Locals We Love: Chris Williams on Building Purpose with your Pups

By Stio Mountain on

Photos by Shannon Corsi

Where do you live and how long have you lived there? 

I live out in Clinton, Montana, which is about 30 miles outside of Missoula. I've lived in Western Montana for about 13 years now.

What is unique about your community that you wouldn't find in other places?

I think that the community here is full of a bunch of do-ers, they live the lifestyle that they really want to live. They don't make excuses, they just get after it. People are very genuinely motivated to enjoy things in life and people's identity is often paired with the things they get to do outside. 

I also think the size of Missoula is great - you're always meeting new and interesting people while at the same time you can go downtown and always see somebody you know. It's just big enough that you're always growing in your community while still being a part of something small and intimate.

What role does nature play in your life?

That's an interesting question. I guess it depends on what type of nature we are talking about, but nature is my life. Even through how I communicate with dogs. I mean dog training is in a sense taking something that was wild at one time and educating it on how to be symbiotic with us in a non-wild environment. 

If we get the opportunity to capitalize on some other wild tendencies, like tracking or bite work or detection, that's even better because now you're drawing out primal keys in that animal that they'll thrive on and they'll have these endorphins to build off. 

Nature is where I live. Nature is what I tap into to communicate effectively and motivationally with K9s too. So it depends on your definition of nature, but one could argue it's everything.

How did Run Your Pack start and how did you decide on dog training?

I think Run Your Pack started at a few different points. Dogs, wolves, the whole psychology about canines was something I was always fascinated by.

I took my first bite in a bite suit when I was 14, the police K9s came to career day at my high school. I was really pumped about it. The officers were like, “Anyone want to wear the bite suit and get bit?” I couldn't shoot my hand up fast enough. They suited me up and had me run down the hall...That dog hit me hard, lifted me off my feet, bruised me through the suit. The cops were actually worried about how hard of a hit I took but I remember having the biggest grin on my face. This is back when they could do this kind of stuff in schools. I remember something changing in me, I knew I wanted to do this.

When I was in school for what I thought would be a career, I got an opportunity to drop out of college and run sled dogs with an Iditarod musher. I fell into the sled dog land. I was in Alaska for months to work with this guy, train the dogs and run support during his first Iditarod. That chunk of time was how I saved up money for Schuck, my first dog. 

When Schuck entered my life, that's when things really got serious. I became obsessed. I wanted to become the best dog trainer possible. I read everything I could find on the topic and traveled around the country to learn from the most credible sources.

At the time, I was the producer of ‘Mountain Men’ on History Channel. I found myself flying around the country to do TV work and then flying to study canine work. It eventually got to that point where I knew I needed to switch. That was five years ago when I left production to start RYP full time. 

There was always this balance between what do I think is a career versus what am I genuinely interested in, and it took a long time for me to dance between these ideas before I committed to Run Your Pack.

What is one of your most memorable experiences with training working dogs?

I would say one of the coolest moments in dog work I've ever had was running sled dogs at midnight on Skalkaho Pass under a full moon. I had a moment where I was like, this is dope. You did it. You're here. You're standing on a dog sled. The next day I went out and got this compass tattoo - reminding me to follow the path that pulls you.

Another general experience that I will never forget is how Schuck taught me what about the true connection that is possible with a canine. This was the foundation of all the work I do now and something I will forever appreciate. Most of the memorable experiences aren’t a big grand event, though. It's the combination of a lot of little things, like seeing Liesel navigate and solve a scent problem that combine into this greater appreciation of working with dogs.

What is the most common misconception that you encounter with dog training? 

I would say the most common misconception is that dog training is quick. It's not that hard, but it's gained a perception that I feel like sometimes isn't accurate. 

Let me give you an example: sometimes dog training is perceived like eight minute abs workouts, that dog training is just flipping a switch. ‘Do this one thing or buy that new special gear and have the dog of your dreams’. In reality, eight minute abs aren’t how you get in shape. If you want to get in shape, it's a thousand repetitions done the right way with a proper workout plan.

Dog training is the same way. It's changing a whole belief structure and it’s regular work. If it’s done the right way, with respect for the animal, while maintaining your dog’s enthusiasm then you’ll see the results you’re looking for.

What is one of the most rewarding things to see from your clients and their dogs? 

One of the most rewarding things for me to see with my clients is when they fully break through the communication barriers with their dog. They look at their dog differently when they understand the psychology of how they communicate. I love seeing a handler understand what it is their dog actually needs and how to communicate those needs effectively. It is one of the most rewarding skills and creates mutual respect.

If you could give a word of advice to people considering getting a dog - what would you tell them? 

For folks looking for a dog: I really want you to think about asking yourself what you want out of the relationship with the dog. Make sure that whatever dog you get will line up with your lifestyle and the scope of your needs. Out of respect for the animal, think about the kind of lifestyle you can realistically offer this animal. Consider the breed and make sure that the temperament will line up with what you want. Don't get a dog that has a lot of drive and needs a huge job if you have a lifestyle that can't facilitate those needs.

Also, get a good trainer. Find someone that understands how a dog thinks and how to communicate with them. When you find the right trainer, ask lots of questions and pay attention to the trainer’s own dogs. Too many people claim to be professional trainers with lots of useless acronyms and accolades that don’t equate to meaningful methods of training dogs or teaching humans to work with their dog.

What working disciplines do you offer to your clients and what working disciplines are your dogs trained for? 

I’ll start with my dogs. I have three, including Rumble who is my wife's dog. She's a home guard dog. She used to be a little bit of a wildlife aversion specialist. I called her that when we lived in the yurt. She kept a wide berth of security on the property. 

Then I have my two Run Your Pack dogs. I've got Liesel Weapon, she's a three and a half year old German Shepherd who does manhunting or human tracking, shed hunting and bomb detection. I've had her indicate on firearms and spent shells as well.

Oaken is a two year old Dutch Shepherd who does wounded game tracking and just started narcotics detection. His specialty is protection work and we compete in a circuit called PSA (Protection Sports Association), which is competition level obedience. All the dogs have utility skills as well and can even ride on an ATV or snow machine with me.

The services I offer are all encompassing. I do pet training, puppy foundational obedience and general rehabilitation for dogs that have had prior issues. I deal with a lot of very fearful aggressive cases and work to rebuild their confidence. 

Outside of that, I try to offer a full spectrum of disciplines that a dog's personality may ask for including: tracking, detection, protection, and competition obedience. Scent detection, for example can be used for working dogs in narcotics or bomb detection, but it can also be used to hunt for morels or animal sheds. Tracking can be applied to working dogs for search and rescue scenarios, but also for hunters pursuing wounded game. It’s all similar stuff - I'm teaching a dog to funnel their drive to a specific discipline. What's fun for me is seeing how else we can apply communication concepts and tap into the primal keys to do fun things.

Learn more about Chris and Run Your Pack.

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