Nicole Rathje is the sole proprietor and operator of Walk Hike Play LLC. She works directly with every dog in her care. By design, there is no staff. Nicole values having a personal connection with every dog in the pack. Nicole is licensed, bonded and insured. She has 12 years of professional dog handling experience and holds several certifications. More information about Nicole's philosophy and experience can be found here.
Once you have completed the pack application, I will be in touch through email. If it sounds like we may be a good fit, I will schedule a time to meet you and your dog at your home. New client consultations are scheduled between 1-3pm most weekdays. Before the meeting, you will register though a secure online portal and I will prepare all the necessary paperwork.
At the meeting, you and I will sit and discuss your dog's medical and behavioral history. Please Note: When I arrive at your home on the day of the meeting, I may not initially greet your dog. I facilitate a relaxed and thoughtful pack by ensuring every interaction I have with the pack is through quiet, confident leadership. I will wait until your dog is settled and has a calm mindset before interacting with them.
I will then take your dog on a complimentary evaluation walk to assess them for pack readiness. I will evaluate their skills on leash using a tool I provide called a transitional lead. I will also take them on a short field trip to assess their comfort level in the car and evaluate their reaction to environmental factors such as passing dogs, people, bikes, squirrels, etc.
When we return I will discuss with you my observations. If it seems like it may be a good fit, your dog will join the pack on a trial basis.
Every dog in the pack is walked on a Transitional Leash that I provide. The Transitional Leash is a slip lead that transitions into a head halter. This is my preferred tool of choice because it allows me to have excellent communication with each dog through the lead. I believe in providing clear direction, instead of correction when working with the pack and I have found this lead to be an excellent communication tool. You can find more information on this lead here.
The pack program is designed to build upon and strengthen the skills your dog already knows. The walk begins before we leave your house. For everyone's safety, it is crucial that every dog wait for permission before moving through an open door. This is practiced when we leave your home, every time the car door opens, and when we return to your home. On the walk, dogs practice walking on a loose lead following behind me. I walk in front to let them know it is my job to be aware of what is coming up on the trail. Their only job is to enjoy the experience of the walk. When people on the trail pass with dogs, we practice good trail etiquette and move off to the side and sit. This gives the pack a chance to strengthen their impulse control and ensures a calm, positive experience for all parties. Your dog will learn to respectfully co-exist with their fellow pack members while riding in the car together and migrating together on the trail.
I am happy to work with a dog to strengthen their leash manners, basic obedience, and social etiquette. However, to ensure the safety and enjoyment of the other pack members and those we share the trail with, if a dog needs more one on one support than I can provide in a group setting the pack program is not the right fit.
No. Dogs of all breeds, sizes, and age are welcome to apply. Typically dogs are 6 months of age or older. It is preferable that dogs are neutered or spayed. All pack members must be vaccinated (or can show proof of titers), on a regular flea treatment, and in good health. The safety and enjoyment of the entire pack as a whole is taken into consideration at all times.
The maximum number of dogs in the pack is eight per day. Because a commitment of three days a week is required, the dogs in the pack all walk together frequently and know one another well.
Consistency in all areas of your dog's life is the fundamental key to success. Dogs learn through routines and patterns. In order to set fair expectations for the pack, every member must have a chance to practice and implement what they learn on the pack walks on a regular basis. Just like students in a classroom, the dogs all have extremely unique personalities. By spending time together on a regular basis, they learn to read one another's cues and appreciate one another's similarities and differences.
Yes. After every walk you will receive a text update with picture and/or video of your dog out with the pack. I will also let you know any other relevant information from that day's adventure.
No. All clients provide a key or a code to access their house. Typically I will call your dog from the front door. You don’t need to be home or provide any other supplies. I provide the leash. A towel near the front door for wiping wet paws at the end of the walk is appreciated. Rain jackets should also be hung near the front door if you would like me to put them on during inclement weather days.
The dogs ride in my Mazda CX-5. I have breeze guards on the windows so they can safely enjoy fresh air and there is a safety divider between the front seat and back. All of my clients are in a small area of Kirkland to ensure that time spent in the car is minimal. We visit local trails, such as the Sammamish River Trail and Bridle Trails State Park. The dogs walk approximately 2.5 to 3 miles for 60 to 90 min. We spend 5 minutes at the start of the walk sniffing and going potty. Throughout the walk, we take a few more sniff and potty breaks and stop for a photo. Otherwise, the dogs are migrating together on the trail. When we pass people with other dogs, we move to the side of the trail and sit to give space and allow for a relaxed experience for all involved.
Every pack member will be able to view their schedule, update their information, and view their bill through an online portal. You will be emailed an invoice at the end of every month. The invoice contains a link to pay with a credit card.
The pack walks rain or shine. I provide towels on rainy days and am happy to put a raincoat on your dog if you have one. I prefer coats without velcro please. I can recommend some if needed. Please be aware, your dog may still come home damp and dirty on very wet days despite my best towel dry efforts. If there is snow and driving conditions are not safe, I will cancel the pack walk. On very hot days we will take extra shade breaks or go to my yard to play. Fresh water is provided at the end of every walk.
No. Pet sitting and individual walks are not offered. The only service currently provided is the Pack Walk. This highly specialized service is a craft I have refined over the years and I am so happy to offer it to Kirkland‘s canine residents.
At times, when the trail is empty, some dogs in the pack are given the freedom to walk off leash. This is a freedom that is earned with time as your dog and I build a relationship of mutual trust and respect. New pack members will not be off leash.
Once your dog is approved to join the pack, you will have a set weekly schedule. If you need to cancel a walk due to illness or vacation, please text me as soon as possible. Cancellations received within 24 hours will not be charged.
Two dog households are welcome to apply. Each dog's individual needs will be honored. If the pack program is a fit for both dogs, the price is $90 per day.