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Brian Willis with (from left) Brophy, Ronnie, Pancho, Daisy, Dunbar, Winston, Boomer, Tillman, Tiberius and Dingo.
Photo: Brian Willis
Gofetch&Barkalott lets dogs be dogs
Although dogs have been loyally serving humanity as pets for at least 14,000 years, their current role as highly supervised house dwellers is a relatively new phenomenon, according to Brian Willis, who owns a daycare center for dogs called Gofetch&Barkalott.
“In the late 70s and early 80s, dogs became members of the household,” Willis explained. “They moved inside, slept inside, ate inside, and they were also modeled beyond the home as a symbol of social status or fashion accessory.”
Willis also said that dogs were no longer used to perform practical functions such as protecting property, herding, or working on the farm. This loss of purpose was less than ideal from the dog’s perspective, especially for those breeds that thrive on running free and performing stimulating tasks.
Gofetch&Barkalott offers dogs the opportunity to reclaim their true “dog hood.” Each morning, Willis fires up his van to pick up his canine clients for an enriching excursion into the Sonoran Desert, just beyond Phoenix’s sprawling metropolis.
A typical Gofetch&Barkalott jaunt consists of unleashed running, hiking, swimming, and fetch, followed by a nap, bath, socializing, some training exercises and a ride home.
People are often surprised to hear that the dogs aren’t on a leash while hiking and running through the wilderness, but Willis has never misplaced a dog in the 10 years that he has operated Gofetch&Barkalott. He says that being off the leash is a key part of the experience.
“They’re able to really explore what the true meaning of being a dog is, to explore and experience their natural environment with no restrictions,” Willis said. “They’re fully engaging their senses. Dogs that experience that on a regular basis become great citizens and great family members.”
Beyond the physical exercise and adventurous stimulation, the dogs are also integrated into a familiar group of friends that give each a sense of belonging. You may be thinking that a dog park accomplishes these very things, but according to Willis, this is not the case.
“It’s a really different experience for the dogs than what we humans intended it to be. It’s an arena for power struggle. Your dog is having to re-establish its role in its environment each time it goes and that can be a real stress on a dog,” Willis said.
Willis offers a special brand of dog training by appointment in addition to his daily excursions. According to its website, Gofetch&Barkalott’s belief is: “dogs learn more from love than they do from fear.” You have to work with your dog and reward the behavior you seek. That’s how Willis approaches his dogs. This, he claims, makes for a much happier dog and much closer bond between pet and owner.
Unlike some dog walkers and doggy day cares, Willis is not merely working the dogs to where they’re too tired to act out. He is eliminating the angst that builds up when a dog is not allowed to stretch its legs and explore its full potential.
Arcadia resident Dr. Wendy Dickerson, who has used Gofetch&Barkalott for nearly 10 years, says the effect on her two Great Danes’ behavior and well-being is dramatic. “I think the time outdoors in nature really lets them ‘be dogs’ and brings them so much joy. Our dogs are all rescues, which comes with issues. They have learned to be well mannered with other dogs and people and they are very well behaved at home,” Dickerson said. “Our dogs are cooperative, relaxed, confident, and easier to deal with,” Willis says. “Everyone wants that perfect dog but not everyone has the time or the ability. It really does exist, it’s just a question of whether or not the dog is given the opportunity to develop it.”
Gofetch&Barkalott welcomes new dogs into its crew and Willis will pick them up from anywhere in the Arcadia area.
For more: gobark.org.
From: Cindy W.
Sent: Monday, March 08, 2010 11:13 AM
To: 'brian willis'
Subject: Amazing Changes
I want to express my gratitude to you for taking Sadie on as your special project. I think you know our history with Sadie but just to recap; she was a stray I found near the gym where I was working out almost 7 years ago. She was skinny and dirty and of course, scared. The vet estimated she was 3 months old and some interesting mix of herding / hunting dog. When people asked what she was I just said “a cute little brown dog”. I have had dogs all my life, but mostly Golden Retrievers and as you know they come already socialized. I had no idea that Sadie would take some special work in that area. As a result of my lack of
understanding her, I made no effort to socialize her, she stayed mostly on our property with our Golden. As she got older she became more and more protective and aggressive. When I finally realized we had a problem, she had become very difficult to handle around other dogs and even people sometimes. I tried taking her out but I was unable to handle her and concerned that she would hurt someone, so she stayed at home. I have had trainers come to the house to work with us, knowing that it was really me that needed the training, however I did not have the confidence I needed to be her leader. Then we met you. The changes you have made with Sadie in just a couple of months is nothing short of a miracle. First taking her out only with your dog (when you could have had a day
off) I thought was quite an accomplishment. The day we met you in the park with her, in the midst of dogs, pigeons, kids, skateboards, bouncing balls & people was a turning point for me. I would NEVER have taken her out like that for fear of being unable to control her and very bad results. With you talking me through all
of the commotion, I gained confidence which Sadie felt. I was concerned when you decided to introduce her to your pack. Unbelievable! That Sadie was not a trouble maker is a great tribute to not only your skill with animals but your love and respect for them. I keep the pictures you sent me on my screen saver and
when they come up, I marvel at seeing her in a group of dogs. Albeit she does have a rather annoyed look on her face, thinking she is superior to the others. She now understands she is not superior to me thanks to you. You really saved this dogs life, and mine. In the back of my mind I was waiting for the day she
would bite someone and we would be forced to give her up. I know I will always have to be diligent with Sadie when other dogs are around (she still thinks she’s superior to others) but my relationship with her has changed. She now respects me as her leader.
You are a special man Brian, the dogs are so lucky to have you.
PS. She is and always has been a loving, loyal and protective friend, but is now more comfortable in the world.
We first met Brian Willis in 2007. He had a beautiful Golden Retriever puppy named Dunbar and a very intriguing business. At the time we had rescued a Great Dane puppy named Cheddar. He came to us with some baggage, and needed consistent socialization, badly. He was fearful with people outside of his family and was starting to show aggression towards other dogs at an early age. Gofetch&Barkalott was the perfect answer.
Brian would roll up in the mornings and pick up Cheddar for a day of socialization, training, exercise and fun. Cheddar would be delivered home in the evening clean and exhausted. Tired dogs are good dogs! It was obvious that excursion days were the best days ever and that Brian was Cheddar's favorite person in the whole world. Cheddar really loved his “job” with Brian. I think he considered himself an employee and ambassador for G&B.
Brian helped us with training, and Cheddar earned his Canine Good Citizen Award! When we had the opportunity to add another rescued adult Dane to our family, Brian helped us in evaluating whether Finn would be a good fit for Cheddar and our family. With his blessing, she was. Finn, of course, brought along her own baggage. She was pushy, needy, and due to her life without other dogs, had no idea how to play. Her strong prey drive was also hard to handle with our cat and on walks. With excursions and some training suggestions from Brian, we soon had a perfect lady.
Today Finn is the most laid back dog we have had. Another rescue Dane puppy soon came our way. Nacho, affectionately known as the Half-Good Boy, joined our family. His baggage included lots of energy, mouthing, and the ability to consistently outsmart his human family. As he continued to grow and grow, we knew it was imperative to get these behaviors under control. We can't believe the transformation in Nacho since starting his excursions with Brian. He is growing up into a great dog that is amazingly gentle, well behaved and friendly.
Brian was also there for us in the hardest times. When Cheddar starting to suffer from arthritis we all agreed that when he no longer could go on his beloved excursions, it would be time to say goodbye. Brian was an integral part of our decision making and was a huge support to us all.
We have regularly sent our dogs on weekly Gofetch&Barkalott excursions for the past 7 years. We consider this to be a great investment in our dogs' emotional well-being and health. They get to have experiences and training we simply can't provide them. It is such a relief on long work days to know that the dogs are getting out and having an incredible day. We are so proud of our well-behaved dogs, and couldn't have achieved this without Brian. Brian and his employees bring a level of customer service that is unparalleled. Trust us, this is not your ordinary dog walking service!
Dr. Wendy Dickerson and Family