Feeling exasperated with training and considering doggy boot camp? Whilst the name can sound alarming, it does sound like it might be a great idea, doesn’t it? You send your puppy away to ‘finishing school’, and having a puppy delivered back that’s perfectly behaved without you having to lift a finger? Heaven! Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple, and there are a few things we think you should know before you pack your puppy’s bags and send them off to a residential training school. Forewarned is forearmed, right?

So, in this article, we’re going to:

  • Help you understand what doggy boot camps and residential training are
  • Explain why doggy boot camp might not be the best thing for you and your puppy
  • Suggest other options you might try as an alternative for doggy boot camp training

If you’re wondering whether sending your puppy away for training actually works, read on and hopefully we’ll answer these questions for you.

black puppy on a walk with leash in their mouth
Photo by Pauline Loroy on Unsplash

What is a doggy boot camp?

Doggy Boot camp can go by many different names, board and train, doggy boarding school, dog training camp, puppy camp, dog obedience school, the list goes on and on! 

Doggy boot camp is typically a residential training school, where dogs are sent to learn foundation obedience skills such as loose lead walking, general manners, not jumping up, or recall.

They are kept in kennels for several weeks, sometimes months while their obedience and behaviour are worked on by trainers.

Some doggy boot camps are run by individual trainers and are home-based, but not many – the majority are run in commercial kennels.

Almost all doggy boot camps will use crate training or kennels to be able to manage the dog while not they’re not being actively trained or exercised.

Your dog will be trained, sometimes by one trainer, but often by many different trainers, sometimes once, sometimes several times a day.

In between sessions, if your dog is sociable, they may get to spend time with other dogs in an enclosed paddock so that they can be exercised. Apart from this and during training sessions, your dog will spend their time alone in their kennel, hopefully sleeping or resting.

Once your dog is adequately trained, you should receive some handover from the trainers, so that you can learn the cues they have taught your dog.

Methods at doggy boot camps will vary – many state they use positive reinforcement and not punishments to train. This probably sounds ideal but care should be taken that they are not using your dog’s daily food ration to train and are depriving them of food if they do not ‘perform’. There have been cases where dogs have starved to death in residential training schools due to this method of deprivation and reward training. No dog will ‘perform’ when left so hungry!

Other doggy boot camps may make use of punishment-based methods such as leash corrections, choke chains or E-collars, so it’s important that you thoroughly do your research if considering a doggy boot camp.

puppy chewing toy
Photo by Vladimir Istomin on Unsplash

Why doggy boot camp might not be the best thing for your dog

Doggy boot camp may not be the best method for your dog for several reasons to do with your dog’s emotional needs, their style of learning, how ethical and humane you think training should be, as well as the lack of relationship-building you’d usually put into training a dog.

Your dog may not be used to being in a kennel environment

Many kennel environments are noisy and stressful for dogs. Your puppy may never have stayed in a kennel or been left on their own for long periods. While some dogs may get used to this within a couple of days, for others it can do a lot of emotional damage.

You won’t know what’s going on when you’re not there

When you send your puppy to a doggy boot camp, you put your trust in the establishment to treat them in a kind and humane way, however, once they are there you have no control over what happens to them.

If your dog is dog reactive or aggressive then doggy boot camp will probably not be for them.

Being close to the very thing which tips them over the edge day after day is unlikely to be good for them.

If your dog has fear or anxiety then doggy boot camp will not fix them

Doggy boot camp is not usually recommended for behaviour problems such as fear and anxiety; fearful dogs need familiarity and known environments to feel comfortable.

Not all trainers are equal in their level of skill or methods used

In the UK and USA the title of ‘dog trainer’ is not protected, which means anyone can say they’re a dog trainer. They may use wildly different methods, and while some may be excellent trainers, some also might not be.

Results are not guaranteed

Like we always say at Zigzag, dogs are sentient beings they’re not robots – check out our guiding principles for more details on that. Results can never be guaranteed so you may find you spend a tonne of money and don’t get much for it.

There are no quick fixes in training, it is a lifelong thing you do with your dog, not ‘to’ them.

Your dog may or may not listen to you as they did the trainer

A huge part of training a dog is about the dog owner (that’s you by the way) being the dog handler and learning to train and behave around the dog to get the desired behaviour. The human requires a lot of training, and a relationship between the dog and the handler needs to be built. This doesn’t happen with doggy boot camp because you weren’t there at the initial stages.

Your dog may not behave the same at home

And this is a big rub, dogs do not generalise very well. So, whilst your dog may perform the behaviours at the facility, you will need to generalise those behaviours in locations and environments that you’re going to be using them, and that’s hard when you don’t have a trainer next to you coaching you.

If you’ve read this far and really want to send your dog to doggy boot camp, then PLEASE do your research. Ask to visit the facility, ask what methods, equipment and tools they use, ask to speak to previous owners for references and ask them about what kind of handover protocol was given so you could transfer the knowledge from the trainers to you. If the facility does not agree, please walk away, it’s for your dog’s sake.

chocolate labrador puppy sitting on the grass
Photo by Garrett Karoski on Unsplash

What can I do instead of doggy boot camp?

So, what can you do instead of doggy day camp? Well download the Zigzag puppy training app for a start, it’s like having a trainer in your pocket after all, with a team of puppy coaches just one click away waiting for your questions.

Ok, but what else? Well, a great start is enrolling you and your dog in some one-to-one dog training lessons with a private trainer or group classes.

The important thing here is you’ll be training your dog from the ground up. Your dog will listen to you because you’ll have this enormous reinforcement history where you rewarded your dog for all of these amazing things you taught them. It’s fun, I promise!

Training in this way will mean you learn to be the expert of your own dog. You’re going to have them for a long time so we think it’s important that you train them yourself, if at all possible.

There are, of course, other doggy training apps and puppy training books that you can read through too. Anything that’s going to have you slapping on a smile and having fun while training your dog is fine in our book.

There are other options, such as dog trainers who will come to your house and do training walks or day training, to help give your dog a bit of a jumpstart to training. As always, you want to make sure the trainer is qualified, insured and using humane methods.

We hope that you’ve had some of your questions answered about whether or not to send your dog to a doggy boot camp. While you’re here, why not read our article on how to start training your puppy week by week?