Dog training

How two couples were able to open dream dog training facilities

Are you a canine instructor and work for other training companies? Are you considering working with dogs in a facility that you own and operate? When four professional dog trainers envisioned running a top-notch canine center, they took a big leap forward.

The result? Two high-performance centers at the cutting edge of technology dedicated to enriching the relationships of dogs with their owners. Here’s how the doggy dreamers did it.

Two couples, two centers

In 2018, Colton and Heather Johnson, breeder owners and professional handlers of Bugaboo Old English Sheepdog, drew up plans for a new building. Their 21,000 square foot Under the Sun Dog Training & Daycare overlooks Pike’s Peak and is located squarely in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“In 2011, we had two small spaces of 1,500 and 1,700 square feet,” Colton recalls.

The couple used one for dog daycare and the other for private and group lessons.

“As we got past those areas, we decided to add more space,” says Colton. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to host events like agility or conformation specialties?’ It mushroomed, ‘Aim big or go home.’

In 2005, Laurie Williams, CPDT-KA, and her husband, Mike, rented an 11,000 square foot warehouse in Fredricksburg, Virginia. Their Pup ‘N Iron Canine Enrichment Center grew out of Laurie’s private training business.

“A client of mine knew I wanted a place I could call my own and was looking for the right establishment,” Laurie recalls. “At the same time, my client’s son was building a few warehouses and offered to work within my budget and rent me one.”

The Pup’N Iron Canine Enrichment Center opened its doors with top-of-the-line equipment: heating and air conditioning, training equipment, hydrotherapy pool and recycled rubber flooring.

Under the Sun Dog Training and Daycare debuted with 28 employees and houses six areas: a 12,000 square foot indoor arena for agility, a 2,200 square foot mezzanine overlooking the arena, and four indoor/outdoor rooms.

The space includes a wellness treatment room with a visiting veterinarian, massage therapist, chiropractor, and physiotherapy rehabilitation with laser, acupuncture, and a therapy pool.

With a capacity of 200 dogs per day, Under the Sun can accommodate national and regional conformation specialties. Belgian Sheepdog, Bull Mastiff and Alaskan Malamute Nationals will hold their events here. Recently, Under the Sunn held their first AKC-sanctioned agility trial with Pike’s Peak Agility Club.

“Registrations are filled for 300 races a day,” says Colton.

Upcoming events include a national cat show and Under the Sun conformation fun matches.

“It’s cool that we can give something to the community,” he says.

make the transition

How did the Johnsons and Williams turn their visions into bustling realities of bricks and kibble and wagging tails?

Hard work and patience paid off, but passion for dogs and their owners turned out to be the silver bullet.

“I know what it’s like to want the best for my dogs, so I understand how customers work hard to connect with theirs,” says Laurie. “It’s heartbreaking to watch owners struggle with their dogs, not just training dogs, but also counseling people.”

Laurie and Mike, a former law enforcement officer, live with three Dalmatians, a Chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier. She won titles in Obedience, Rally, Barn Hunt and Fast CAT. Laurie also judges Trick Dog and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator.

The four trainers also relied on some business savvy and their years of canine know-how to get their gigantic plans off the ground.

As highly sought after professional dog show handlers, Colton and Heather grew up in dog show families. Colton’s parents, Douglas and Michelanne Johnson, who were 2006 and 2016 AKC Breeders of the Year, own a boarding and grooming business and bred English Sheepdogs and Bouviers des Flandres. Their five children shared the responsibilities.

“Our parents established our roots and helped us a lot,” says Colton. “Working with dogs is the only job I’ve ever had or wanted to do.”

According to Colton, dealing with pets and their people can be difficult. “Our job is to understand what owners are going through and let them know that we are dogs too.” he says.

Laurie’s Pup ‘N Iron Canine Enrichment Center builds on her 35-year reputation as the top trainer in Fredricksburg, Virginia.

“To grow my clientele, I kept workout gear in the trunk of my car and drove around town conducting classes at big-box stores, kennel rooms, and fire departments” , she says.

A former fitness instructor, Laurie began teaching basic manners and obedience classes. When agility became more popular, she added performance sport to her repertoire.

“When I saw that people wanted to train their dogs and were breaking their necks to get into my classes, I took a leap of faith and made the decision to open Pup ‘N Iron,” says- she.

show me the money

“I don’t have a business degree, but I knew the training market well,” says Laurie. “I watched other companies come and go and learned what worked and what didn’t.”

To help start her new business, Laurie let people know she was moving into her own location. Rather than take out a business loan, she was able to get help from family and friends, as well as credit cards. But offering daycare five days a week offsets the operating expenses.

When Pup’ N Iron opened in 2005, 200 people attended the open house. To encourage people to enroll in courses, they offered subscriptions for one year of training, which resulted in the enrollment of 50 owners.

Another customer boost came from a source Laurie didn’t expect.

“It was the same year that a new dog training series was shown on television and many people watched this show,” she says. “Although my training methods were drastically different, my phone rang with owners wanting to train their dogs.”

Like any new business owner, the Johnson and Williams’ journey to establish training sites has had its ups and downs. Three years after Laurie opened Pup ‘N Iron, a TV scout cast her as a contestant on a new CBS canine reality series – America’s Greatest Dog. She and Andrew, her Maltese, finished in the bottom three.

“I did a lot of media interviews for the show,” she recalled. “Advertising helped attract customers and even three years later people remembered our appearances.”

Colton’s tips for running a successful dog training center? Work for it.

“Be prepared to work 12 to 14 hours a day,” he says. “Feel passionate and care about dogs and people. Listen, do whatever you can to help, return calls, and remember that it’s all really about dogs.