The phrase ‘residential training’ comes with a stigma attached. A quick Google search brings up numerous articles stating all the disadvantages and the ‘why-nots’. I’ll be the first to admit residential training isn’t suitable for every dog or every owner. It does have pros and cons, and it’s by no means a ‘quick fix’, nor should it ever claim to be. However, it can work if it’s done right!
There seems to be a perception that people who choose residential training are looking for a quick-fix without having to do any work themselves. Like they don’t want any role in their dog’s training. “Send him away and he’ll come back fully trained”. The reality is, that’s not how it works. In my experience very few people actually use it for this, most people are fully prepared to play an active role in their dog’s training, but they have individual reasons for choosing the residential route.
If you do decide to choose residential then it’s vital you choose the right place. Dog training is an unregulated minefield and residential trainers are included in this. A reputation has to come from somewhere and it’s no secret that residential training involves its fair share of ‘old-school’ trainers who predominately use aversive, punishment-based methods, but these trainers are everywhere, they aren’t exclusive to the residential segment! You must do your research, make sure the trainer is fully qualified and guarantees to use force-free, reward-based methods. Admittedly, it’s difficult to know what people do behind closed doors but qualifications based solely in force-free methods and a clear history free from punishment or aversives should indicate a trustworthy trainer.
You’re Not on Your Own
One of the major criticisms of residential training is that there is little or no owner training, which is of course hugely important. Afterall it’s often said ‘it’s not about training the dog, it’s about training the owner’. Absolutely true. However, training the dog first and getting the foundations in place is a good place from which to educate the owner. There’s nothing to stop you being taught from step 1 even if your dog is now on step 5! You must take the time to find a trainer who guarantees post-training help for as long as needed. Residential training is ineffective if owner training isn’t completed. You may have a perfectly trained dog, but if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing then your dog may as well have never been trained. This is another reason why it’s not a quick-fix or a lazy option. You must commit to training your dog at the end of a residential stay as much as you would if you opted for classes or 1-2-1 sessions.
One of the biggest benefits of residential training is the intensity of it. Your dog should receive several hours of training every day, focused on the behaviours you want worked on. This means your dog is learning good habits and behaviours every day, and just as importantly, he shouldn’t be having the opportunity to practice the unwanted behaviours. Say you attend a group class once a week, sure you and your dog learn some new things, but how effectively can you maintain this the rest of the week? Likewise, if you have a 1-2-1 session every fortnight with a trainer, you learn a lot during this, but it’s only an hour or two long and it’s then up to you to keep up the work until your next session. That’s hard work.
A Solid Foundation
Yes residential training requires continued work once your dog returns home, but he should have a solid foundation from which to continue. You should now be living with a dog who has a good understanding of what you expect and you should also have learnt how to progress and maintain his training. You both have a great start and a trainer who is there to help whenever you need … best of both worlds right?
Stuck in a Rut
There are some situations where having an emotional attachment to your dog can be counterproductive to their learning. Sometimes we can be caught up in their behaviour without a clear understanding of what is happening or why they are behaving in a particular way. Being emotionally involved with your dog can almost blur the ability to look at what’s going on in a rational way.
That’s not to say a residential trainer won’t care about your dog or feel emotionally connected with them, but they will be able to observe their behaviour in a different way and approach the issues without any baggage of past experiences with your dog. It’s only natural to feel anxious in situations where your dog has previously worried or upset you. Residential training can give you confidence in knowing your dog has good foundations in place and you have a trustworthy trainer alongside you. This can take the edge of your anxiety and give you confidence in situations which previously filled you with dread.
Who to Choose
Choosing a dog trainer is not an easy decision and, being an unregulated industry, it’s full of risks. A lot can be discussed about choosing a trainer but within the realms of residential training, once you’ve found someone who is well-educated in force free, reward-based, scientific methods then you must look carefully at their set-up.
Realistically, looking for in-home training is the best way to go. It may be more expensive but it’s pretty pointless to send your dog to live in a kennel block for several weeks if he’s a family pet who will spend his life living in your home. In-home training means your dog will be living as part of a family and he’ll be gaining skills in the home, learning how to be a well-rounded pet.
Look at how many dogs the trainer takes at one time. Some places will allocate up to 10 dogs per trainer, meaning their individual training time is hugely limited. With that many dogs to train, it’s unlikely they have much time left over to give your dog the daily attention and care it needs. Expect a trainer to be working with a few dogs at a time, after all they need to earn a living and dogs do need rest time between training sessions, but any more than three dogs in their training care may be cause for concern.
Matching your dogs needs to what your trainer can provide is also important. Why send your dog to stay in a kennel block in the middle of the countryside if you live in a busy family home in central London? Find someone who can realistically replicate your own living environment and train your dog in suitable locations. They should also be fully prepared to dedicate their time to working on your dog’s specific needs, in appropriate situations.
Why Choose Residential?
There will always be people who insist that residential training is wrong or pointless because you should be the one who trains your own dog. How can you train your dog if it’s living with someone else, right?
But what about those times when actually sending your dog away for training might just be the best thing you ever did?
Think about when you go on holiday. You’re away from your dog for a couple of weeks, perhaps he’s spending his days in a kennel block, or maybe he’s with a dog sitter. Holidays can be the perfect time for residential training because why not make the most of your time apart and start some good work on your dog’s training needs while you’re away!
Holidays aren’t the only time when a break from your dog may be a good idea. Perhaps you’re bringing a new baby into your home, you’re moving house or your dog’s behaviour has just got a bit much to handle. When you’ve already got a lot on your plate, it’s unlikely that you will have the energy or time to be training your dog. If you’ve reached the end of your tether with his behaviour then having a few weeks break can be a relief. When he returns home with some good foundations and a clear training plan, it can give you the fresh start you needed.
Sometimes we take on more than we anticipated, bringing a new puppy or rescue dog into your home can be a dream come true, and while they bring much happiness and enjoyment, a new arrival can also bring a lot of challenges. This is part of owning a dog! However, seeking help in the early stages can get you and your dog off to the best start. You then have a dog with a good level of training in place and a supportive trainer on hand from day 1 to help you through any challenges.
Residential training has so many benefits but it’s not suitable for everyone. If you don’t have the time or commitment to continue the training then it’s an expensive waste of money. If your dream dog is a million miles from your real dog, and all you wish for is a total personality change, then no amount of training will help. If you’re not willing to adapt your routine, learn new skills and take on new advice or ideas then residential training won’t help. There is no magic ‘quick fix’ in dog training. You cannot send your dog away and expect a robot dog with the perfect personality to return to you. All training requires time, effort and commitment.
Dogs with more severe separation anxiety are often not suited to the residential option. It’s a huge change to move to a new home and live with new people, being removed from their security and safety network can cause setbacks and often doesn’t allow much room for improvement in separation anxiety. Like with any training programmes, you have to consider whether it will work for you and your dog. Taking into account your commitment to the programme and your dog’s individual needs.
Don’t rule out residential training just because a few people like to stir up a bad reputation or guilt-trip you into thinking you’ve taken the easy option. As with any decision, it’s important to consider the pros and cons, and take time to get a balanced view. Get in touch with Adolescent Dogs if you would like to find out more, and see how we can help you and your dog!