“The connection between dog and man – or woman, or human, for that matter – is a powerful thing,” according to Stephen Parent, owner, West Michigan K9. Stephen witnessed this strong bond at an early age while on a rabbit hunt with his grandfather and beagle, setting the stage for what is now a small business poised to become the largest dog training facility (based on number of dogs trained) in the United States.

Parent, a veteran, opened West Michigan K9 in 2013 with the aim to realize his childhood dream of dedicating his life to dogs. “We get all kinds of dogs – people’s pets, shelter dogs, COVID puppies, dogs some people have just given up on – you name it. Our job is to help bring out the best between dog and owner, and to ensure that the relationship is disciplined and loving at the same time.”

“I was the typical entrepreneur for the first several years and wore all the hats, but then realized I needed help. I reached out to the Michigan Small Business Development Center (MI-SBDC), and they are as much a part of the story of this business as the employees who work here,” said Parent.

The West Michigan K9 facility is literally off the beaten path, on a remote road tucked back in the dune woods of West Olive, Michigan. The unassuming yet spacious pole barn across from a residential home houses an air conditioned indoor training facility and outdoor training greenspace. Yes, there is barking – lots of barking – until the dogs get their reward: they get to train..

There are the basics of course: sit, stay, lie down. But then there are also seek, find and even attack. You see, these are not necessarily just pets – they are working dogs with a mission and a purpose. Some return to their owners as better companions or protectors. Some go on to serve in police forces or government agencies. No matter where they came from or where they end up, they are better dogs as a result.

To the untrained eye, training a dog to attack can be unsettling. But if one understands that such training is designed to serve and protect the dog’s owner, the exercise takes on a whole new meaning. “We have clients come to us from all over the world,” says Parent. “While our roots are in West Michigan, our reach is global and we are here to help.”

Parent’s team is cohesive – probably in part because everyone started out by cleaning kennels. The company philosophy is to work your way up, ideally promoting from within. It’s humbling, but bonding at the same time.

Nine years later, West Michigan K9 has grown exponentially and plans to expand even further in the very near future. According to Parent, “With the help of the MI-SBDC I was able to develop a business plan with revenue projections and in turn secured a $3 million loan for a new facility, creating a total of 50 jobs.”

Find out more about West Michigan K9 here.

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