Have you ever had that moment when you’re out walking your unruly, overexcited, slightly (or majorly) misbehaving dog when across the street you notice the ‘perfect’ dog and his/her owner walking along. No pulling, no jumping, no barking, no meltdowns over the squirrel that just crossed their path. You sigh, look lovingly at your slobbery little devil dog and think, ‘oh well, it is what it is.’
Whether your dog is the neighborhood terror that chewed through a fence to get to the mailman or simply doesn’t listen to you as well as you would like, K9 Heeling is on a mission to help you. And that mission is simple: to improve the quality of life for dogs and the people who love them. We met with the K9 Heeling team this week to learn more about the man whom many have dubbed the ‘dog whisperer of the Eastern Shore,’ Mitch Fletcher. What we discovered was an incredibly dedicated team that stands behind Fletcher’s training methods and remains firmly rooted in their commitment to improving the lives of dogs, one client at a time.
Fletcher’s first experience as a dog trainer started in his own home, when he brought home a boxer named Chopper. “I had a real knack for it – I didn’t have any hesitation,” Fletcher said. It wasn’t long before others were noticing his affinity for dog training, and soon friends, family, and neighbors were asking for help. Dog training quickly became a side business for Fletcher, who was finishing up a degree in business. “It was interesting to see the learning capacity of my dog,” said Fletcher, who also began taking Chopper to nursing homes as a service dog. “They had such an incredible reaction to him. I started to have a stronger connection to it [training].”
After college, Fletcher found himself living in Boston, where he continued to expand his client base. It was during that time that Fletcher also faced his first major setback – and life lesson – in the business world. While working for an MIT startup that was developing a state-of-the-art dog collar, the company folded. “It was a hard lesson to learn and it cost me a lot.” Out of work and unsure where to turn next, Fletcher found himself thrown in a new direction, as an assistant trainer for a new show on Animal Planet called ‘Super Fetch’ with renown dog trainer Zak George . While the show only lasted one season, Fletcher continued to grow and evolve as a trainer.
Still, Fletcher wasn’t quite ready to completely branch out on his own, explaining that “I had the experience, but I was sacred to go into business myself.” It wasn’t until Fletcher made a home in Salisbury, MD that K9 Heeling became a tangible reality rather than a distant pipe dream. Slowly, K9 Heeling came to life. After years of training dogs (and clients), Fletcher was finally ready to branch out on his own. “When we found this property, the flood gates really opened up,” said Fletcher of the 5.5 acre ‘Calm Pound’ that serves as the hub of operations for K9 Heeling. Fletcher was also able to expand his team, which now includes VP of Business Development Marissa Metcalf, HR/Office Manager Jess Nichols, and Trainer, Abby Morells.
“We get phone calls on all different types of situations and scenarios,” explained Mitch, who has built K9 Heeling on the philosophy that each dog is different. While there are many similarities, such as jumping on guests or not listening to their owners, each case calls for a tailored approach. “It’s not a cookie cutter business,” said Fletcher. While there are packages available to clients – 18 Day Obedience Camps, Dog Whisperer Sessions, or the Complete Control Program – the K9 Heeling Team strives to provide customized plans of action for each client’s needs.
Of course, sometimes the clients need a little training too…
“Its nature AND nurture,” said Fletcher, which is just another reason why customized plans are effective. Fletcher explained that some owners prefer to be completely involved in the training process, opting to be as hands on as possible, while others prefer the option of the Obedience Camp, where the dog spends 18 days immersed in high quality dog training. “If we can do the heavy lifting for them in that way, than we are providing a really effective service,” said Fletcher. Boarding is also available at K9 Heeling, but only for dogs that have previously trained with them, which ensures that Fletcher and the team have a full understanding of the dogs’ behaviors.
As for Fletcher’s approach to training, he does not follow a specific doctrine or technique. “It’s not the tool, it’s how you train the dog. I have a core set of principles that I depend on, but the techniques will differ,” he said, explaining that different dogs and different behaviors call for customized approaches and techniques, which is why he draws from a wide pool of tools, techniques, and approaches, rather than adhering to one. It’s also why Fletcher is a firm believer in the utilization of compulsion when training working dogs, or family dogs that need to be able to behave regardless of what the outside world is throwing their way.
Our trip ended with a tour of the sprawling property, which is tantamount to doggie heaven. A massive outdoor play area and an indoor training facility make it easy to see why the dogs love their time at the Calm Pound. Need further proof? A quick look at the testimonials on their website is ample evidence to substantiate the claim that Fletcher really is the dog whisperer of the Eastern Shore.
Perhaps we should have brought our resident ShoreBread dog along for a little help with that pesky skateboard aversion she harbors…
Want to learn more about the team at K9 Heeling? Visit their site, follow them on FB, or schedule training time at the Calm Pound, located just outside of Salisbury in Eden, MD.
Photos by Gina Whaley