BOLTON – Dogs are Cara Armor’s whole life and she loves it.
“I could talk all day about dogs,” she said. “I adore their sense of humor, all to please us, and their willingness to figure out how to win in life. They are loyal, they are loving and no matter how crappy your day was, they are always there to brighten it with their soulful eyes and devotion to your emotional wellbeing.
“I love how snuggly they are and trusting, yet still know who is a good person and who is not. I always let my dogs judge a character and they have yet to fail me,” she added.
Armor runs Active Paws Inc. with her husband, Gerard. It started as a dog walking and pet-sitting business 18 years ago, covering Waltham, Watertown and Belmont.
Living in Bolton off Route 117 with four dogs since 2013, they tried expanding locally, but realized most people here walk their own dogs, so “stuck with the population density of their old towns” and drive into metro Boston daily.
However, “when the pandemic began, people started working from home; the dog walking dropped dropped, but the training picked up,” Armor said.
She trains professionally locally, throughout Massachusetts, and virtually (and is one of the only certified trainers).
Armor prefers to call herself a “dog coach” than a trainer.
“I demonstrate with your dog how to get the behaviors you want. I use positive reinforcement training methods which are ethical and force-free. Before we really had an understanding of operant conditioning people would use coercion and compulsion to get dogs to do or not do things we wanted,” but tools like prong and electric collars try to correct a behavior after it happens.
Instead, she teaches the dogs what they should be doing and rewarding them for that, building new histories of alternative wanted behaviors.
“I love going to people’s houses who have counter surfers or dogs chewing their coffee tables and giving them simple, logical, fun solutions to stop the behavior and train new behaviors. Our dogs just want our attention,” she said.
For example, if they like chewing the coffee table and you run to them when that happens, that’s way better than the boring chewing toy that lays on the ground and doesn’t cause a reaction.
Armor competes in dog sports and runs some of the top-ranked boxers in agility in the AKC and in nose work.
In agility, the dog is guided by body cues through a pre-set obstacle course precisely and within a time limit, mimicking running through the woods jumping over logs, weaving around trees and over rocks. Nose work locates a trained scent (like oranges) and communicates to a handler that the scent has been found, allowing them to exercise their natural instinct to sniff and be rewarded.
Her first two boxers died of degenerative myelopathy; “essentially ALS for dogs,” she said. During their journey with the disease, Armor discovered there’s a genetic test for it and “it’s completely avoidable, yet some didn’t seem to think it worth breeding away from. That destroyed me.”
So she a boxer girl and “thus entered the world of purchased trying to breed better boxers.
“I still have that ‘foundation bitch,’ as they are called. She is nearly 9 and has broken AKC agility records for boxers and is still going.”
In addition to her many groundbreaking accomplishments in conformation and dog sports, she has been bred twice. From the first litter, Armor kept two dogs, who are “now 6 years old with several championships under their belts.”
Her fourth dog was obtained from a kennel where she was bred for police work, not dog shows, and they are “very excited about the future” of the 9-month-old.
Competing came with breeding, to prove herself a reputable breeder who was stopping the perpetuation of boxer health issues, so she started in AKC conformation. She liked the competition, but found it too subjective, wanting to be judged on performance instead, and found that in agility, rally training and nose work.
Armor and her husband are both involved in competitions all over the east coast and midwest; Armor also runs several agility trials and helps to organize or volunteer with several others.
“My goal for this year is to recruit more juniors. With dog ownership up 200% over 2019, we have more dogs in homes with kids that should get to experience the fun of dog agility,” she said.
It was dog behavior that interested Armor first.
“What motivates a dog to get up and be a dog, why does a dog choose the humans it likes, and why do I like certain dogs more than others? Since we domesticated dogs and completely changed them genetically and phenotypically, how could I help in making them better?” She ultimately fell in love with the goofiness and loyalty of boxers.
She has a popular dog podcast, Startline, started during COVID when dog trials were all canceled beginning March 2020 (until 2022).
“It’s been a great way for me to meet even more people in the agility world and talk about the sport I love,” she said.
Armor met her husband Gerard at a dog park after befriending his sister, who also owned boxers. Gerard’s a dog person, but from Northern Ireland; Armor originally wasn’t interested because of the distance, but his sister’s matchmaking eventually worked. They fell in love and went into business together.
Other services Armor offers are dog hikes in Waltham’s green spaces (with two employees), limited overnight dog sitting at their home for existing clients and pet business consulting.
Previous dog businesses included a pet store (selling holistic foods), grooming, and pet first aid and CPR training company. She still does sales, marketing and instruction for ProTrainings, a first aid and CPR competitor she joined in September 2016, and remains a raw dog food nutrition specialist.
Originally from Baltimore, she moved to Massachusetts in 1998 to attend Boston University and obtained a degree in sociology, but “actually found that my few years managing a City Sports provided me with more skills in life than my college education.” She has attended hundreds of seminars on pet care and training (and taught a few).
Armor and Gerard bought a house in Watertown in 2006, but by 2012 they realized that town’s dog laws would hold them back and they wanted more land for their dogs to run.
“We loved Bolton for its right to the farm community,” she said, “and how close we are to everything” with nearby shopping, being “down the street from one of the best veterinary practices, and less than an hour from three popular agility trial sites.” They love to hike (with dogs) on trails in Bolton and Berlin.
Armor is highly entrepreneurial.
“The second I have a pattern of behavior that allows me to master a good system and process, I need to fill up any free time,” she said.
She also teaches beginner and intermediate level agility classes at Gemini Dogs in Littleton.
Her big dream is to own a facility in central Massachusetts large enough to hold trials plus classes (at least 15,000 square feet).
“You’re working with a sentient being that many people love as much as a child, it is a purely wonderful feeling to know we have improved the lives of their dogs and them,” she said.
Armor also owns one elderly rescue cat.
For information or to contact Armor, visit getactivepaws.com or call (781) 899-PAWS.