You may have seen news stories recently about dogs who have gone through board and trains or another type of in-kennel training program. Unfortunately, the situations being shown in these stories are very concerning for dog owners. There have been cases of dogs in board and train programs who get lost, develop medical issues, or were subjected to overly harsh training methods.
Good dog trainers are just as disturbed by these stories as the average pet owner, if not more so. We got into this business because we love dogs, and we want to help dog owners and help them live more harmonious lives with their dogs. We hate to see anything bad happen to a dog, especially when they were entrusted to someone who should have had their best intentions in mind.
Now what you do not see in the news is the thousands and thousands of dogs who thrive in board and trains, and who live much happier lives for having been to training. There are situations where board and trains are by far the best option for a given family and their situation, and unfortunately some dogs are not getting the right help because these horrible situations have made people understandably concerned about their dog living with a trainer.
On the bright side, there are some key things to look for when selecting a trainer that should help you to see if your trainer is legitimate or not. There are also some huge red flags that should send you right out the door.
Things to Look For
- Clean, well lit, safe facilities. Everybody has their preference in kennel design, but a few things should be part of the design no matter where you go. Everything should be clean and sanitary, and the kennels or crates should be large enough for the dogs to be comfortable. Do not immediately be suspicious if the dogs do not have bedding, as some dogs may have potentially dangerous habits such as shredding and ingesting bedding.
- The area where the dogs are staying should be kept at a temperature that is safe and comfortable for the dogs. If the dogs are out in the yard, especially in hot summer months, water should always be available. When in their kennels/crates, the dogs should also have water as well. An exception to this would be dogs who are on a schedule due to potty training, which the trainer should be able to easily explain to you.
- Dog food should be stored somewhere air tight and away from moisture and extreme temperatures.
- The trainer should be comfortable with you touring and seeing the facility. Most trainers will be appointment only, especially smaller scale operations, because they want to ensure that they are not in the middle of a lesson with a client when you show up to take a tour. Be respectful, especially if the trainer is doing their business out of their home.
- The dogs should seem calm and relaxed, within reason. Remember that this is a training facility you are visiting, so the dogs may be dealing with any number of behavioral issues. Overall, the dogs should seem happy, clean, and in good condition.
- Your trainer should be very clear with you about communication and updates. For example, I give clients picture updates every 2-3 days, and videos every 10-12 days. The reason that I do not give pictures every day is that I do not always have my phone on my during sessions, and want to make sure that I am devoting my full attention to the dog. The videos are spaced out like that so that you can really see the progress as time goes on. If a trainer takes your dog home and does not send you updates or won’t return your calls, that calls for a visit.
- A reasonable visitation policy should be in place. I would never tell anybody that they could not come and visit their dog, but I do have suggestions for the client to make things as easy as possible on the dog. I do ask that clients who want to visit wait until the first week of training is done, so that I can have time to create a bond with the dog. I also suggest that the client come at times that do not conflict with the training schedule, so that I can ensure that the dog still gets what they need out of that day’s training.
- Your trainer should be able to provide you with photos and videos of dogs who have previously graduated. Look at their reviews and see what people are saying about the results that they have.
- Your trainer should be very upfront with you about what training methods, tools, etc they are planning on using with your dog. There is nothing inherently wrong with a trainer using most training tools, but there is an inherent problem when it is either being done incorrectly or is being done without your knowledge.
Happy, healthy dogs that have been loved and trained by us.
Red Flags with Board and Trains
- The trainer will not allow you to visit their facility and see where the dog will be staying.
- The facilities are a mess, smell bad, or are unhygienic. The dogs are exposed to extreme temperatures for long spans of time, and/or do not have access to fresh water when outside.
- The trainer will not tell you how they are going to train your dog, or how long your dog needs training for.
- Your trainer keeps extending the time they have your dog without any reasonable explanation.
- Your trainer does not return calls, seems to avoid communication, or refuses to send pictures or video of the dog.
- There is no video or reviews to show what the trainer is capable of.
- The dogs seem stressed, worried, or in poor health.
- Your trainer does not disclose medical concerns. Stuff happens sometimes and a dog may stub a toe or scrape a paw pad, but when it happens your trainer should let you know right away and should ensure that the dog’s health comes first.
If you follow the guidelines listed here, you will be able to find a quality trainer and facility that do board and trains the right way.