Dog owners in just about any city in America can hire someone to walk their dogs.
But only in a few special places can you hire someone to hike your dog.
Fortunately, Boulder is one of those.
Our notoriously canine-crazy city has a lot of people who “love their dogs like their own kids and want to give them an awesome day when they can,” said Kath Allen, co-founder of Golden’s Hike Doggie, which recently expanded service into Boulder.
For Fido and Fluffy, an awesome day with one of the handful of local hiking companies goes something like this: They’re picked up in a specially outfitted van, nestled safely in their own comfy, secure cage.
A licensed and insured dog hiker drives to a dog-friendly trail, ideally one with lots of shade and access to water. They hike for a few miles, sometimes in packs; sometimes solo.
Some, like Hike Doggie, are on-leash; others take advantage of Boulder County’s off-leash open space program. But they all return half a day later to their parent’s office or home, tired and happy. All at a cost of $30 to $65, depending on the company and the length of the excursion.
One of the earliest to get into the dog hiking game was Lyndsey Ballard, who founded Boulder Doggie Adventures in 2011, reported the Daily Camera).
Ballard, a systems engineer for Lockheed Martin and Boeing, started searching for a company to take her bulldog, Brittany, out on the trails while she was stuck behind her desk.
“There wasn’t anything like that then,” Ballard said. “You could go on Craigslist but as far as a bonded, branded, insured professional who puts employees through canine CPR and first aid – there was nothing.
“So I built it.”
Now a full-time manager with 14 employees, over 100 clients and a new physical office in east Boulder, Ballard has never looked back at the corporate world she left.
She’s not the only one. Allen, too, left a cushy corporate job to stomp around in the woods with four-legged friends.
According to Kimberly Burgan, head of the Dog Walking Academy at Dog Tec, more and more professionals are seeking a second career as canine trail pros.
“Our biggest audience these days is the career changer: attorneys, CPAs, the stay-at-home mom whose kids are now in school,” Burgan said.
Dog Tec is a consulting service for would-be pet entrepreneurs. With 22 locations in the U.S., it offers training and accreditation for everything from groomers to trainers.
“Dog walking as an industry is going through what dog training went through 25 years ago, when people started seeing it as, ‘Oh, you’re not just playing with dogs,”‘ Burgan explained. A life spent in dog services “is a true, viable career.”
Boulder’s Sean Phillips has spent most of his career around canines. After dabbling in craft brewing, he started a dog grooming business in 1999, then a boarding business five years later that he and his wife, Jane, ran for 12 years.
During a summer camping trip in 2014, the thought of becoming a professional dog hiker “hit me out of the blue,” Phillips said. “Apparently it hit other people out of the blue, too.”
Timberline Canine has been up and running since the beginning of 2015, and Phillips has finally found his niche in the 6- to 8-mile hikes he takes his clients on.
“We’re built to walk and run and move, so I’m finding my body is enjoying this a lot more than the grooming,” he said. His furry clients are sharing in the benefits of a brisk mountain hike.
“They need exercise the same way people do,” he said. “Just taking the dog around the block a couple times – they’re not out listening to the birds chirp and sniffing wildflowers and peeing on the side of the trail.
“That’s what dogs love to do.”
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