Dog Bite Prevention Week Myth #3: "A dog that is behaving aggressively needs to be sent away to
This one is my new "soap box" topic since it seems like every day a new board and train is popping up around me. Listen, I totally get it. When you are living with a dog who is behaving aggressively, hearing someone say that if you send your dog to them for a month they will "fix" (more on the use of the word fix when it comes to behavior in tomorrow's post) your dog's behavior is understandably very tempting. However, a board and train environment is entirely inappropriate to try to modify a dog's aggressive behavior, and the training centers that advertise this service should be ashamed of themselves.
There are many reasons that a board and train is inappropriate for changing aggressive behavior, first and foremost that it will not teach the owners how to appropriately manage their dog's aggression. Half of the battle of living and learning with a dog who has a history of behaving aggressively is knowing how to read your dog, what sets them off, and when you need to manage their behavior by not allowing greetings with strangers, increasing distance, and so on and so forth. The owner needs to learn what signs to look for that tell them their dog is getting in over their heads, and how to keep everyone safe. Dogs are not computers. We cannot simply send them off to be rewired. True behavior modification takes time and commitment to work through.
Another reason is that behavior is very context specific when dogs are learning. Just because a behavior hasn't shown itself in the boarding environment does not mean that the behavior will be gone at home, especially if the dog has practiced the behavior for a long time. Additionally, if you are using old fashioned methods that rely on physical strength to teach the dog that the human is "boss" but the owner isn't as physically strong or assertive as the trainer, the dog will quickly learn that the growling/snapping/biting still works at home with their owner, even if the trainer managed to extinguish the behavior in the boarding environment.
And the third reason is that the only trainers who are offering these services are people who use archaic tools and out dated training methods. They will do whatever it takes to suppress the aggressive behavior, including extremely harsh physical corrections, so that they can proclaim your dog "trained". Since we know that aggression is a manifestation of stress and insecurity, ask yourself how comfortable you are actually sending your dog away to someone who will do these things to them. How could adding more stress to the existing stress possibly be the answer to this situation?
And lastly, using a boot camp to train an aggressive dog can and has ended very, very badly for the owner and the dog. There have been a striking number of stories lately such as this one where a dog was trained using heavily punitive methods in the name of "rehabilitation", and the dog became much more dangerous with the training, since the training served to suppress all warning signs and increase stress exponentially.
If you have a dog that growls, snaps, or bites, the answer does not lie in board and train boot camps and a magic dog trainer wand that will disappear the aggressive behavior. The answer lies in stress release, confidence building, appropriate management, counter conditioning, and teaching new, appropriate behaviors in the presence of the dog's triggers.