A campus epiphany inspired Bart Emken, CPDT-KA, to change the course of his life and career. Known as “DogBoy” since his decision to make dogs the focus of his future, Bart is the founder and co-owner of DogBoy’s Dog Ranch, a unique boarding kennel, doggie day care and training facility just northeast of Austin.
A nearly native Austinite (he lived in San Diego until moving to Austin in middle school) Bart originally planned a career in advertising and earned his degree in communications at the University of Texas. A brief stint in the advertising world did not suit, so he headed back to school to explore other options.
It was on campus one day that Bart happened to see a blind man walking with a guide dog. Bart watched as the dog carefully led the man down the street, and then stopped him at a flight of stairs, keeping him from falling. Seeing the dog working to compensate for the man’s lack of sight filled Bart with awe and respect. At that moment he realized that his future was going to revolve around dogs.
Love of dogs was not new for Bart.
His first memories include the family dog, an Afghan Hound named Nikki. But now that dogs were a career choice, Bart immersed himself into learning all he could. He began work at a local kennel, making mental notes of how he would eventually do things differently. He worked under local trainers, learning positive training techniques and realizing that there was a better way to train dogs than most people knew. He began teaching dog training classes at the Austin Humane Society. And perhaps most importantly, he furthered his learning under the direction of two world-renowned dog training and pack animal behavior specialists, John Rogerson and Ian Dunbar, both from England.
Meet DogGirl – Courtney Emken
Growing up in Houston, Courtney always had a family dog. First came Susie, the black & white terrier mix who was a holy terror. There are faint memories of a dog who scared neighborhood garage sale patrons, and tore the pants off the poor mailman. Being an outside dog in a house with no fenced in backyard didn’t seem to work out too well for Susie. Next came Tawny, a sweet Sheltie who lived up to her breed. Tawny had severe skin allergies (probably due to her Alpo diet!) and a strong herding instinct. An avid car chaser, she mothered two litters of puppies (arg!) and lived to be 17. Thanks to her diet, her body was covered in fatty tumors, a hernia and a hairless backside. Looking back, DogGirl knew there was a better way.
Courtney was Bart’s English tutor in college at Texas Lutheran University. She knew he was a kind and caring soul who would take good care of her and make her laugh. He knew she would keep him on his toes and that together life would never be boring. They married in 1992, and Courtney worked as a receptionist and then heart valve assembler for Medtronic, Inc. The child of two artists, one being an entrepreneur, Courtney was not fond of authority figures, and longed to do her own thing. She learned to make jewelry and ran her own small business “The Bead Queen” for almost 10 years, selling her wares in local shops and the Dallas wholesale market. When the Medtronic office closed in Austin, her corporate next door neighbor Cedra Corporation took her in with open arms – 9 months pregnant! Lucky for her, Cedra had onsite childcare and great benefits. When Bart decided to follow his dream, Courtney thought it would be wise to keep her day job!
In 1995, Bart was ready to fulfill his dream of building his own kennel. He and Courtney, moved to Pflugerville, bought 15 beautiful acres of land, and started small with 10 outdoor runs. The first thing that was different about DogBoy’s, even then, was that the dogs got to interact with each other. That simply didn’t exist yet in Texas in 1995. After two years, with a client base of 200 dogs, DogBoy’s Dog Ranch grew to build their first kennel, with 24 indoor/outdoor runs. By 1999 DogBoy’s had grown to more than 2,000 dogs, and the second major DogBoy’s difference made its debut. Bart and Courtney made the decision to accept only spayed and neutered dogs as a matter of principle and to further the DogBoy’s mission of a better life for all dogs and their owners. They built their second kennel and office in 2000 (adding another 40 runs), and Courtney came home to have their second child and run the business full-time.
As a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Bart has a talent for observing dog behavior and understanding which dogs will play well with others. At DogBoy’s, Bart’s team evaluates all dogs, and then places them in play groups by size and compatibility. The “fun factor” at DogBoy’s inspires intense devotion among its staff and clients, human and canine. Working 11 years in the corporate world gave Courtney lots of customer service experience, and she learned even more about what it means to treat your employees and your clients like family.
Since 1995, DogBoy’s has cared for tens of thousands of dogs. With well over 20 years of experience training and observing dogs in “domesticated packs,” Bart is sought after as a trainer and consultant on all things dog-related. Bart and Courtney live happily on the Ranch property, along with their two children and two dogs.