It can seem like an obvious solution to your dog’s separation anxiety. Send your dog off to a trainer for a 2-week board and train session and get his separation anxiety fixed.
But as tempting as it sounds, board and train isn’t the answer to separation anxiety.
If you are thinking about spending lots of money on sending your dog off, hoping he’ll come back cured, here’s what you must know.
1. Separation anxiety is rarely if ever, fixed in just 2-3 weeks.
Separation anxiety is much more complicated than teaching a dog to sit or walk nicely on a leash. What we’re dealing with is changing a dog’s emotion not teaching him a new trick.
I wish we could fix it quickly but emotions don’t mend easily. If anyone tells you they can fix your dog’s separation anxiety in a matter of weeks, take that as a red flag. It can’t be done.
2. Dogs don’t generalize well.
We think that once a dog is over separation anxiety, he’s over it.
But dogs don’t work like that. Change one thing and you change everything. New location equals new fears.
This means that taking your dog away for separation anxiety training is going to be of no benefit when he comes back home. Even if he gets over separation anxiety in the trainer’s location (but see 1, he likely won’t), he still won’t feel safe in your house.
You’ll still have to do the desensitization training.
3. Your dog might be left alone in the board and train facility.
Can a board and train facility guarantee they will not leave your dog on his own, even for 5 minutes? Not being left alone is crucial to a dog with separation anxiety, as you know.
This rule is even more critical when in a new context. Even well-adjusted, non-anxious dogs can be upset by a new environment.
If you are going down the board and train route, have you looked your trainer in the eye and got them to swear that your dog will not be left alone?
And just as importantly have they guaranteed your dog will not be crated?
4. Board and train has traditionally meant punishment-based training.
Not all board and train professionals use punishment. Thankfully an increasing number of highly-skilled, force-free trainers are now getting into board and train.
But while I don’t have the statistics I’d wager that there are more board and train outfits that are punishment-based.
Hurting or scaring a dog into changing behaviour isn’t ethical. Nor is it necessary. And in fact, it isn’t even as effective as R+.
There is no reason to use punishment to train, so don’t believe any trainer who tells you it’s the only or best way to train.
I often hear, though, “he came back from board and train a changed dog”.
If he had two weeks of punishment-based training then what you’re seeing isn’t a calm dog, it’s a shut -down dog who’s decided the best way to avoid punishment is to not offer any behaviour.
Treating fear with fear is not the way to fix separation anxiety.
5. There are no guarantees in dog training.
Board and train, when done properly by a certified, positive trainer, can bring about huge changes in your dog. But reputable trainers who do board and train will offer no guarantees because they know it is unethical to do so.
There are no guarantees when we’re working with dogs.
If your board and train facility is promising results, take that as a huge red, waving flag.
So should you just skip the board and train if you have a dog with SA?
Not necessarily. Board and train can be very effective for lots of behaviours (just not separation anxiety!).
Plus having your dog stay somewhere else could be a problem-solver for you and your family. You might do it while you’re on holiday or just when you need a break from his separation anxiety.
But before you book, confirm the following.
- What training methods do they use? Look for words such as balanced, correction, leadership or dominance. These are code words for trainers who use punishment. Instead, you want to hear, force-free, positive reinforcement, humane.
- What exactly will happen to your dog when he gets it right? And when he gets it wrong?
- What’s the training plan for him? Ask to see this.
- How are they going to work around his need to be with someone at all time?
If you get good answers to this, go ahead! If you have any doubt, trust your gut, move on and find someone else.
What are your experiences with board and train? Share below!