Pet Project

A lifelong interest that’s gone to the dogs

by Heleigh Bostwick

biscuit Amy Haskell turned her longtime love of dogs into a thriving dog training business, Show Me the Biscuit in Williston. Her specialty is training dogs, including her five keeshonds, in agility. With her is Storm.

Amy Haskell has been a dog lover since childhood. Her family always had dogs and cats, she says, and she couldn’t wait to get one when she was on her own.

Haskell landed in Vermont when she was in high school and her family moved from Glen Cove, N.Y., to Brownington, in the Northeast Kingdom.

After earning her associate’s degree in media and communications from Lyndon State, she held various jobs. In 1980, working in bar and restaurant management in Gloucester, Mass., she met Peter Haskell, an auto body technician. They married in 1983, not long after she went to work for a savings and loan as a senior underwriter. In 1987, wanting to be near Amy’s family, the couple moved to Vermont.

Haskell settled into a 20-year career in mortgage banking, including work for Merchants Bank and VSECU, although she did take a five-year break to be a marketing consultant at WNCS 104.7 The Point.

“My other passion is music,” she says. “Since I was a very well know listener — I used to call and win all the prizes — they got to know me pretty well and invited me to be on a listeners’ advisory panel. When I came in, I sat next to the advertising sales manager and had my resume with me. I said, ‘Here. I want to work for you.’

“When you’re an underwriter and switch to mortgage origination, sales experience is helpful. Going into sales helped me get a job at VSECU in origination.”

The first dog Haskell found when she was on her own was a Samoyed. When it died, she wanted another “fluffy” dog. “I saw a keeshond puppy, which are the cutest puppies in the world, and so it began,” she says.

Haskell’s dogs still are keeshonds. “They’re from Holland and are nicknamed Dutch barge dogs because they would chase away rodents on the barges.”

They are a significant part of her life as the founder of Show Me the Biscuit LLC, a dog training and pet supply facility in Williston.

She fell into dog training while she was working in the mortgage industry. “In the mid-1990s I started training my own dogs and taking agility classes,” she says. “In 1997 I went to a national specialty show for my breed.”

One year later, Haskell started a vending business selling keeshond-related pet supplies at shows to raise money for keeshond rescue dogs, but eventually began using it to pay for her trips to the dog shows. “It’s an expensive hobby,” she says, laughing.

That vending business is what evolved into Show Me the Biscuit, originally a retail pet store she opened for business on December 6, 2005, in a Milton basement underneath a chiropractor.

“We had three different locations in Milton over a short period of time, but moved to Williston three years ago,” says Haskell, citing the need for more space as the main reason for moving around.

She and Peter, a senior estimator at Progressive Insurance, live in Milton. Although he’s an animal lover himself, he’s not involved in the business, and Haskell attends the dog shows solo.

“My only other hobby is antiques,” says Haskell, who collects Fiesta ware among other things. “My parents were antique dealers, and Peter and I used to go antiquing a lot around New England, especially Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He also used to be an avid skier and had a speed boat. I did a little of that, but we developed our own passions.”

They recently celebrated their 30th anniversary. “No kids, just five dogs: Augie, Chelsea, Storm, Rosie, and Rascal Haskell,” she jokes.

All five are purebred keeshonds. Storm is the only one that comes to work with her on a regular basis. “He’s an up-and-coming agility and conformation dog and has been coming here since he was 8 weeks old,” she says.

Show Me the Biscuit offers everything from basic obedience — starting puppies at 10 weeks old — through specialized competition agility classes. There’s something going on Monday through Saturday, and the occasional seminar, workshop, or special event on a Sunday.

In between, Haskell, a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the Keeshond Club of America, competes with her dogs and shows them in conformation.

“Conformation is what you typically see at the Westminster Dog Show,” she says. “We usually go to the show in West Springfield, Mass., and do a number of other shows throughout New England.”

She is planning to attend the national specialty show for keeshonds in North Carolina in May 2014. “It’s a good way to get together with your specific breed people, network, and see all the dogs, and it’s also educational and fun,” she says. She’ll compete in agility and conformation.

“We’re big on agility training here and compete in agility,” she says, adding that even though a dog must be purebred to compete in conformation and agility trials, they train mixed breeds as well. “Whether it’s for fun or competition, the training is the same,” she says.

She has two full-time employees and one part-time employee. Cassy Lamothe is one of two certified agility instructors in the state and has worked at Show Me the Biscuit for the past five years. She lives in Milton with her two children and five dogs: three shelties, a Pomeranian, and a border collie. She arrives at 9:30 every morning. “She practically lives here,” says Haskell, laughing.

Ashley Porter, also a trainer, has been with the business for the last two years and lives in Essex. Barbara Geries teaches therapy dog classes and canine good citizen classes. “Barbara is very much involved in therapy dogs and has been an evaluator for a number of therapy dog organizations,” says Haskell, who is also a certified AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator.

“We have an amazing team; it took years to get the right mix of people,” she says. “That has been the biggest challenge in my business. The three of us work incredibly well together and have a wealth of knowledge and experience in all aspects of dog training and care.”

Haskell insists on top-notch equipment. “It’s a safety issue: Dogs can get hurt. Our equipment and flooring are top of the line. No one else has the quality we have.

“I invest in my students, business, and dogs. If there’s a new piece of agility equipment that is safer, I will buy it right away.” For example, she is adamant that all of her contact equipment is rubberized. And the flooring is three-quarter-inch agility rubber flooring, no-slip, and with a lot of cushion for jumping, she says.

Haskell takes only five dogs a day for day training, so it’s necessary to call for an appointment. “We limit the number of dogs so they get one-on-one attention,” she explains. “Typically, we start off with one dog taking one class, then it becomes two classes and then seminars, and then people usually get another dog.” She chuckles.

Nina Daniel of South Starksboro has been taking classes for two years. “I drive there four days a week and I take six classes a week — sometimes twice a day,” she says. “They’re very accommodating since I’m coming from a distance, but the reason I like going there is the positive training.

“Dogs are individuals and what works for one might not work for another,” she continues, “and they are flexible in tailoring to your specific breed. My Japanese Chin is only seven pounds and is really great at agility, but my boxer is 70 pounds and it’s a completely different thing.”

“We have a lot of students who don’t even know what competing is about, but as they rise through the different levels they get into it,” says Lamothe. “This spring we had five students who started training their puppies with us, and three of the five titled in agility.”

Joan Fox-Cota of Williston has standard poodles that compete in agility trials. “I go quite often and wouldn’t be there as much as I am if I didn’t like them. They are great trainers, very patient and always make sure their clients are comfortable and happy in a training environment where there are a lot of people and dogs.”

The business has evolved from being a pet supply store with a few training classes to a full-fledged dog training center, says Haskell. “Most of the retail products that we carry now help people with their dog training.”

Haskell also supports a number of charities, including Bark for Life for the American Cancer Society, and Chase Away, a 5-K run for canine cancer. Next year, Show Me the Biscuit will be a sponsor for Everything Equine and Canine at the Chaplain Valley Exposition, the first time “canine” has been included.

Haskell, who is 59, has no intention of selling the business unless it is to her employees. “We all need a place to train our own dogs,” she says laughing.

“That’s our passion; that’s what we live to do.”