HUNTINGTON – For about 15 years, Jim Helems has been working with dogs his full-time career. But for the owner of Dog Pals Sports Camp, a love of man’s best friend long predates working with them as a job.
“I love what I’m doing,” Helems says simply.
Helems runs Dog Pals Sports Camp from his homestead on a summit in Huntington, where he offers both private and group classes in obedience, puppy training, agility, scent work, and dog parkour. He is also a certified instructor with Pet Tech, based in California, and teaches a dog health and first aid course through them. Additionally, he’s the dog officer for the town of Huntington, and he volunteers his time and that of one of his dogs with the Berskhire Mountain Search and Rescue Team.
“I get to play with dogs all day long,” Helems says.
Helems grew up in Southampton and joined the military when he was 17 years old, with the idea that it would allow him to become a veterinarian. This didn’t prove to be a possibility for him, but he did meet his wife, Deresa, while they were serving together in the Air Force, and they have been together ever since.
Speaking at their homestead, Deresa fondly notes her husband’s love for dogs.
“The kids used to say, ‘Dad, you love the dogs better than me,'” she says, laughing.
Years after leaving the military, the couple got an Australian shepherd they named Jake. Helems began training Jake in competition agility, which involves dogs navigating an obstacle course. Jake became a champion in the sport, and Helems credits this experience with reigniting his passion for working with animals and setting him on his dog training career.
Helems has a regulation agility course on his property, and he says that while some people train their dogs for competition there, most do it solely for fun.
“I always train people towards competition,” Helems said. “If they never do competition, who cares?”
The property also has elements Helems uses to train dogs in dog parkour, which involves dogs jumping on and through obstacles that include cars, boats and big tires.
“I actually teach them to go in and out of the vehicle windows,” he said. “They jump through the windows, they jump on the car.”
He also said that parkour skills can be learned by dogs everywhere, not just on a course.
“You can be walking down the center of Springfield and find a wall that a dog can walk on,” he said.
Another competition activity that Helems trains dogs for on his property is scent work, in which oils are hidden and then dogs have to go sniff them out.
“I actually judge for most of the major organizations,” he says, including the American Kennel Club.
Helems teaches dog health and first aid, and canine health is a subject he feels strongly about.
“Longevity for me in dogs is huge,” he says.
Helems grows vegetables and raises goats, sheep, ducks, chickens, turkeys and guinea hens on his property. He uses the vegetables he grows and the meat he raises to prepare the raw food diet he feeds his four dogs.
“I’m a huge believer in raw feeding dogs,” he says.
Helems says that what a dog eats should be no more than 5% carbohydrates, and that for a healthy dog the rest of the food should be half fat and half protein. Anecdotally, he notes that he had two dogs from a litter, and that the other dogs from that litter began dying when they were around 10 years old – whereas his oldest dog lived to 15.
Helems charges $ 185 for six-week group classes, while individual classes start at $ 250 for six weeks, although that price increases for dogs with issues such as aggression. A Pet Tech health and first aid class is $ 130 for an eight-hour, singe-day class.
Helems will also train any breed of dog, although he noted that he tends to “get the active breeds.”
One of Helems’ clients is Geraldine Somers, who has been taking her dog Zoe, a 3-year-old Beauceron, to Helems for about a year. She says she does this mostly for behavioral reasons, although Zoe does agility in her lessons as well.
“I love Jim,” Somers says.
“And I didn’t pay her to say that,” Helems replied.
If there’s one thing Helems wants dog owners to know, it’s the importance of training.
“When you train and work with a dog, you build that relationship,” he says, and he advocates training dogs from day 1.
“I have a training class planned even before my dog comes home,” he says. “Learn how to take care of your dog.”
Training pays dividends in the relationship between a person and their dog, he says.
“You build that bond through training,” he says. “Once you build that bond, your dog will do so much more.”
Bera Dunau can be reached at email@example.com.