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Twin passions prompt Best to launch dog-training camp

EMMA BEST, OWNER of Mountain Ridge Dog Pack, lines up with some of her Sunday pack members — Daisy, left, Franklin, Holland and Oakley — during a session at her Salisbury home earlier this month. Photo by Brooke Rubright

I found myself wanting to help other people with their dogs and being able to share the knowledge I’ve gathered along my journey.
— Emma Best

SALISBURY — The snow was lightly falling as Emma Best drove from one house to the next picking up her clients for the day, her windshield coated in a fog of breath.
The five dogs riding in the back of her 2005 Honda CRV were panting eagerly, ready to start their day together. As Best opened the car door, her Australian Shepherd, Franklin, hopped out first.
Best called each of the remaining dogs — Oakley, Daisy, Bailey and Holland — and directed them into a  semi-circle of furry bodies around her. Amazingly, they waited attentively for her direction of what would happen next.
“I’ve always loved animals, and they have always been a really big part of my life,” said Best, a 22-year-old Salisbury native and 2016 graduate of Middlebury Union High School, as she buckled a bag of treats around her waist.
An ardent animal lover and outdoor enthusiast, Best founded Mountain Ridge Dog Pack in November 2020. The Salisbury business picks up customers’ furry best friend for a day filled with engagement, freedom and growth.
Best, a certified dog pack trainer, specializes in pack walking, re-call training, and building each pup’s confidence throughout their time at camp. Since founding Mountain Ridge Dog Pack, her weekends have been filled with wet noses, wagging tails and drool-filled licks. Best hosts puppy camp on Saturday mornings followed by individual meetings. Sundays are dedicated to adult dog camp.
“Dog training has become a rabbit hole for me,” Best said. “The more I learn, the more courses I want to sign-up for and attend. I’m the kid that always has questions. I want to know how to help, how to do better, and what to offer in my own camp. I’m willing to put in the work because I’ve seen the result that can come from it.”
Growing up on what Best refers to as a “funny farm” made-up of four goats, two donkeys, a horse and lots of chickens, she was surrounded by animals. Her grandfather, a golden retriever breeder and hunting-dog trainer, influenced Best’s path. However, it was her dog Franklin that led her to truly understand the world of a dog.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with Franklin and learning more about how I can support him to be a resilient and confident pup. I found myself wanting to help other people with their dogs and being able to share the knowledge I’ve gathered along my journey,” Best said.
She started training with Franklin in 2018, when the pup was seven months old. She focused primarily on obedience and “E-collar” training, attending private sessions with her mentor, Rhonda Bilodeau of Vermont Dog Pack in Burlington. A group class titled “Creating Calmness,” a course centered around behavior modification and the emotional states of a dog, soon followed. Best was building her toolkit for dog training.

FROM PASSION TO ACTION
Not seeing any dog camp providers in Addison County, Best had her first inklings of a business plan. “If you look in Burlington there are tons,” she said. “I started to think about how I could offer a much-needed service that this county was missing while combining two of my passions: hiking and dogs.”
Three years, two degrees in business management and accounting from Castleton University, and a pandemic later, Best returned to Bilodeau’s classroom. This time to take a course called “My Dog Camp,” a six-week tutorial focused on everything one would need to know while running a certified program.
“She always has a question and I think that says a lot about how interested she is in making sure she is running a really good dog camp,” Bilodeau said. “I see some people who are running a dog camp through my course, but they are never on the calls or engaged. Emma is always super engaged in the group and supports others with any questions they have.”
Best felt she got a lot out of the Bilodeau’s classes.
“The course really helped me feel confident in the skills and knowledge I had to train dogs,” Best said, adding that it also helped her understand the “process of setting up my very own business.”
And that process, she added, has been helped along by a lot of people.
“I’ve been super fortunate to have people lend me a hand throughout the whole process of starting this business… Whether it’s taking photos, helping build my website and logo, providing business advice, referring clients, helping set up my camp car, etc. I really appreciate the support I’ve gained from my friends, family, community and clients,” Best said.
With Mountain Ridge Dog Pack up and running, Best accepts clients on a limited basis. She seeks pups that are off-leash reliable, share resources well, and are overall friendly with other dogs. If a dog doesn’t meet those prerequisites, she will work with them one-on-one in an attempt to prepare them for camp. Once all members of her current pack are trained and understand the routine, a new member can be added — a process that allows the existing dogs to assist Best in the training.
Mountain Ridge Dog Pack customer Tiffany Danyow praised Best for coming up with creative solutions.
“We reached out to Emma as recent German shepherd puppy owners to help socialize our puppy in a friendly and safe environment,” Danyow said. “Our dog, Dexter, is too young for the full dog camp, but Emma made time for him and started a puppy camp.”

A DAY AT CAMP
A typical day at camp consists of nonstop mental and physical engagement for the dogs. Best begins the pick-up loop with her first client at 8 a.m. An hour later, clients in the car, she returns to her Salisbury home. Once all of the dogs are showing signs of calmness, she opens the car door and releases them one at a time. The dogs sit, awaiting treats, and the signal that they can be released to run and play on the miles of trails behind Best’s home.
Camp always starts with playtime, allowing the dogs to get their initial energy out and frolic with their friends. Five minutes later, Best has all of the dogs back under her command. Making their way down the snowy path, the group practices pack-walking, a technique where the group of dogs walks behind Best in a line, ensuring she is the pack-leader. This technique is repeated throughout the day.
As the pack approaches an open field, Best once again releases the dogs for exploration and play. Here she works on re-call and name recognition for each pup, a huge benefit of camp instruction. As Best calls the name of each dog, they return to her side, once again forming a semi-circle around her. Their reward is a yummy treat.
This exercise is referred to as stationing. Best diligently watches each dog during this exercise to ensure they are giving one another enough space and respecting each another. If a dog reaches for a treat belonging to someone else, they are disciplined with a squirt of vinegar-water, signifying they need to wait their turn.
The pack continues through the field, making their way to another trail. This time Best engages with the dogs by having them build their confidence. A nearby rock is the perfect teaching tool. Each pup climbs up on the rock and carefully perches in the sitting position. Best backs away from the group, frequently reminding the dogs to stay. Then, one by one, the name of each dog is called, resulting in a poof of snow as they launch from the rock and barrel toward their leader.
After two hours of training and play, Best returns to her car, trailed by panting dogs with pink tongues hanging from their mouths. The pack loads back into the car and Best reverses her earlier journey, returning each furry friend to their home.
“After camp, Emma provides me with feedback and videos on what she experienced with Dexter and how to continue his improvement throughout the week. She has helped mold him into a more confident puppy and has provided us with great objectives to work towards,” Danyow says as testimony to progress made in short periods of time.
“While our dog Bailey is at camp, it allows my wife and I time to run errands and clean up the house without worrying about the dog being home alone,” said Tyler Quenneville, a Mountain Ridge Dog Pack client. “Emma does such a great job training and working with all of the dogs. It’s such a great way for Bailey to get some built up energy out.”
Note: To learn more about Mountain Ridge Dog Pack head online to mountainridgedogpack.com.

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