Doggy Bootcamps, otherwise known as Board & Trains, are an option you have for training your dog (reactive or otherwise), but should you?
In this piece, I really want to explore and show you what a board and train is, what it does, and why I stand in the stance I do about Board & Trains – and consequently why I don’t offer it as a service (spoiler alert! Haha).
I want to frame this problem for you for the reactive dog – but this goes for pretty much all dog training, okay? Just reframe it for your specific problem and this should give you the insight you need.
What Is Reactivity
Simply put, reactivity is a socially unacceptable over reaction to a socially accepted thing.
For example, it’s entirely socially accepted that if you’re walking in public, that there will be other people. It is socially unacceptable for your dog to over react and bark and lunge at that person. Consequently this is something we would classify as “Reactivity”.
Other examples include getting too excited to go see another dog, and to do it with far too much exuberance.
These are all examples of reactivity!
As a consequence of this you often find there are a lot of sub-categories of reactivity mentioned like “Mines leash reactive”, “He reacts to men and birds”, “Shes dog reactive” or “This one is excitement reactive”. These sorts of qualifiers are often used in the reactive dog community to efficiently relay what it is that triggers their dog.
It’s also (from my experience) used as a way of over explaining and consequently defending our dogs and their reactions, as though it’s like just having one or two problems makes it more acceptable – when it’s acceptable regardless of how many problems the have. What makes it unacceptable? Is if you’re not working on it.
Speaking of working on it! One option you may be considering is the source of this article.
Doggy Bootcamp, boot camp or Board and Train, whatever you call it, it boils down to the same thing.
If you want to understand more about reactivity, head to: Intro To Reactivity In Dogs
What is a Board & Train facility, Or A Doggy Bootcamp?
Doggy bootcamp and board and train are terms that can be used interchangeably. There is no significant difference between one and the other.
But essentially, a board and train is set to achieve a goal with your dog (i.e. fix his reactivity, get her to recall, or make them stop biting me), and they take your dog away, into their facilities, and your dog(s) will then be trained by these trainers at your trainers pace in order to get Fido to that goal.
Your dog is then returned to you, without the issue they came in with, and with new skills! Sounds easy right? You then get a nice little handover and take Fido home.
For those of you who know me, you know I love a caveat, and this is a chunky one. It’s hard to do a one size fits all blog like this. There will be exceptions, there will be one or two that buck the trend, but all in all? This is based on my experience in the industry.
Benefits Of A Bootcamp
A solution, delivered
The premise behind a board and train or bootcamp is one of dreams. It’s like the mechanics where you drop your car there say “It doesn’t work right, fix it” and they call you and say “Mrs Rebarkable? Your car is fixed, it’ll cost you $5,402 – and next time you drive it, make sure you don’t corner too fast”.
That mechanic means I don’t have to worry that I don’t understand the construction of an internal combustion engine, or figure out the layout for a serpentine belt on a 1985 CJI7 Jeep – they’re just things I don’t need to know – instead they just summarise the things I do need to know before I leave the garage.
And that’s the same premise a board and train with your dog.
That sounds magnificent right?
Well, it’s not all sunshine and roses, let me tell you.
Negatives Of A Board & Train
It’s not a secret that most of these facilities use balanced training, or even more outdated methods based on pack mentality.
Now. If you’re reading this and have followed me for a while, you’ll know that that? Isn’t an acceptable way to train in this modern world. Alpha theory was debunked over 20 years ago, and ‘balanced’ training has been scientifically shown to have no benefit over rewards based training and instead risks potential fallout (aka the creation of more problematic behaviours). Consequently, it’s advisable that we use positive reinforcement with our dogs for their continued happiness and wellbeing.
The removal of your dogs safety and security, the change of ‘down time’ to being surrounded by other dogs who are barking, or howling does not foster an environment where your dog is going to be able to decompress and actually learn and process the lessons that your dog has had that day.
You know when you have a really intense day at work or school and you have to go home to let it all sink in?
Now imagine what happens when you don’t get to go home, sleep in your comfy pajamas and watch season 6 of Queer Eye for the third time (yeah, I’m in love with it! Fab 6 , please come help me 🤣).
Yeah, you don’t process everything that happened and it limits your ability to actually learn. And, worse? It makes you less likely to learn the next day, and the next day, and increases your stress to the point that you either explode, get sick or switch off.
Whilst there’s no evidence that a board and train can make your dog sick, it will limit their learning ability.
A large part of your dog learning. Every day. Since the start of their little lives. Comes from their environment. That environment is incredibly key. Two. They’re learning success. It’s incredibly key to their learnt behaviors. So if you want to change their learnt behaviors, which a lot of reactivity is, and a lot of bad behavior is.
Then you have to tackle the environment as well. The environment has to be a part of their training. Because. It’s like.
Learning to ride a bike on a stationary bike. And then. Going outside.
And doing a marathon. It doesn’t necessarily translate just because you can ride. I don’t know the length of a cycling marathon now, or if it were, if you can cycle a marathon. But.
Learning to cycle 25 miles and then competitively going and cycling 25 miles. They’re not the same thing, are they? So it’s very, very similar when you do. That with your dog in this style of training. It will again, limit their learning capacity. It will limit their ability to translate that learning into real life, which is the important part of that training.
And. Overall, it makes it a whole lot less effective.
And then we come to like the handover when the trainer will give them back to you. Typically these handover sessions are only an hour. Long. And. To give you the requisite knowledge. And even to download all the training experiences that they’ve done with your dog across the time that they’ve had your dog in one hour.
That’s really hard because. In complex behavioral cases and reactivity is quite complex. It’s a case that. They will be teaching your dog something new every day. They will be repeating things and they will be changing conditions. And essentially it becomes almost an experiment as to how to get your dog through things.
And trying to convey that to you. Whilst, you know, you’re all delighted seeing your dog and your trying to learn all this stuff. And you’re trying to get your dog settled back down and practice the behaviors. That, that the trainer has gone through with your dog. That becomes quite tough in such a short amount of time.
Please remember that, you know, I’ve studied. Dog behavior for quite well. And for me to pass through everything that I. Think reactive dog parents should know, regardless of whether their dog is through their most problematic phase or not.
For me to tell them exactly like what the dog’s going through, how they feel, what their mind is trying to convey and how we prevent setbacks and things like that. That’s going to take more than an hour in itself. So. How you get continued support. And how you translate that into the real world is then put down to a very short time period where.
Your dog and you and the trainer will all overlap. Which just means that the continued success of a board and train is often quite low. And it’s why oftentimes Board and train clients will come to somebody like me and go, Hey, we tried this, it didn’t work. Can you help? And at which point I will go, yes.
Yeah, it’s no surprise that closeness to a trainer like this, daily training and such is going to take a huge toll on your bank account. 3,000-5,000 USD is about average for a reactivity package.
That’s a chunky one to swallow for me.
Bootcamps rarely come without consequence.
Bootcamps limited your dogs learning from stress.
Bootcamps limited your dogs learning without the environment.
Bootcamps limit your learning with a short handover period that’s often ineffective.
And you’ve been charged through the butt for the experience.
Is that worth it?
What’s The Alternative?
So, the alternative is to invest even a fraction of that budget into a force free trainer. somewhere between 8-12 sessions will teach you how to handle your dog and move them through.
Even at $200/hr, you’re saving money vs a board and train. You’re also gaining immense knowledge into your dog, into the canine mind which you can apply again, and again.
Your dog learns at their pace. Your dog doesn’t get stressed out. Your
Your dog wins.
The Biggest Secret in dog training
We train people, not dogs. It’s why online training works.
You need to know and understand your dog to get the very best results out of them.
Yes, reactivity is overwhelming. But you guys are a team. You need to understand why the problems are problems and how to make it less problematic.
Remember! If you need help? Just shout. If you want me on a 1:1 basis, or via the Rebarkable reactives course!
Author, Ali Smith
Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.
Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!