Elk River High School student with dreams of owning his own dog training business takes the first steps at 15 years of age
Sam Keller might be only 15, but he has spent the summer working toward his dream of opening a training kennel for hunting dogs. With the help of his mom, Janet, and his 16-year-old sister, Annika, this Nowthen resident has put his entrepreneurial skills to work by selling home-style fudge to help turn his dream into a reality.
Keller knows that opening a training facility is a big undertaking, and one that will require a bit of capital to invest in purchasing land and erecting buildings. A part-time job was an option to help save money, but he decided to go another route, one where he could advertise his future business and start building relationships with local businesses and the community as a whole.
The five flavors he sells come pre-packaged with the logo and name of his future training kennel, Ranger’s, named after his black lab and hunting partner.
Keller credits Ranger with sparking his interest in opening his own training facility. Most hunting dogs are trained using a force-fed approach but Keller quickly realized that this didn’t work with Ranger. In fact, a trainer told Keller that he didn’t know what to do with Ranger and that he was essentially untrainable.
But Keller wasn’t ready to give up on his black lab. He quickly figured out what motivated his dog.
“He works for hugs and kisses,” Keller said, noting he didn’t respond at all to negative reinforcement. “He acts like a person more than a dog.”
Keller spent hours watching videos on YouTube and developed his own gentle approach to teaching Ranger the necessary hunting skills. His sister has been instrumental in helping with training, serving as the bird thrower during training exercises and always being available to offer those rewards of physical affection.
With this success under his belt, Keller knew he could train other dogs using the same approach, and his idea of opening a training kennel was born. He envisions boarding dogs and training them, as well as offering private lessons where pups and their owners come to the facility for sessions.
To help achieve this goal, the Kellers have spent several afternoons at Market Fest in White Bear Lake, talking to customers and selling their fudge. Annika, a gifted artist, tapped her skills and created a portrait of Ranger to display at their booth and to potentially use for future signage and marketing materials.
“I wanted to help support Sam,” she said.
By exhibiting her drawings at the farmers market, she soon realized that there was a market for her artwork and she plans to start a business of her own, selling originals as well as pet portraits.
The trio have also visited local businesses and made arrangements for their fudge to be stocked on store shelves. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly supportive, and from as far away as Princeton and Pease.
Locally, downtown Elk River’s Kemper Drug will be selling Ranger fudge, and other businesses have put out donation boxes to help collect money for Keller’s start-up.
With school starting in less than a month — both Annika and Sam are planning to attend Elk River High School — Keller knows he will need to shift his focus to studying and homework. However, having his products in stores is one way he can keep earning money toward his goal.
When speaking of what he envisions for the future, Keller said he hopes his life consists of “being a professional dog trainer and doing what I love to do.”