for your teenage daughter who’s learning how to drive; you have to strip it down to the basics and rebuild it with working parts, so it will not only look great but also perform correctly. It’s going to be a lot easier to teach your child on a car that works amazingly than a car with dodgy brakes that stalls all the time. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to just hand her the keys as soon as it’s finished. You’re going to teach her the same steps you would with the beaten-up old vehicle, only it’s going to be much easier because the car responds correctly.
The go-home session is just the tip of the iceberg. Learning how to communicate with the dogs is like learning a foreign language. Over their time with us, the dogs have become fluent in this new language, and it’s our job to teach it to the owners, so they can “speak” to each other. Since it’s new to them, owners start out speaking with a really heavy accent and need to work at it in order to get better. We give them two to three weeks and a 90 day sheet of homework to practice and apply the lessons the dog previously learned from us.
After that, it’s time for a two to four hour in-home session where we find out what’s working and where the owner is struggling, which is important because we want them to experience both success and along with exposing them to working through some areas of struggle. In a perfect world, nothing would ever go wrong, but we teach owners how to interact with their dogs in the real world which means providing them with the confidence to handle any issues.
By putting in the time with both the clients and their dogs, we manage to help both live a happier, less stressful life.