The show highlighted the work of Thank Dog!, which was founded in Burbank, Calif., in 2008 by Jill Bowers and her twin sister, Jamie. Bowers, a highly regarded dog trainer, had struggled with her weight until committing to a boot camp. Forty pounds peeled off, but she didn’t like spending all that time away from her Doberman pinscher. Her mission? Create a boot camp they could do together.
“Knowing that some people don’t have control over their dogs, I also wanted to add obedience. And I wanted to make it fun for humans,” says Bowers, who played around with the structure until she settled on the Thank Dog! model. Each hour-long class is divided into 10-minute segments, alternating between cardio drills combined with dog commands and strength-building circuits (performed by just the humans).
That breakdown works, she explains, because dogs can’t be trained for more than 10 minutes at a time. Plus, after 10 minutes of sprinting, high knees and shuffle steps, everyone’s panting. “They need water, and the humans do, too,” Bowers says.
Students in L.A. have lapped it up, and as the program has gotten media attention — most recently, on an episode of “Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan” in August — there’s been demand to expand to other cities.
But replicating Thank Dog! isn’t as simple as learning a few commands. “There’s an amount of organization and creativity needed to keep it safe and interesting. It’s not just running around a park with dogs,” says Noelle Blessey, who took over as Bowers’s partner when her sister decided to pursue transcendental meditation.
The gradual expansion started a year and a half ago, when Thank Dog! was licensed in Toronto. It’s since spread to Chicago, Cleveland, Boston and now the Washington area.
That’s how I came to find myself holding the leash of Rosie, one of Krieg’s two pit bull rescues, learning the basics of dog handling. Typically, new students get a personal one-hour training session before their first class to go over the commands. Because Rosie already knew the drill, I had an abbreviated lesson.
When I said “heel,” Rosie followed me. She sat when I said “sit,” got down when I said “down” and stayed when I said “stay” and walked in a circle around her. I had a bit more trouble following the directions for humans, which include keeping the dog to the left of you at all times and not allowing the dogs to get close enough to socialize.
“This way, there are no dogfights,” explained Krieg, who said focusing on the human-dog relationship throughout class is also important to solidify your bond. “You’re spending quality time together, not just walking and talking on the phone.”