DURHAM — At first, Julie Veal was nervous about bringing her 2-year-old husky mix named Ripley to the Golden Dog Adventure Co. training event at Wagon Hill Farm. But when she arrived as a newcomer with Ripley, that nervousness faded.
“I immediately felt at ease when I spoke with Traci. I felt a general acceptance and that I could relax,” Veal said. “I felt much more comfortable than I thought I would, being here with him.”
In 2018, Traci Bisson began a community outreach program called The NH Dog Walking Club, which was part of her company It Takes A Village Pet Care, which provided dog walking and pet sitting services. However, when the pandemic hit, Bisson wanted to take it a step further. She put the company aside to focus on expanding the dog walking club, which was later renamed Golden Dog Adventure Co. with the goal of bringing dogs and their people together for an extensive range of social and educational events.
“We’ve grown because we really see the need,” Bisson said. “There’s nothing else like what we’re doing out there. It’s either adventures in education for dogs, or it’s adventures in education for people, but nobody seems to be putting the two together.”
One of the group’s tenets is summed up in the acronym PAWS, which stands for “Positive. Active. Wagging. Safe.” It’s the overall mission of the club to promote positive reinforcement for both dogs and their people, according to Bisson.
The business hosts 120 to 150 online and in-person events annually, including hiking trails, going to swimming locations, sensory exploration, and Wine and Wags, which is a walk at a local vineyard culminating in a wine tasting. Golden Dog also offers educational programs that provide dog training and animal communication events, pop-up talks with animal specialists, and the “Ask the Veterinarian” series with Dr. Lisa Boyer.
“The whole premise is that we will not do anything that a dog can’t go to,” Bisson said.
On June 12, Golden Dog hosted a Play Training Skills event at Wagon Hill Farm with Laura Gendron from Miss Behavior, a dog training service and one of Golden Dog’s many partners. Fifteen to 20 dogs and their families hiked to an open grassy area where Gendron led exercises to promote obedience and healthy communication between the dogs and their people.
A “sensory pit” containing toys sprayed with various scents was an added component of the session. At the end of the training portion, the dogs and their families walked down to the water where the dogs took a dip to cool off.
Membership in Golden Dog is not necessary to attend many of the events, but it offers many benefits such as discounts on events and products, and priority access to tickets that typically sell out. Membership, which run $74 per month for an Adventure & Education membership, $47 per month for an Adventure membership, and $37 for an Education membership, extends beyond New Hampshire as Golden Dog also holds events in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. Individual events mostly run $15 to $20 for non-members.
Bisson emphasized that one of the core beliefs of Golden Dog is that every dog is welcome, no matter their temperament or personality.
“She’s very inviting to reactive dogs,” Gendron said. “That’s my favorite thing and why I’ve continued to be a big supporter of [Golden Dog].”
“When Tracy says ‘reactive,’ most people think ‘Oh my gosh, they’re aggressive,'” added longtime member Cindi Thorell. She explained that reactive can also mean that they might be shy, overexcitable, or just a little more uneasy around other dogs or people.
Thorell attends events with her 50-pound Jack Russell terrier mix named Jethro. “He loves dogs, he loves people. He just is over-friendly, over-excited. He doesn’t really have a stop button,” she explained.
For dogs like Jethro and Ripley, Bisson encourages members to tie a yellow ribbon on their pet’s leash or collar to signal to others that their dog needs some space.
Alina Rapaj and Chris Nelson are Golden Dog members with their Australian Cattle dog, Liam, who was the third-place winner of the group’s Doggy Olympics event in the summer of 2021, right after they joined.
Rapaj said Liam has become much more comfortable with other dogs since being a part of Golden Dog.
“He has gone from being significantly reactive, lunging, and snarling out of fear, to very rarely doing that,” said Rapaj. “I’ve learned that co-existing and positively conditioning your dog to good experiences can help them lessen their fear and build confidence, and that’s what he’s done.”
Golden Dog also offers a reactive dog support group which meets once a month over Zoom so that members with reactive dogs of all kinds can talk to each other about their experiences and offer each other advice on how to work on making their pets more comfortable.
Laurie-Anne Cook was a founding member who used to work for Bisson when she had the NH Dog Walking Club. She now has an energetic Plott-Hound and Tree Walker Coonhound mix named Obi-Wan.
“I commend the group for helping us. They accept us, they let us come in no matter how loud he barks, no matter how whiny he gets, they’ve never made me feel like I’m not part of the group and like, I shouldn’t be here,” said Cook.
“There are probably numerous amounts of people with reactive dogs that just don’t know what to do. They don’t know who to turn to, and they don’t know what to say, and they feel defeated,” Cook added. “I think when you come together, and you realize you’re not alone, and you realize there’s techniques and things that we can do to make their lives and our lives better, it’s just an amazing thing.”
To learn more about Golden Dog Adventure Co., its events, membership in the group, and how to get involved, visit nhdogwalkingclub.com.