You might be feeling overwhelmed by the puppy or young dog you’ve acquired and are ready to throw in the towel and send him away for obedience training. You are wondering if it’s the right thing to do and you’re fantasizing about the results. In 2 weeks (or longer in some cases) the dog of your dreams will return to you. The stress of living with a four-legged terrorist will be eliminated and the expected joy will be installed into your daily life with a dog. Well, hold on just a moment. Let's get real about what you should expect and, more importantly, what you shouldn’t expect when you send your dog away for training.
It’s a short list of what you should expect when you send your dog away for training. You should expect that your dog understand the commands agreed upon to a certain level of mastery. Typically those commands are as follows.
Eye contact for name recognition (looking in your eye when his name is spoken)
Down (lie down)
Heel (or simply, proper leash walking)
Crate (sometimes “kennel”)
Outside (or some other word used to illicit the dog to ring a bell to let you know they need to go out)
They may learn a marker sound. Some trainers use a clicker. I use the word “good”. Some trainers don’t train to a marker. They may learn a release command. I use the word “okay” but other words suffice such as “break” or “free”. Hopefully they learn the word “no”. If they learn the word “no” be sure that you and your trainer have an agreed upon meaning that is assigned to the word. Not all trainers use a corrective word. I do. And for me, the word “no” means, you are incorrect and I don’t want that behavior repeated again. You might expect that your dog has become tolerant to being crated. Or, if your dog was beyond crate training at the time of being sent away, perhaps a long “place-stay” in lieu of crating for the purpose of managing certain moments.
Now, for the things you should not expect.
HOUSEBREAKING You should not expect the dog will be housebroken. It may be true that the dog made great strides at becoming housebroken within the environment in which he was trained but, upon return to your home, if housebreaking was an issue when he went away to training all you should expect is instruction from your trainer on how to carry over good habits into your home as you continue the process. I used to always tell my clients not to enroll their dogs in a boarding and training program if their primary expectation from the program is housebreaking. Housebreaking has so many variables and should probably be called yourhousebreaking as the results garnered in one location don’t necessarily translate to any and all locations. At least, not right away.
DOCILITY You should not expect that your dog’s energy levels have been changed to levels you find more suitable to your lifestyle. You might find your dog calmer after training but his need to exert himself to a proper level will be as important to his health and well-being as what you feed him. Many of my clients don’t want to work the dog out every morning and evening as needed because most everything else in their life takes priority over exercising the dog. Depending on your dog’s breed he could need up to 2 hours of your attention every day to assist him in depleting his energy stores. If you are hoping a boarding and training program will produce a dog that contently lies in the entryway all day until that time of the evening when you are ready to stroke him as you stare at a screen you will likely be disappointed. As an example, a 30 minute, off-leash, outdoor run is the bare minimum my dogs need on a daily basis. I will supplement that with a training session, play date or leashed walk. A dog that is under-exercised will, at best, be depressed and, at worst, exhibit anti-social behavior.
EXTINGUISHED PREY DRIVE You should not expect your dog’s prey drive be diminished. It is not uncommon in the least for my clients to complain to me about their dog’s reaction to seeing squirrels, for example, or their desire to chase rabbits if they are allowed off-leash. As upsetting as the cruelties of nature can be to the most sensitive of us your dog is still a dog after having been trained. Your trainer will not have had squirrels or rabbits under their control with which to train your dog. You will need to work with them on how to respond or manage your dog’s prey drive with the commands learned in school. You must be patient and empathetic with this issue. The squirrels won’t always be out and it won’t always be rabbit season so your ability to work toward controlling these impulses in regards to frequency will be out of your control.
EXTINGUISHED FOOD DRIVE You should not expect your dog no longer be interested in your or your children’s food. Most dogs will eat when food is available to them, be it the jam on your toddler’s face or the roast you walked away from on the kitchen counter. Living with dogs takes some acceptance of this fact and a sense of humor. I’ve never faced the challenge of raising children with dogs in the home and I’m very aware of the ease this affords me in living with dogs. Nevertheless, my dogs are always interested in what I’m preparing, what I’m eating or what I may have left behind. This will never change. Good habits such as keeping food out of reach and using obedience commands such as down/stay during mealtime helps me manage this fact of life.
APATHY You should not expect your dog to not guard your home by barking to alert its inhabitants or intimidate the perceived threat. If you are fortunate to live a life in which you always feel safe and have no need for your dog to guard your home you will simply need to restrict his access that allows him to see or hear passersby or come to accept that a dog’s natural inclination is to protect the home. You might place barriers such as baby gates in such a way to prevent your dog from access to the front windows if it is possible. My level of peace rose immensely when I moved into a building above street level. Turning on some competing noise can be helpful. I almost always have “brown” noise or soothing music in the background for my dogs for the purpose of drowning out sounds in the hallway. I’m at peace (mostly) and the dog’s are at peace. It’s not as if your dog’s intention is to drive you to madness with the sound of barking bouncing off of the marble flooring. They are trying to save your life. Have some gratitude.
REDUCTION IN JUMPING This is usually somewhere at the top of my client’s list. When you leave your dog with a dog trainer the dog learns almost immediately to not jump on the trainer. How many people do you think your dog is going to interact with during training. The answer is not many. The number could be anywhere from one person (the trainer) to a few (probably additional staff) all of whom will likely know how to deter a dog from jumping. The dog learned to relate to you and everyone else that comes into your home through jumping. The likelihood that the dog returns to or continues jumping at your home is extremely high. This is a problem for which you have to accept responsibility. You, even if unknowingly, trained the dog to jump on you. You’ll have to be the one to un-train the dog to jump on you as well as everyone that walks through your door. Your trainer should be able to advise you.
REDUCTION IN AGGRESSION In addition to these extremely common misconceptions of what might be achieved through a boarding and training program be wary of any aggression being “fixed”. The experiences and behavioral problems that cause aggressive behavior can take weeks or months to improve and might be very specific to you and your surroundings.
A boarding and training program can be a godsend for the super busy but expectations must be reasonable in order for satisfaction to ensue. Take caution to not expect the problems that are most likely making you want to consider sending your dog away to be rendered extinct in a short amount of time. A trainer can only teach your dog to respond to words. Your house cat won’t be there to assist in training your dog to not chase it. Your frail mother-in-law won’t be there to help assist in the cessation of jumping. Your kids won’t be there to leave a chocolate bar on the counter in paws reach. The environment is limited to dog-savvy adults in controlled situations. Dogs will be dogs and life with them can be chaotic at times regardless of their level of training. Learn to appreciate how hard it is for them to fit in to domesticated life at times. Love them. Accept them. And understand that much of your enjoyment of them will depend upon your effort and attitude.