As a self-described “country boy,” Felix Merino didn’t set out to become an urban spectacle when he started his dog walking business two years ago, but that’s indeed what he has become. Sometimes shepherding up to 17 dogs at one time, Merino walks all over Denver—between 15 and 19 miles a day—providing dog training and daycare services. Along the way, bystanders often stare or snap photos. Sometimes they ask for advice about how they can better control their own dogs. Merino is always happy to share what he’s learned over the years. “You have to watch and listen to your dog and set clear boundaries. Assertive calm. Let them know you want peace, that you’re not going to tolerate aggressive behavior.”
Merino says his dog training career happened mostly by accident. Growing up on a ranch in Wyoming, he broke horses with his dad, but he didn’t realize that he had a unique ability to connect with animals. After joining the Air Force, Merino was given a dog by his sergeant who had lost patience with the puppy for chewing everything in sight. Merino said that began his journey with dogs. “I didn’t know how to train a dog, but Django and I just had fun together. I’d get on my dirt bike and he’d run alongside me going 30 miles per hour and people would stare in amazement,” said Merino.
After moving to Denver, Merino got a job as an assistant at a veterinarian’s office, but he wasn’t happy with the way the animals were handled. “Everyone babied the animals. I thought I could do it better.” After getting fired from that job, Merino says he hit emotional bottom. “I was talking to my brother saying I feel like a pathetic loser, but I think I might have something when it comes to dogs—and he told me to give it a shot.”
Merino started by signing up to be a dog walker through Rover, the online pet sitting service. One day when he was walking Django and another dog, he encountered a woman with two miniature schnauzers that were barking and pulling aggressively on their leashes. “I asked, ‘Can I help you?’ And she said ‘Yes, how do you get your dogs to behave so well?’ She became my first client and then my biggest advocate, spreading the word about my services when I didn’t know a thing about marketing,” Merino remembers with a laugh.
Merino says he’s done a lot of research since those early days and is still mastering his skills. “Mostly I just have a conversation with the dogs. They say something to me and I say something back. My ability to talk to dogs has flaws, but I learn from it every time.”
With a facility in the Park Hill neighborhood for drop-offs and pickups, Merino says he’s still “loyal to the streets” and tries to walk as much as possible, carrying a backpack with water for the dogs. “I want to make sure they feel good, but my job is also to get them tired. I try to find a healthy balance.”
Merino is also very candid about how working with dogs has helped him achieve more balance and stability in his own life. “Dog training is all about mental health. If I’m anxious, the dog knows that, so I have to focus on getting back to calm. Breathing. If you can be calm and be present, you’re going to influence a dog a lot more.” He says the whole goal is to be in sync with your dog, which is why he tells owners that they shouldn’t be on their cellphones when they are walking their dogs. “It means you’re not paying attention. You’re not connecting. And that’s not healthy. You need to be in tune with each other and have the same intention. If you can master that, it’s likely to make you better with your other relationships.”
For more information about Merino’s dog training services, visit his website at www.mk9consulting.com.