It’s a sunny November morning in Atlanta. Red and yellow leaves crunch underneath sneakers and paws, as Matt Nagler, Barking Hound Village’s enrichment specialist, walks down the trail at Morningside Nature Preserve accompanied by Mango, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Cash, the Black Lab. The dogs walk side by side, taking in all the sights, sounds, and scents on the trail; just as Nagler had hoped when he and owners, Matt Fishman and Matt Gryder, established Village Adventures last spring. “We’d been doing a lot of research in dog enrichment.” Nagler explains, “There are different toys and games and puzzles that dogs can play with, but they naturally want to be outside, sniffing in nature.”
Originally, Matt Nagler was brought on to the BHV team to run the Bark Bus – a converted airport shuttle with 11 high-density, anchored dog crates. It was intended to shuttle daycare dogs to and from condos in Atlanta, but Nagler, a lifelong athlete, and outdoorsman saw another opportunity. “Because we have so many dogs and so many facilities, we wanted to provide a service that was unique to our competitors. Having nature trails in a populous, major metropolitan area, like Atlanta is rare, so it was kind of a no-brainer. When you’re trying to enrich a dog’s life, do something they want to do naturally.”
For the last seven months, Village Adventures has provided dogs from our Chesire Bridge, North Ave, and Lambert Rd locations with 60-minute-long excursions through Atlanta’s best trails. When you add a Village Adventures hike to your dog’s daycare or boarding reservation, you will drop them off at your location of choice as usual. Beginning at 9am, Matt picks up the dogs, leashes them up, and loads them into the Bark Bus for their hike. For the safety of your dog, we only allow a maximum of three dogs to hike together at a time. Having fewer dogs allows Matt to provide the optimum care and attention necessary for your dog to explore safely. Before walking multiple dogs together, Matt checks their compatibility to ensure that they are able to hike together comfortably. For example, this was Mango and Cash’s first time hiking together, so before leashing them up Matt brought them into the same enclosure to meet.
After a quick ride to the Morningside Nature Preserve, Matt unloads the dogs and secures them to his dog walking belt which allows him extra support in handling both dogs. “It’s a bit of a core workout,” he jokes as the dogs pull forward. Nagler is an active person. He has been an avid soccer player and fan most of his life, even playing in college at the University of Alabama Birmingham. But Nagler’s interest in nature and hiking really peaked after his first year of undergrad. “I moved to Tuscan, Arizona. I lived there for 8 years, but during my first year there I was in a program called the Southwest Conservation Corps. We would go on hitches (project-focused trips) for 10 days at a time in the Southwest. I spent like 8 months out of the year hiking, doing trail restoration, and building hiking and mountain bike trails.”
As our enrichment specialist, Matt isn’t trimming back brush and building trails, but his time in the Southwest Conservation Corps did provide him with a greater knowledge of nature and outdoor safety. “Being comfortable in nature is important,” he says. “It would be hard to do the hikes as many times a week as I do without really enjoying it.” If you want to get your dog more involved with hiking, Matt recommends “having a basic knowledge of first aid because nature happens. Bring things for your dog that you’d usually take on a walk (leash, poop bags, etc). Depending on how long your walk is bring some water. Take into account the heat. Over 80 degrees, dogs are more likely to overheat. Look at the weather and anticipated temperatures. Listen to your dog.”
At his core, Matt Nagler is a dog person. “I’ve loved dogs forever, so it was important when I was transitioning out of the restaurant and bar industry which I had worked in most of my adult life to find something that was more fulfilling.” Although Nagler did not grow up with dogs, he has felt their love through many of his roommates’ dogs over the years. After a few months of hiking with Village Adventures, he finally caved. “My fianceé, Raegan, and I just adopted a 9-year-old pitbull 4 months ago” he happily mentions. “Her name is Mrs. Buttersworth and we call her B. She’s hilarious. She’s the best.”
Matt has a sixth sense when it comes to knowing a dog’s personality. He captures the essence of each dog through the Village Adventures Instagram where he shares pics of his hiking companions with their names, breed, and profession. By assigning each dog a human profession, he’s able to convey aspects of their personality in a way that is much more comprehensive to his human followers. He described Mango, the Rhodesian Ridgeback as a K-12 school psychologist, and in a weird way it perfectly describes her laidback, friendly, observational, and sweet disposition. “She’s the ultimate dog you would want to take on a hike – not pulling too far into nature or chasing things. She’s a good trail companion.” Nagler recalls another post he made about Nana, a pit-mix and vintage clothing booth owner, only to learn after making the post that Nana’s mom actually owns Valley Street Vintage, a vintage clothing booth.
Looking to the future, Matt sees plenty of room to run. He hopes to expand this service beyond our Chesire Bridge, North Ave, and Lambert Rd locations. “Fortunately, this is just starting” he notes. “I hope in the future we can do 10 different nature reserves or trails, including ones that are further away or more challenging.” Ultimately, for Nagler, the most important part of his job is making the dogs happy. “It is a unique experience to get to be outside with dogs all day. It’s pretty rewarding to see them happy.” When you choose Village Adventures, you’re giving your dog the unique opportunity to break up their daycare or boarding stay with some fresh air and outdoor activity. This not only benefits their physical health but also their mood. When your dog returns from a hike with Village Adventure, they reenter our facility feeling happier and healthier. On this National Take a Hike Day, we invite you to get out there and enjoy nature with your pup. We’ll see you out on the trail!