Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the time of the Wednesday group meeting, which is at 1 pm
Monday and Wednesday afternoons, a normally near-silent Centennial Mall is full of friends — including man’s best.
For a number of seasons now, dogs and owners have been coming together at the Craig mall to socialize and practice skills with the help of local expertise.
Group founder and Craig native Shelly Pinnt is a licensed trainer who has always worked with animals. When she moved back home to Craig in 2020, she wanted to do something that would benefit the community.
“I put everything into dog training, this is my life and my passion,” Pinnt said.
Pinnt is the owner of Rocky Mountain Happy Paws, which provides a wide range of individual and group dog training including: American Kennel Club (AKC) puppy classes; service animal training; obedience classes; and an intensive two-week therapy camp for dogs with behavioral issues. Pinnt also leads a 4-H group called Happy Paws for youth ages 8 to 18 to learn how to train dogs.
She started the dog group in the mall, which meets Mondays from 4 pm to 5:30 pm and Wednesdays from 1 pm to 2:30 pm, because she saw the community needed a place for dogs to socialize and for owners to learn how to handle different social settings with their dogs.
“It’s guidance to show people different ways of working with their dogs and how to respond to situations,” Pinnt said.
A typical session operates as follows: In a large open space in the mall, a circle of owners hold their leashed dogs by their sides. From the center of the circle, Pinnt demonstrates how to properly handle a dog on the leash and hold their attention. Following these instructions the owners start to walk their dogs around in the circle using the techniques Pinnt described.
Most of the group exercises focus on practicing impulse control, educating owners and building confidence for both owners and dogs. For Pinnt, the best thing about working with dogs is seeing their progress.
“I love watching them form,” Pinnt said. “When a dog comes in with aggression, you start to work with them, and then they get to where you can put them in society. You see the confidence build between the dog and owner”
That was the case with Paunita Muset and Blue, her four-year-old Husky. Blue had been attacked and started getting aggressive with other dogs. Muset said Blue would jump at other dogs, and walking down the street was stressful.
“Now we are going on walks and to the park,” Muset said, “I wish I had met Shelly earlier. She takes time and really figures out what works for each dog and each person.”
Pinnt said many dogs, like Blue, start out outside of the circle when they first come to the group and slowly are introduced.
“It’s all about slowly building comfort,” Pinnt said.
For Robin Spiker and her dog, Happy, the classes and training with Pinnt have been “life-changing.”
Spiker was one of Pinnt’s first students, and, when they started, Happy was a very insecure dog who hid behind Spiker like a shadow. At the first class, Happy was nervous, barking, and wouldn’t let any of the kids touch him. They did a couple of group classes followed by the intensive therapy program.
“Now he’s a whole different dog,” Spiker said.
Spiker is a regular group who now helps usher other dog owners through the exercises and activities. Happy has been spending the evening in the youth circle, with participants from Happy Paws 4-H who come to group nights for extra practice with their dogs, and now sits calmly beside Spiker while she talks to visitors.
”It’s all about setting dogs and owners up for success and meeting your dog where it’s at.” Spiker said.
Dogs and owners of any age, knowledge-base and skill level will be welcomed at the group. The fee for each class is $30, which allows Pinnt to provide the proper supplies and training for each dog to be successful.
Samantha Blose and her Great Dane, Theo, have been coming to the group for a year, since Theo was a puppy.
“We got Theo and knew he was going to be a handful,” Blose said.
At first, Blose was hesitant about getting a dog, because she didn’t have any experience with training. Working with Pinnt has made a world of difference for Blose, and she now has two dogs. In addition to Theo, she has added a puppy to her family de ella.
“I feel confident having dogs now because of my ability to train and work with them,” Blose said.
Blose said she can always text Pinnt and ask for help about a specific situation, and Pinnt has insight she would have never thought of.
“Shelly has tips and tricks for everything,” Blose said. “Like, never use a dog’s name with a negative tone, or they will stop answering to their name. Always use a positive tone when you say their name.”
These positive interactions radiate through the two circles of dogs and their owners during the Monday night group. Much of Pinnt’s work from Ella is about building relationships on many levels, with her students, between dogs and owners, and within the dog owner community.
“It’s nice that there is a way for people to get socialized for all breeds, types and temperaments,” Spiker said. “When you eat more often, you get to know other people and their dogs.”