TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. - Our lives have been turned up-side down by a 6-month-old puppy named Leo. The reason I'm writing is my husband and I are having a serious disagreement about training. My husband wants to send Leo away to a trainer for a month. I feel like he is so bonded to us it will be traumatic for him. What do you think of boarding a young dog for training?
If you put three trainers in a room and ask them this question, you will likely get three different answers. I believe dog training occurs at both ends of the leash. At the human end of the leash, we must learn how to communicate with our dogs in a way they can understand. For this reason, I do not usually recommend having someone else train a pet dog. Even dogs destined for jobs like herding or hunting do better when they have a strong relationship with their handler. Organizations who train assistance dogs require the person receiving a dog to go through extensive training. Yes, these dogs are well trained and can execute necessary cues, but unless the handler knows how to communicate with the dog they will not get the same results as the person who trained the dog.
Instead of sending Leo to a trainer, I think you should find a good positive reinforcement trainer who will teach you the skills you need. In addition, relationship is the foundation of a strong handler-dog bond. The person who provides leadership through structure and training and who plays with and feeds the dog has the best relationship. Leo needs to learn what the rules are in your home. No one can teach him this but you.
I'm also concerned about sending such a young pup away from your home for a month. You and your husband are his pack and removal from the pack is very hard for a dog. It can take several weeks for a dog to adjust to a new environment and stress will inhibit learning.
If you do decide to take the board and train route, please be sure you fully understand the training methods the trainer will use. I am a positive reinforcement, behavioral science based trainer and feel strongly that it is the best way to train. There is no risk of inadvertently causing behavior problems because PR trainers don't use physical punishment. Some dogs are more resilient than others, but why gamble with your pup's future?
- Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.