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Colleen Safford: Dog Trainer & Founder of NY Walk & Train

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Like many businesses, New York Walk and Train began out of a need, in this case the need for dog trainer Colleen Safford’s rescued boxer, Luna, to find a good dog walker. Soon New York Walk & Train was born. Today Safford’s days are bustling with the company that was named Best Dog Sitting business by New York magazine, an upstate NY country dog boarding business called Far Fetched Acres, and a show on Pet Life Radio. DogTipper caught up with this busy dog trainer and entrepreneur recently to learn more about her work.

Can you tell us about your background and how you came to found New York Walk & Train?

PeteyloveUpon graduating from Ohio State University with a degree in Psychology, I moved to NYC and got swept into the corporate world. I always had a strong drive to work with animals, but I just wasn’t sure how to while paying NYC rent.  My pre vet notions ended when my college guidance counselor said that I would need to be at the school of agriculture scooping out stalls on Saturdays at 4:00am. Admittedly, I was in school for social reasons and that simply did not fit my schedule, not to mention the heavy math component, which was not one of my stronger skills.

After a brief period in the corporate world, I started volunteering at animal shelters and also started a dog training apprenticeship. My heavy interest in animal behavior, degree in Psychology  and the strong need for dog services in NYC, all complemented one another.

By this point, I was a neurotic dog mom and wanted only the best for my dog. I knew others felt the same from my conversations in the dog runs, at training classes and on the street. Hence, the beginning of NY Walk & Train!

We focus on giving dogs what they want and need. Exercise, management, and reward-based training.  We also focus on giving owners peace of mind while they are away from their prized pooches. We’re the surrogate dog team.

What services does New York Walk & Train offer?

Every service we offer is with both the dog and parent in mind. Our training methods are dog-friendly and our attention to detail is neurotic dog parent friendly.  We form close relationships with our clients and take what we do (maybe too?) seriously.

“Safety first” is my mantra.  My walkers and husband will attest to the fact that I  lose sleep at night with worry for our clients, but I  think this trait is also what has made NY Walk & Train stand out!

We offer dog walking (individual households only), dog training (private lessons and board and train programs) as well as boarding (in clients’ home, in pet sitters’ apartments or upstate at Far Fetched Acres – our country getaway for dogs).

All of our walks are individual to ensure safety and personal attention. Equipped with safety gear, our walkers are savvy in dog behavior and are prepped for reinforcing desired behaviors on their daily walk.  We team up with our dog parents to ensure that our furry clients have a consistent routine each day.

Far Fetched Acres – our country boarding is the best! Our complimentary pick up and drop off in the city makes is very easy on dog owners. We whisk city dogs up to the country for a vacation. The dogs are able to romp and play in our big dog run and then come indoors to flop down on beds or get tucked into their own little bedrooms. We have such a great group of regulars. They are like extended family to one another. We spend all of our holidays together and they all know each other very well.

We put our dog parents’ minds at ease by sending photos and videos of their pups and friends while vacationing.
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With summer just around the corner, more pet families will be selecting a boarding facility. What tips do you have on selecting the right boarding facility?

First and foremost you need a facility that is safe and ideally free of stress. As much as possible, seek an environment that was designed to decrease barking, or at least, to minimalize the sounds of barking.

Visit the facility. Ask how many staff members are on board, and how the staff is trained.  If you can,  observe how the staff interacts with the dogs in their care.  Are the handlers proactively and positively engaging with the doggies?  Staff members should not be forceful, dismissive or amping up the dogs in a group setting.

If it is an indoor facility,  ask how many times your dog will be exercised a day. Do not get caught up in cute paintings on the wall or silly human-like play sets. Look at the facility from your dog’s view. Is there space to run around? Is the environment chaotic or does it seem calm? Are the staff members gentle and humane?

Ask the manager/owner how an emergency situation would be handled  Do they have a relationship with a vet?

Obviously, be sure the facility looks and smells clean.

During this process, it is also very important to look at your dog and not just the facility! As a responsible owner, you need to be honest about what best suits your dog. Far Fetched Acres is a very social environment. Well socialized dogs absolutely love it. That being said, some dogs would feel much happier and more secure without interacting with other dogs.  If your dog is not fully comfortable or accustomed to socializing amongst canine friends, finding a boarding facility that can keep dogs seperate is likely the best option for your dog.  Often I think loving owners want certain things for their dog, but as a good dog parent, you need to figure out what your dog also wants!

Remember that “cage-free” is not all that! I see places boasting about being “cage free.”  Dogs tend to lose their social skills when they are exhausted. I compare this to a toddler birthday party that has gone on too long. Kids start crying, throwing toys etc.

While it’s very important that your dog receives ample exercise and plenty of human attention during a boarding experience, your dog also needs to sleep! Just like you wouldn’t attend a party 24 hours a day for seven days straight, your dog deserves a place of his own to rest and eat safely. Ask the facility where your dog will eat and sleep during his stay. Safely contained in a suite or appropriately-sized crate is best.

Lastly, ask how to check in on your dog over the course of the stay. At Far Fetched Acres, we prefer to give updates via email and texting (as we can send communications at all hours). As a small facility, we place our priority on spending time with the dogs in our care and try not to be too anchored to the phone.  Other facilities may have a “desk” person. The main thing: you should know how to get an update on your pup!

Can you tell us about your show, “The Family Pet,” on Pet Life Radio?

meandscoutI am so excited about this project! We are just launching our first episodes. As a dog trainer and mother of a whole menagerie of kids and pets, I know that managing the entire clan can be a big job.

Our goal is to provide education and information to families with existing pets or those considering adding a pet to their family. Creating a safe and harmonious household for everyone involved is our top priority.

“The Family Pet” will help families make an appropriate pet selection, address behavior issues that families are experiencing with their current pet, and provide safety, training, and management tips.

We’ll bring on guests to include other industry professionals and take calls from pet owners to tackle common behavior issues.

Our mission is to keep kids and pets safe together and in their home! We want to see the 8-10 million pets relinquished to shelters each year decrease. Families need a better understanding of how to address child-pet safety and appropriate pet selection!

What is the most important thing you think dog owners should know?

happyoliveRecognize that your dog is a dog! Not a wolf, not a cat (some apartment dogs are treated as such!)…but a DOG.

There has been an amazing shift in our perception of pets as part of the family. As a dog lover, this is thrilling! At the same time, we need to remember that our dogs are just that….dogs! As much as they are our fur babies, they are dogs.  There is a balance that needs to be found between giving our dog the best and babying them to the extent that it is unhealthy.

In giving our dogs the world,  we need to make sure that we are setting them up to live happily and healthfully as dogs.

  1. Socialize: Dote on your dog as if he were human, but be sure to develop and raise a dog who is able to speak dog fluently and one who is not fearful of his own kind!  Socialization should start EARLY and is a life long process. The first 16 weeks of life are particularly crucial for exposing your dog to the world and other dogs.
  2. Independence: Develop a dog with a strong sense of confidence and independence. Your dog should be able to pacify himself whether in your company or away from you.  Giving ample attention to our dogs is great, just make sure it’s healthy! Develop an adaptable dog who is able to spend time alone and adapt to new situations!
  3. Learn Dog: True dog lovers will educate themselves about the dog within their dog!  Knowing the basics of canine body language and “calming signals” can really help you understand what your dog is trying to tell you and help avert behavior problems. Get a book, hire a trainer!  Just like new parents seek advice from a pediatrician, new puppy parents should enlist the help of a professional.
  4. Exercise: Your dog, no matter the breed or size, needs exercise!  Be sure to give your dog a good heart pumping walk each day. Give your dog mental exercise throughout the day by providing your dog with items to chew on.

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Photos courtesy Colleen Safford