Why Dog Boot Camps May Not be the Answer.

Posted Friday, 28 July 2017

Be Involved in the Solution

I now get about three calls a week asking me if I will take a client’s dog into “boot camp”. I realise that if I just said “yes”, I could actually retire early, but I say “No” instead. Why you might ask?

There are so many reasons it is almost impossible to list each and every one, so I will be brief.

1. The single most important reason why residential training/boot camp training is usually ineffective is that dogs learn contextually and find it difficult to transfer their learning across contexts. For example, I could teach your dog to stay on a mat in my kitchen to prevent him from counter surfing; however, my kitchen would not look or smell like your kitchen and your dog would not be able to sit on a mat in your kitchen without you also training him to do this in your kitchen. Therefore, it is best to do this training in his normal environment in the first place rather than confuse your dog by taking him out of his home setting and cause him stress by living with a stranger. Remember, you are also part of the environment and part of the learning context. 

2. Although a problem might exist in a client’s home, this same problem would probably not exist in my home because I would already have strategies to prevent unwanted behaviours. It is not I that needs to learn this, it is you, his owner. For example, your dog might jump up at visitors, but in my home, I would ask him to sit back from the door to allow visitors in and he would not be able to meet them until he stayed calm. I could teach your dog to do this in my home easily, but as your own dog already does a different behaviour in your home, a process called “blocking” might occur. What this means is that because your dog already jumps up at people at your front door (habit), he may find it harder to learn a different behaviour. He would learn this quickly in my own home as he has no experience of doing any other behaviour in my home. I could send you impressive videos to show you how nicely he sits in my hallway to greet visitors, but when he gets back home to you, he will continue doing what he always did unless you train him a different behaviour in your home. You are better off teaching your dog the new behaviours with the guidance of a trainer in your own home in the first place.

3. If your dog is aggressive when you take him out, he may not be aggressive when I take him out. For example, he may show aggression towards people or dogs because he is trying to protect you. He would not show these behaviours when in my care because he would not want to guard me, as he doesn’t know me. So I could show you awesome videos of how he can meet people and dogs without showing them aggression when he lives with me, but he will go back to guarding you when he gets back home. You need a trainer or behaviourist to show you how to manage his behaviour when he walks with you.

These are some of the reasons why I do not offer residential training for clients’ dogs as I feel it would be unethical to do so. I could charge a small fortune for this service and when you get him back, he will do the same behaviours he always did. How do I know this? Because I have worked with many clients who have already learned this the expensive way and then resorted to getting a qualified trainer to help them at home.

Another warning about residential trainers. When you get your dog back and say he is still doing all the behaviours you don't want, your trainer will wield all the videos of his perfect behaviour that he took at his boot camp and tell you that you are the problem. You will not get a refund.

If the trainer is unable to show you how to resolve the problems you have by training your dog with you at home and then offers to board your dog to train him, ask yourself (and him) what he will do differently when you are not there to see what he does. I have heard many horror stories from clients who suddenly see pictures/videos of their dog on a dog trainer's social media page wearing shock collars to dogs being returned with prong collar punctures on their necks. Many dogs have returned from boot camp and have become aggressive shortly afterwards. This is most likely to do with painful training methods being associated with people or other dogs that were in the dog's environment at the time. 

There really are no short cuts. It is always best to be involved personally in training your dog as this leads to long term benefits for both of you. You will learn the skills to problem solve anything in the future and your dog will be better behaved as you will be setting clear guidelines for him as well as developing  stronger relationship with each other.