The Secret World of Zoom Room: Teaching Dogs Agility, Confidence, and More

Sarah Sypniewski

Zoom Room

Zoom Room is a franchise of facilities that began in 2007 with the idea to “provide urban dogs with an indoor space to train, play, and shop.” They offer both group and individual classes in everything from basic obedience to agility and scent work! I took my dog, Kali, to agility class at our local Zoom Room a few years ago, and she loved it. I recently sat down with Marnie Johnson, owner and head trainer at Zoom Room in Longmont, Colorado, to find out more about what goes on behind the scenes.

When, how, and why did you get started with Zoom Room?

"In 2009, I started looking for pet-related franchise opportunities. I had been involved in pet boarding, training, dog daycare, and veterinary services for the previous decade, and was looking for a way to become self-employed in the field. I came across an ad for Zoom Room on my internet research and, a couple months later, I flew to LA to visit the only location that was open at the time. I decided it was a concept worth pursuing, and opened in May 2011."

What’s the value of what Zoom Room provides?

"The value is in the acceptance of each and every guardian and their dog(s) that walk through our doors. Regardless of their skills or history, we listen and teach them the tools they need to make the relationship with their dog a fun, respectful, and lifelong joy. Having a good connection with your dog enriches everyone around you."

What are some misconceptions people have about agility and similar classes?

"One misconception I feel people have is that they have to do it perfectly or it isn’t any fun. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We’ve seen very competitive clients (those are usually the ones that go on to compete outside of Zoom Room) and those that just wanted to try something new with their dog!

Another misconception is that you and your dog have to run fast. Nope. Our agility is at your own speed, whatever that may be. We have some wonderful older clients that just walk the sequences with their older pets and have a blast!

Also, people often expect that they’ll get to run a fun obstacle sequence the minute they walk in the door or that their dog will instantly execute the weave poles flawlessly. A basic foundation is necessary for the safety of the dog and in order to enjoy success at the higher levels. We are a society of instant reward, but agility proves to guardians that all good things come to those who are patient!"

What are Urban Herding and Scent Work classes?

"Urban Herding (AKA Treibball) for the U.S. started right in our backyard, Brighton, CO! This sport originated in Germany and channels the herding energy in dogs from sheep to large exercise balls in an arena. However, it is not just for herding breeds, as our best Urban Herder here is a feisty, smart Poodle mix! This class works great for dogs that have a higher level of obedience already under their paw. This is a wonderful skill that can translate to being able to control your dog off leash. Pushing the balls is just good fun and works the communication between you and your dog.

We embrace Scent Work for the very reason that ANY dog can do it. This is an excellent sport for disabled dogs, puppies to seniors, blind, deaf, reactive, or shy. To begin, all the dog needs is food motivation, and the rest falls into place. Many other sports can’t say that any dog is eligible, but Scent Work is one. We have enjoyed seeing confidence built in shy dogs, and sedentary senior dogs come alive with the game. Plus, just like our agility classes, dogs can test out the sport with us, and if they love it, there are competitions they can go on to do."

Have any of your students ever gone on to “work” because of what they’ve learned in your classes?

"We have a few students that have gone on to working with their dogs as pet therapy teams around the community. They are spreading comfort and love through their work; it is rewarding to know we had a part in that."

Have you had any scary moments at work?

"We had a client come into agility class and noticed there was something “off” with that dog, as we had seen her many times before (so we knew she wasn’t acting like her normal self). We stopped class, explained to the owners what we saw, and directed them to the nearest animal ER for evaluation. We heard back the following day that the dog had eaten some prescription pills at home that afternoon before class. The owners were thankful we sent them to the ER for treatment. The dog received the medical care she needed, and is happy and healthy to this day."

What’s one of the funniest stories you can share?

"Recently, Colorado had a massive cold snap of single digit temperatures, so dogs were not getting their normal outside exercise. We happened to have Agility League scheduled in the middle of this cold. Normally, we keep a record of each dog’s time on the course and reward the cleanest (least mistakes) and fastest team. However, it was quickly apparent to everyone that the dogs had been cooped up too long and were just going crazy on course that afternoon. We decided dogs with the most faults and longest time on course were that day’s winners. We laughed so hard that day and the dogs truly had a blast running however they wanted to. We have the most awesome clients!"

What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

"That we might not always have the answer the client wants to hear. Changing any behavior--whether it is dog or human--is not easy, and takes consistency, time, and dedication. It is up to us to explain this and all of our lessons in a way the dog guardian can understand and relate to."

What’s an amazing thing you’ve seen at work?

"We love working with shy dogs and seeing their transformation of gaining confidence to go out and experience the world around them. They go from shaking and hiding behind their guardians in class to finally coming around to take a treat out of a stranger’s hand. That is powerfully amazing.

We also embrace working with local dog rescue organizations and offer classes to dogs in foster care to help them become more adoptable. We love to see one of the dogs we helped in foster be adopted and then come back with their new owners for more training. The best part about working at Zoom Room is changing the lives of people and their dogs and making lifelong friends in the process."

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