Featuring Courtney Emken & Bart Emken, CPDT-KA
Concept by Courtney Emken
We hope everyone had wonderful holidays and a very happy new year. We wanted to start off 2020 with a little something different, so Bart and I sat down and told the origin story and evolution of DogBoy’s Dog Ranch. We hope you enjoy hearing the story of how we started and grew into the wonderful place you bring your cherished pups to today. We sure enjoyed living it and being able to tell the story today.
– So Dog Boy, rumor has it that people want to know our story.
– Yep, you might like how we started or.
– How we started, what it was like when we were growing. What we’re doing now. I meet so many people when I give ’em a tour and they, you know I start showing them the property and then they’re like–
– How did you guys get started? Like what do you mean you were the first pet care facility that let dogs play together in Texas, what?
– Well it all started in 1991.
– I was back in school. I graduated from UT, hated my job. You remember that?
– You got a degree in advertising.
– Yep, hated my job in advertising. Was back in school trying to figure out what the hell I wanted to do. And I saw a seeing eye dog stop a guy from falling down some stairs and it was like my epiphany, my light bulb moment. Where I was like that’s what I want to do. I want to help dogs, help people. And so I went to class and as it you would have it, there was a sign that was advertising a dog training class or a person that taught positive dog training. So I talked to her and she interviewed me to see how I interacted with my own dog, even though I had no skills at all. Talked to my vet who got me a job at a local kennel that has been around for decades. And that’s when I got to tell my fiance, her.
– We were engaged at the time.
– That I was going to be quitting my job and working at a kennel for minimum wage. But I got a raise.
– Straight out of college.
– I gotta raise in two weeks for $0.50 if I did all right.
– And minimum wage back then was what?
– I think it was like $4.50. Really was it that good?
– Yeah, and I was like, wait a second. Wait, we’re getting married. I was telling everyone I marrying an ad executive. He’s a kennel tech making minimum wage. Okay, great, I’m still in.
– But I also got a job at a, shortly after that I got a job at a pet store and that’s where I learned about dog food and when I was working for Diana, I learned about dog behavior and the debunking of the pack mentality. Just really like everything I did, and that’s where the name Dog Boy comes from because one of my good friends any time he would ask me, what are you doing man? Every answer was dog. So everything I was doing was the dog world.
– Yeah, and we weren’t called Dog Boys at the very beginning. We had a different name.
– We had a couple of different names. And so just slowly grew from there. Started teaching dogs at the Humane Society, I was doing boarding trains for Diana.
– You were pet sitting for her.
– I was pet sitting and started doing boarding trains at my own house and was like, we need a bigger place and so we went out on a huge limb and with some help from my parents, were able to find this place.
– It was twice what we cold afford.
– Yeah, it was definitely scary as young as we were. And then we went to a bank and we said hey.
– Yeah, so but for the first two years, should I take it from here?
– So, this is still in the early years, but in the first two years that we were open we had an outdoor kennel behind the house that was just chain link fencing on gravel. There was a roof over it.
– The roof, my dad helped me build that.
– Yep, dogs slept in our garage in crates at night and that’s all we had for like two years.
– This was the office.
– And we both had full-time jobs, like we were here taking care of dogs at lunch. But his job was a home-based job, so he didn’t have to go anywhere so he could be here. But if he had to go to the grocery store.
– We had to schedule it.
– Or run an errand, basically dropping off was by appointment only. We didn’t have office hours.
– This was the office by the way.
– The office, yeah, people checked in right here in my kitchen and that was all we had for two years and that’s when we went to the bank. After we had about 200 dogs in our database, which was an Excel spreadsheet and my reservation software was like Calendar Creator 2.0 or something. And so we went to the bank and the banker said, “So wait a minute, you’re going to let dogs play together “that don’t live together?” Because back then that did not exist in this town. But before we went to the bank, we started talking to other pet care facility owners and telling then what we were gonna do, what we had been doing for two years. Day care was in our backyard and literally there were dogs like right out here and it was 10-15 a day probably. Yeah, and I walked the dogs like off leash on the property.
– Mm-hm, that’s how they got their exercises. And that’s how you realized that dogs were social creatures and needed to be together with other dogs. ‘Cause he would take the off leash on the property and some would. It was fenced all the way around. So we weren’t worried about dogs running away but some would kind of run off and so instead of chasing them, he would hide from them.
– Correction, it was not fenced all the way around.
– Yeah, we just had, there was like field wire, barbed wire.
– Oh okay, yeah that’s true. That’s true but still.
– But still.
– There was a deterrent.
– I realized if I didn’t chase them, calling after them, that they would follow me if I just went. So that’s how I figured that out.
– Yeah, so we started talking to other pet care facilities and telling then what we were doing. And they were like, oh, do not do that. Like that is such a bad idea, you’re gonna get sued.
– Can’t do that.
– You’re never gonna make it in business like that. That’s gotta be against the law.
– Can’t do it.
– You just should not ever put dogs together that don’t live together.
– That’s what everybody said.
– And we were like, we’re already doing it, like it’s already happening at our house. So we’re not gonna stop doing it just because you’re telling me not to. Of course all you have to do to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t do it. So that was all the impetus I needed.
– Yeah me too.
– So we went to the bank and we were telling the banker what was going on and how we had dogs in our backyard for day care and all that. And he said, “So wait a minute, you’re letting dogs “play together that don’t live together?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And he goes, “That’s crazy.” And I go, “I know.” And he goes, “And brilliant, have you thought “about franchising?” And I was like, “We don’t even have a building yet.” Like we didn’t even know the first thing about a franchise and thankfully over all the years, we decided to have a family instead of a franchise because I think you lose some of that personal touch when you have multiple locations. I don’t know, you guys might have seen that. But, we didn’t ever build beyond this but we expanded over the years. So what we started with was a 24-run, indoor/outdoor kennel. It wasn’t climate controlled even for 10 years because it was designed by a green builder that let’s the earth resources help cool the property.
– So wind and water and position. And it actually worked really well until, the only time it didn’t work was when it was really still and really hot and humid but the rest of the time it was great.
– So 10 years in we finally put in AC. But after the first two years that we had the kennel, we went from 200 to 2000 clients.
– And she got back at me for the whole, I’m quitting my job thing because deciding to have a baby during the time we were building the first building.
– And the second building.
– And the second.
– So yeah, so when the first kennel was being built, I was pregnant with our son who’s 21 now and the second kennel, when we decided to build a second kennel, we built an office at the same time because we didn’t have an office and I was tired of customers being in my house. So, we built the second kennel in the office and that’s when I had my second child who is now 18. And those first couple of years were really, really hard. I had three years in a row with zero, literally zero days off. Zero weekends, zero holidays, zero sick days. I worked a lot.
– And I worked five years full-time somewhere else because I came on full-time.
– So that was hard. And my friend Lee Mannox, who went on to become his own successful dog trainer, helped me in the beginning.
– Lots of sweat equity.
– Yeah, we sat around and played dominoes and drank beer and talked about the future and what the good old days were gonna look like.
– Some paint ball was in there somewhere.
– But we really hashed out, hey this whole dog behavior thing.
– Basically, we wanted a place that was based on care, caring about the dogs the way that I felt about dogs. Still our only rule, not only rule. My number one rule is if something happens out here, it’s like what would you do if it was your dog? So I treat every dog like it’s my dog and that’s been our guiding principle the whole time.
– And working at that kennel that you worked at in the beginning was a real, it was really what spurred you to want to, that and the bad training experience that you had. So when you worked at the kennel, every time, why don’t you tell this part.
– If I saw young wild dogs that were locked in a cage, not having an outlet they would have displacement behaviors that were horrible. Or if there was little house dogs that, you know.
– Used to being spoiled like Noodle.
– Yeah, like missing their mommies. They would be shut down and having displacement behaviors as well.
– Really stressed.
– Basically anytime I saw something wrong I would tell the manager, like hey can I take this dog or can I do? And they were like, no, your job is to.
– Scoop poop.
– Scoop poop.
– And feed dogs.
– Give water, that’s it. And I’m like, but you can all these other things to help them and so all the things that they said that I couldn’t do that I knew would help give those dogs an outlet or give them care. So they actually had fun and kennel wasn’t a bad word anymore. And the trainer at the time was a force trainer. She was into shitsa and choke collars and pinch collars and she–
– Like guard dog training kinda.
– She convinced me to alpha role my dog and when my dog was shocked by that behavior from me, she basically convinced me to scruff my dog and get in her face. And I just, uh, I’m gonna cry. She convinced me that basically dog abuse was okay to show her who was in charge and I was just like, f this. This is not what I want to do to my dog.
– And it did do permanent damage to that dog. She was never right with other dogs after that.
– So just following that, just really focused on positive-only behaviors, positive reinforcement. And there is a better way. I’m still shocked there is still people with choke chains and pinch collar and electric collars.
– We just feel like dogs deserve better. So we built the second kennel in the office and we kept growing. But when we build that second kennel in the office, Bart said, “I don’t want to grow anymore. “I just want to stay this size.” “And I don’t want to take dogs that aren’t fixed anymore.” Because we live very close to a lower income housing area that generally doesn’t take good care of their pets, in the sense that they all let them roam during the day without being in any kind of fenced-in enclosure or they chain them up in their backyard. And none of them are spayed or neutered. None of them are regularly vaccinated that we could tell. And they just were getting killed on the streets around us all the time and we were so tired of seeing dead dogs that we–
– Well, and there was also at this time, the other reason that people think, why we’re called Dog Boys, is because I was going on the KLBG Dudley and Bob with Deborah Morning Show. And when I would go to the Humane Society and so I would see lots of dogs in there that had come from dogs not being fixed and so that was another reason to want to go that route.
– Right, and again people told us, that’s a terrible idea. Even my dad was like, you’re gonna lose half your customers, like what are you doing? And 45-minutes later on my soapbox, my dad was like, okay, okay I get it. You’re passionate about spay and neuter all right. So we did change that day, that year, it was 2000 that we went all spayed and neutered and basically our rule was and still is that unless there are extenuating circumstances, which sometimes there are with larger breeds or show dogs and the dog needs to be fixed by the time they’re six months old in order to come for boarding or daycare. And we do make exceptions like if it’s a Great Dane or something like that and the vet wants to wait. That’s fine, but if the customer just wants to wait or if the customer just wants to breed their dog, that’s not okay. They need to go somewhere else.
– And we never looked back. I think we may have lost like two or three customers and the rest of them just got their dogs fixed and kept coming. And it was great.
– And we soldiered on through there and we started focusing more on behavior and teaching classes and the problem was we didn’t have a place to do lessons year round, so.
– Mm-hm, well that was many years later. We grew, I’m not sure how big our staff was about then, but I would say we grew from just the two of us to maybe 10 or 15, and one of our trainers, we had a couple of trainers on staff along with Bart. And we just having to cancel classes every summer because it was just so hot.
– Or cold or rainy or.
– So we thought we would just build a pavilion, like a slab with a roof and because of all of our whatever was on our flats or whatever in our neighborhood drawings. There was some rule that we couldn’t build on that side of the property without having a separate septic or something. So we build over here, but before we started the question came up, well if it’s just a slab with a roof, where are people going to use the restroom? What if it’s pouring down rain? They’re not gonna trek all the way over the the office to go to the bathroom.
– So it just kept growing and growing.
– So he’s like, well they can just go in our house. And I was like, no, they can’t. I really like to have my house just for me. And so that turned into a $300,000 project and now we have a training facility with a bathroom and some offices, which is really nice.
– And that was a scary leap too because it took so long to get the process started. That’s when the big crash happened.
– That’s right, 2008.
– And the price of steel went way up and we had to cut the size of the building in half. And had a couple of people saying, pull the plugs. Stop, you can’t afford to do this. And my belief was that I have to have a place for my people that are working in the kennel, who are pursing training.
– [Courtney] As a career.
– And what I taught and thought they need place that they can move to or go to or have so we can help more dogs. And so we sucked it up and by god, we’re still paying for that building.
– But it’s worth it.
– But it’s worth it.
– It’s so worth it.
– And we’re up to 30 something employees, we probably have 35+ employees this summer.
– Yes. And like a whole team of manager and we have room for 90-100 dogs on any given day, which is pretty much every weekend in the summer, every holiday.
– But we still have people come out and they are just blown away when they get out of their car. The things they say about us on Yelp just warm my heart.
– Warms my heart.
– Warms my heart. We’ve spawned 12.
– At least a dozen businesses, have been started because of people who either came here as clients and wanted to start their own business or most of them worked here as employees and then left to start their own businesses. A few people, like one person just toured here and started her own business. But a few people have asked us to consult and we have done that on occasion, and I love doing it but we didn’t ever have deed restrictions or licensing issues, so I can’t do that all over the country. But we are usually happy to help anybody that asks.
– And another thing is there, I think it’s, I’m ma or you’re ma and I’m pa. Like there are, I don’t even know how many relationships have started from employees who have worked here or clients and employees who have interacted.
– Mm-hm, not just romantic relationships, but long-term deep friendships.
– I just was talking to somebody the other day and they had went to go visit somebody that used to work here years ago. They’re like, oh yeah, we’re still friends. And I see it on Facebook all the time, I see a lotta people who are still in touch and it’s because we, because they saw a stupid dog that was going down some stairs and he told the blind guy, don’t go there.
– Yeah, I still, I just love it when I hear people just talk about how we got started or if they, I don’t know, it warms my heart when people tell other people about our business or if they come back year after year, their dogs come and go and pass away and they come back. Or if I see other businesses that have followed in our footsteps knowing there’s now, it’s the norm to let dogs play together. Now, it’s the norm to be all spayed and neutered and most people who have pet care facilities in town may not even know that it started here. It’s just that’s what everybody else was doing so that’s what they did. And it feels really good to know that we kind of started all that.
– Eh, we’re visionaries.
– Yeah, but I do love it when customers, their dog, I don’t love it when their dogs pass away obviously. But their dogs pass away, they may be gone for a while and they come back, I gotta new dog. And I’m like, yay! So we have people who are on their fourth and fifth generation of dog owning still coming back or their kids are bringing their dogs. It just really warms my heart and that’s why I really want this place to live on beyond us. Like eventually we will retire and once our kids are out of college and one of them may even run this place one day, but I really want it to live beyond us because it’s a special place.
– Me too.
– And it’s special for dogs. Dogs deserve better.
– Dogs do deserve better.
– That’s it.
– That’s the story and I’m sticking to it.
– I’m sure we left some stuff out but.
– Yeah maybe so.
– Now we do the wacky outtakes.