It’s dark and cold outside by late afternoon, but the lights are on in the big barn-like building on Kingsgate Way in north Richland.
People from around the Tri-Cities and their furry friends, from diminutive Shih-Tzus to plodding yellow labs, are ready to get to work inside.
There are hurdles and a ramp and a tunnel set up for an agility course. The nose work area is scattered with plain white boxes and other distractions to throw concentration.
“Nobody else in town has anything where you can get out of the rain and snow,” said Cheryl Stevens of Pasco, who brought her miniature bull terrier in on a recent evening. “This is something you’d be lucky to find in Portland.”
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4 Paws DogWorks has become a refuge for the dog training crowd in the Tri-Cities. While there are plenty of certified trainers and courses offered in the area, there’s a dearth of places to do that work indoors.
That’s where Tracy Hill comes in, and she’s happy to be of service.
“The best part is watching dogs dragging their owners in here because they want to train,” she said.
Hill got into dog training shortly after her mother died in 1999. She trained a lab mix named Cammie she adopted to become a therapy dog so she could help comfort those receiving hospice care.
Hill and her husband moved to the Tri-Cities in the early 2000s and eventually got involved in dog training through the Columbia Basin Dog Training Club. At the time, the club had no permanent space, so training sessions were held wherever they could find space, be it the Benton County Fairgrounds or someone’s backyard. That’s when Hill said she began thinking about how great it would be to have an indoor facility.
The best part is watching dogs dragging their owners in here because they want to train.
Tracy Hill, owner of 4 Paws DogWorks
It was while traveling that Hill read a book about turning a passion for dogs into a business, and she decided to open her own indoor dog training facility. She broke ground on Valentine’s Day in 2013, and held her first training session in September that year.
“All the sudden I had this land, and then all of a sudden I was building this building,” she said.
The building is 17,000 square feet, with 10,000 square feet dedicated to training space. There’s also a conference room, office, kitchen and restrooms, as well as some outdoor training grounds.
About 100 dogs a week spend time at 4 Paws, taking courses ranging from basic obedience to advanced agility to nose work, which trains dogs to identify specific scents. Hill serves as a trainer, but more than a dozen others work out of the facility as independent contractors.
Cheryl Stevens said she first learned about 4 Paws about a year ago through her circle of fellow trainers. She’s since taken her bull terrier and two boxers through nose work and obedience classes there.
“I’ve been doing a lot there; been having a real blast,” she said.
Joe Maday and his wife, Linda, of Richland have visited 4 Paws since it opened, bringing in their two Shih-Tzus, Malo and Dani. While Joe Maday worked with a dog as a police officer in Centralia, it wasn’t until his retirement that he got into dog training with his wife. He now takes Malo to the Richland Public Library and other places to serve as a therapy dog.
“I didn’t think I could do anything like this and she just said, ‘Yes, you can,’” Maday said.
The facility is also becoming a hub for dog training events, with a locally organized competition coming up in March, and then a regional event in canine freestyle, a dog sport that Hill described as “dancing with your dog,” in the fall.
Though happy to grow interest in the more advanced levels of dog training, Hill said she really just wants to be available for anyone who wants to improve their relationship with their canine friend.
“We’re never going to lose sight of the fact that most people want a companion dog,” she said.
4 Paws DogWorks
Location: 2765 Kingsgate Way, Richland
What: This indoor dog training facility offers courses ranging from basic obedience to dog sports such as agility. A four-week course generally costs $50, while an eight-week course costs $100, though there are some additional fees for some classes. Private lessons are also available.