Founder Profile: A Q&A With Shannon Walker

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

As a professional dog trainer for 25+ years, Shannon Walker never lets her emotions get in the way of being a confident leader to her dogs. But that doesn’t mean she’s not emotional. Get Walker talking about her father, her twin sons, or the mission of Northwest Battle Buddies, the organization she founded to provide professionally trained service animals to Veterans battling PTSD, and you’ll probably be tearing up right along with her. On the heels of losing her beloved Rottweiler, Rondo, Walker recently sat down to discuss her personal story, how she came around to dedicating her life to Veterans and dogs, and her dreams for the future of Northwest Battle Buddies. 


Do you believe in the concept of “soul dogs,” and if so, who was yours? 

I’ve had dogs my whole life, and they were all extremely special to me. However, what was different about them is what I was going through in my life, that’s what made certain things more significant than others. [With my competition dog], I had struggles and triumphs with that dog that I shared in the deepest depths of my soul. With Rondo, (the dog Walker recently lost) I was getting a divorce, there was the death of my father, I was a single mom raising my boys, I started Northwest Battle Buddies. He was the first dog to ever represent Northwest Battle Buddies. There were all these things that Rondo was a part of that other dogs weren’t. It didn’t make Rondo better, but the depth of the relationship was very different because of my state of mind and emotions.


How can you be such a strong pack leader and still have all that emotion that we see in your videos? 

I think it comes with clarity. Most people think if they just love their dog enough, they’ll give their dog the best life. What’s the best life for a dog? Balance, structure, rules. There’s 100 percent clarity in a pack. Your dog will never be what you want them to be until you’re the leader they need you to be.


Why is it so important to help your dog be calm?  

When a dog has a calm brain and is balanced, and you have that relationship, they are so much more intuitive to serve you in a deeper way. It makes the relationship so much deeper than it would be if your dog is just continuously functioning with an excited, frustrated brain. 


What attracted you to Schutzhund (a competitive dog sport)? 

The first shepherd I ever had was just an unruly dog, but it didn’t bother me⸺I loved him so much. [My fiance] was like, “Get him trained or get rid of him.” I sought out trainers, just like everybody does. I was just going for regular obedience, but they were talking about Schutzhund and I’m like, What’s Schutzhund? I just couldn’t believe that a human and a dog could move with such precision and fluidity. And I’m like, that’s what I want to do. That is so beautiful. So I started training my personal dog to do Schutzhund. And even though he wasn’t particularly gifted in the sport⸺but he was all heart⸺I won the regionals the first time I walked out on the field with him.


How did you decide to make working with dogs your life’s work? 

I competed in Schutzhund for 10 years. I have twins and they were a year [old]. And so, I’d be in the park, training Max, my Shepherd, and people would come up and ask me for help. I started thinking⸺I was a stay at home mom, but our finances weren’t turning out the way I thought they were going to⸺and I thought "If I can just train four dogs a month, I can be a stay at home mom, and we can have enough money.” So I just started telling everybody I was a dog trainer. And people started coming, and that was the beginning. 



Has your approach to dog training changed over the years? 

I’ve been training for 27 years and I’m continually learning and honestly, the dogs are your best teacher. I feel my training has really come full circle, because my knowledge is more in depth. Everything is always about clarity and leadership and structure for the dog. My instruction [for different owners] is going to be different based on what their goals are, but yet, it’s still always clear. What matters about all of it across the board is clarity. 


I’ve heard you say so many times, “God, family, country.” What does that mean to you? 

I get that from my dad. I was raised in a Christian home. God was always first. Family was everything. My dad was an unbelievable patriot. He served during the Korean War. He believed when you’re in the presence of a  Veteran you’re in the presence of a hero, even though he never considered himself one. When he died, when we were describing him, it was: God, family, and country. We put a term to it then. We talked a lot about legacy. And then, the Northwest Battle Buddies platform obviously, it’s all about that for me. 


What was your father like? 

Strong. Determined. He did not have ‘quit’ in him. He worked so hard and was so dedicated to us. 


What impact did your father have on you? 

I was always a daddy’s girl and it didn’t matter how old I got: I talked to him every day. He was such an incredible source of strength and wisdom in my life. It was my goal to always make him proud, and it still is. 


Do you think some of what you learned from him is part of what has made you successful? 

Yes, 100 percent. The example that he gave us is what I have tried to live out for my boys and in my life. I want them to learn from me like I learned from my dad. I’m very much aware of the power of the example. Who my father was in my life and the example he set was very much why I am the way I am. 


Do your boys participate in NWBB? 

Oh, absolutely. So, right out of high school they went into the military; they served in the Army and Marines. Jarod is the lead instructor and trainer for Northwest Battle Buddies for all of our dogs and all of our Veterans. I could not be more proud of what an amazing leader and instructor he is. And then Jacob did two enlistments, and he’s been out now about a year and a half. And he is training dogs for Northwest Battle Buddies and also instructing Veterans. He’s also part of the donor relations and helps our COO. I am super proud that my boys work with me, alongside me. They are amazing men; they are amazing human beings.



How do you know a dog and a Veteran are a good match?

There’s communication happening and they’re not saying anything. They start to move with unity. 


Who names the dogs?

I’m over it. I’m so tired of trying to name dogs. I don’t care. Unless it’s a stupid name, I’m like: we’re not naming it that. (laughs)


What are some things that you would counsel regular dog owners to stop doing?

Stop creating excitement when you’re sharing affection. No dog is born neurotic. They become neurotic through living without rules, boundaries and discipline. 


What are some of your current challenges with NWBB? 

The biggest challenge always is money. We train our dogs for five months professionally before they ever meet their Veteran, and then the Veterans go through five weeks of training. The dogs cost the organization $25,000 before we gift them to our Veterans. We have a waiting list of 70: it isn’t because we don’t have time to train the dogs or don’t have access to dogs. We need consistent donors that are willing to give to where we [don’t] have to spend so much time trying to generate that, and so we can put dogs in the pipeline. 


What’s something you hope to do? 

I would love for us to have a campus. When our Veterans come and stay for five weeks, they are staying in trailers, they are staying with friends, they’re staying in hotels... Right now [the Veterans] incur the expense of them coming here. Sometimes that limits the Veterans from being able to come and get a dog from us, because they can’t afford the five weeks of wherever they may stay. In a perfect world I’d like to have all of it in house. That would be a great addition to serving these amazing men and women because they deserve it. 


Why do you do this work? 

Everything we do in life begins with freedom. Where would we be in America without the men and women who provided it? And so we owe them everything. And it starts with us. How can we, as free Americans, say thank you for our freedom? They are suffering in silence with invisible wounds of war. They are continuing to pay a price for my freedom. And so, when I look at: what can we do better as an organization to serve them? It’s endless.



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