To save you scrolling down here’s the short answer; no residential is not the best option for you and your dog. But we completely understand why you might be thinking about this route, so we want you to understand all the reasons we don’t recommend it and also what you can do instead.
Avoiding aversive trainers – As with all our training we strongly recommend that any training you do with your dog is force-free and avoids any pain or fear. Unfortunately there are still many people calling themselves trainers who continue to use aversive training even though this is proven to negatively impact the dog’s welfare and that force-free training is an effective, ethical alternative. In the world of residential training the huge majority of people offering this service will be working with aversive methods; because once you actually understand how dogs learn you see that residential training isn’t really worthwhile. So it would be difficult to choose residential training whilst protecting your dog from pain and fear in training.
Inhibited dogs – When things are overwhelming for dogs a normal behavioural response is to shut down and not react. (You can learn more about behavioural responses on our online course Understanding Your Dog) Although the dog may be quiet this does not mean that the dog is happy or relaxed but usually in fact means they are more scared. This happens a lot with residential training. This means you can send off a dog who might be reactive to people or dogs and the trainer can send you a whole bunch of videos with your dog sitting their quietly in a busy place. This looks fantastic – what a good use of your money! Then you get them home and they are even worse than they were before. This pattern happens over and over again. It is so difficult for dogs to learn anything positive when they are inhibited (but they can definitely become more scared) and so residential training is extremely unlikely to give you long term improvements.
Cost considerations – If you’ve even begun to look into residential training you’ll know it’s not cheap! Or is it? Actually once you take out the general cost of housing (like kennels or home boarding) there isn’t actually a huge amount to pay for training. If you’re expecting them to be training your dog all day every day then the cost would actually be much higher. So realistically these trainers are more likely to be doing an hour or two a day, which could be achieved whilst your dog stays with you instead and you’d save on the boarding fees and added stress too!
How dogs learn – If the trainer is telling you that the cost does include much more than a couple of hours of training this should be another red flag. Just like us dogs can only learn so much in any session and working a dog for more than a few hours a day is unlikely to be effective. Instead it can just result in exhaustion which can be misread as the dog “not reacting” whereas it’s just because they are mentally and physically worn out. Especially when we are looking at behavioural modification and changing emotions this is not something which can change quickly. Short, intense sessions do not result in long term behavioural modification and so residential training is unlikely to be effective.
Training for you – Even if none of the other points were relevant then residential training would still be missing out of one of the main influences on your dog’s behaviour – you! Long term success relies on every interaction with your dog being appropriate and teaching what you’d like to be seen. This takes a lot of work and lot of learning for most people. A huge amount of our training and behavioural modification is spent ensuring people are happy with their timing and understanding their dogs. Even residential training with a “handover” session to pass it on to you at the end is unlikely be anywhere near enough to ensure you are ready to continue training for the rest of your dog’s life.
Generalisation – Dogs are also not great at generalising so if they learn something in one context (eg in a place with a specific person) it is very difficult, or impossible, for them to do this same behaviour in a different place or with a different person. This is another major reason residential training usually fails, and why it is so vital that the dog’s caregivers themselves do the training with the dog.
What to do instead
We know you’d only be considering residential training because things are really difficult and you don’t think things will be possible another way. But hope that now you can see that at best it won’t work but it also risks making your dog’s behaviour even worse.
Instead we recommend contacting a qualified behaviourist to work with to understand your dog and learn how to help them yourselves. Instant behaviour changes aren’t feasible long term but with a force-free, consistent approach we can make life changing differences over the period of a few weeks to a few months.
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