Five Things To Consider
There are numerous ways for dog trainers to provide their services, and each has its benefits and drawbacks. In addition to group classes, in home training, and day training services, trainers also can provide board-and-train services.
For clients, having their dogs boarded and trained usually is more expensive than other modes of training, but it is a viable option for those who have hectic schedules and find attending group classes or scheduling private coaching unfeasible. (As trainers, we often become agitated about clients who cannot make time to train their dogs. However, board and train services can lay important groundwork with the dog and can be used in conjunction with in-home training or group classes to help busy clients achieve their training goals more efficiently.)
But before you decide to add board and train services to your repertoire, there are several factors you should consider.
Training Dogs On A Deadline
Board and train usually is faster than group classes or private training, because it pushes the dog towards new training objectives daily rather than weekly. Additionally, the training is being performed by professional trainers, who should have better timing and tactile skills than the average dog owner. For those reasons, some people are willing to pay you a premium to accomplish training goals, but they are not willing to give you their dog indefinitely. They will expect you to complete your training goals on a deadline.
For example, while a Level One Obedience course may take five or six weeks in a group class or in-home training scenario, it usually takes no more than two weeks in a board-and-train environment (for the reasons mentioned above). However, there is a certain stress factor involved in working on a deadline that does not lend itself to successful positive reinforcement training.
It is easy to deal with problems and various training interruptions early in the board-and-train process. But problems are not as easy to handle as the training deadline draws closer. Dogs do not learn faster just because you need them to. Your stress level can complicate their learning ability (as they are emotional creatures). So, trainers who offers board-and-train services must understand how to manage their stress levels and patiently keep the training process moving forward.
Getting Results With Dogs, Not People
If a dog is not making progress in a group class or in-home training environment, there are lots of possible reasons. You could blame the owner for not putting in the effort or not following your advice. You could blame the owner’s children for constantly reinforcing the dog’s bad habits. You could even blame the dog … let’s face it, they are not all easy. However, in a board-and-train environment, all blame rests on the trainer if the job does not get done correctly, and clients will not accept excuses unless they are accompanied by a refund.
Remember, boarding-and-training is about training dogs, not people. It requires a person who can train animals effectively and efficiently, not a personal coach. To be sure, there is an overlap in skill-sets in the two disciplines, but those offering board-and-train services cannot exempt themselves from responsibility if the dog does not get trained well and on-time.
Note: While it is possible to negotiate extending a dog’s training time in your program, you must lay a pretty good argument for it, preferably earlier in the dog’s stay with you rather than later.
Skills Training Versus Behavior Modification
In truth, behavior is behavior. Sitting is a behavior. Coming when called is a behavior. Walking calmly on a leash in the presence of other dogs is a behavior. Exhibiting separation anxiety when the owner leaves the home is a behavior — one we would like to eradicate. However, some behaviors are more feasible to work on in a board-and-train environment than others.
A fundamental rule for boarding-and-training is this: If a behavior is not heavily dependent on the dog’s owner, family or environment (that is, if it is just a skill), it probably can be created or modified effectively in a board-and-train program.
Chasing the cat, house training, leash aggression, resource guarding toys from the children, fighting with the other dog in the family and separation anxiety are all examples of behaviors that are difficult to fix in a board-and-train environment. This is because, in one way or another, they all have specific links to the dog’s environment and family.
Now you could do some groundwork on many of these issues in a board-and-train environment (i.e. some impulse control work, some socialization, some counterconditioning, teaching leash walking), but you most likely will not be able to solve the dog’s problem without some follow-up work with the dog’s family in their home environment.
While there are indeed some trainers who specialize in fixing certain complex behavior issues in a board-and-train environment, skills training is where the average board-and-train program can really shine. Sit, down, stay, come, leave it and leash walking are all examples of simple skills that can easily be taught to an acceptable degree in a short timeframe. Board and train can also be a great way to teach certain work- and game-related skills: retrieving, nose work, protection work, hunting, agility. These are not so dependent on the dog’s family and environment; they are just things the dog can know how to do and enjoy.
Setting Expectations And Offering Handover Sessions
There is what a dog knows, and then there is what a dog does — and the two are not always linked. For example, a dog may know how to come when called, but that doesn’t mean he will be willing to in every circumstance. Also, dogs seem to learn that it is rewarding to listen to some people and not to others. For these reasons, it is important to set expectations correctly with owners. You must tell the owner that you will teach their dogs skills and demonstrate those skills when they come to pick up their dog, but you also must explain that some work with them will also be necessary.
The first formal training the owner gets when they pick up their dog should be a very detailed handover session. You might want to compliment the session with handouts that describe everything their dog was taught, proper cues and related hand positions, important principles to follow, etc.
However, many board-and-train specialists sell their board and train package so that it includes one or (optimally) more in-home sessions to help the owner get the hang of handling their newly trained dog, managing the dog correctly, and reinforcing the dog’s newly trained behaviors.
And The Legalities
Some trainers maintain professional facilities where they provide board-and-train services. Such facilities usually must be regulated by one or more governmental entities. For example, in Colorado a boarding facility must be licensed by the Department of Agriculture and by the city government. It also must be well insured, as a lot can go wrong when dogs and people are involved.
Other trainers like to provide board-and-train services in their home. This option can be particularly attractive to clients, as most people would rather have their dog trained in a cushy home rather than a kennel. For this reason, it also is attractive to trainers (in addition to the fact that a home has much fewer operational expenditures than a facility).
However, there are a few things you should check on before deciding to offer boarding and training at your home. First, you will want to determine the degree to which you must submit to regulatory and licensing authorities. Second, you will want to make sure you are not running amok of your community covenants. And third, you will want to make sure your insurance will cover it.
Clients may not think of these things while times are good. But if something goes wrong (and it probably will, according to Murphy’s Law) and they decide to sue you, you can be sure that all of these things will be brought to light, and your reputation as a professional will rest on how well you have adhered to them.
Do you offer board-and-train options? If so, what other factors do you think are important to consider?
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