Northwest K-9 co-owners Marcus Wright (front) with Guapo, Tyler Clark and Beans (German Shepard) and Zayne Brown and his dog Stone pose in the training yard of their business in Des Moines.

Black-Owned Dog Training Collaborative Aims to Bring People (and Dogs) Together

by Allison Fine

In 2021, it is so easy to find issues that divide us as humans. Religion, politics, and race are topics that often have us “pick sides” and spend time focusing our energy on how we are different. Conversely, there are many things that bring us together — some would call them universal truths. Wanting healthy and happy families, loving to eat good food, and the way pets make us feel are all places where we find commonality despite our differences. In fact, nearly 70% of all American households have a pet, and 53% of us have dogs

Seattle native and owner of Northwest Dog Trainer, Marcus Wright, recognized those truths when he recently left his job in finance and insurance to focus on his passion, dog training, full-time. 

Ten years ago, Wright had three dogs he wanted to train himself. He found a mentor in Tacoma who showed him the basics of dog training and rented a space in Des Moines that was perfect for him to hone his skills with his own pups and stay out of the rain. 

Soon, Wright, who is Black, realized he could train other people’s dogs, and through the same training-mentor, he met two other young Black men — Ty Clark and Zayne Brown — who shared the same passion: bringing people together through the common work of loving and training dogs. While they each have their own training companies, together they are partners in Northwest K9 Training Center (NWK9). 

Wright, 34, grew up in Skyway but eventually moved to South King County, graduating from Federal Way High School in 2005. In 2009 he received a B.A. in communications from Evergreen State College. 

Growing up, Wright’s family benefited from community programs like food banks and school supply drives, and that community-based work is a goal for him with this business. “I want to impact as many people as I can,” says Wright, who would like to see NWK9 become a nonprofit so that they can offer youth internships, community events, low-cost training options, and more. Wright says that watching dogs progress in training is the best part of his work. Taking a dog with some adverse behavior and a frustrated owner and “seeing the relationship between them change” is the biggest reward. Wright currently has six dogs of his own, including a 120 lb Cane Corso named Squishy who is often used as a model dog when training. Wright can be found @thenorthwestdogtrainer on Instagram and Facebook. Fun fact: Wright also has a cat that he has trained to walk on a leash. 

Tyler “Ty” Clark, is 28 and a 2014 graduate from Hampton University with a degree in graphic design. He moved from the East Coast a year ago when his girlfriend was stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) by the Army. Clark started training dogs because he had an American Bully named Llama that needed some training. He thought, “I could do this myself,” and sought out the training-mentor who then connected him with Wright. Clark says he loves training all types of dogs, “but I specialize in aggressive dogs. I love seeing the turnaround for the dogs and seeing the customers’ reaction when their aggressive dogs are trained after being on the edge.” Clark has four dogs, including Llama, who just had puppies, and a rare all-black German Shepherd named Beans. Clark and his girlfriend are expecting their first human baby soon as well. He can be found @thepublick9 on Instagram and TikTok. 

Tyler Clark, a co-owner of Northwest K-9, gets a kiss from Beans during a brief training session in the yard of the business, in Des Moines. (Photo: Susan Fried)

The third side of this training triangle is a gentle giant of a man from Ohio named Zayne Brown. Brown is the youngest of the three at 27 but also the tallest, a 6’4” presence who doesn’t say much but whose love for animals is evident from his actions. About his love for dogs, Brown says, “Growing up I wasn’t allowed to have my own dogs, but my Uncle had a lot. My cousin was a trainer, and I learned a lot from him.” 

The Army stationed Brown at JBLM in 2014 and after getting out in 2019, he met the same mentor that Clark and Wright had, and they all connected. The only trainer among the three who does dog grooming, Brown says he’s interested in the psychology of dogs, explaining that owners will often “humanize” their dogs, which can be problematic. 

Northwest K-9 co-owner Zayne Brown works with his dog Stone in the business’s training room in Des Moines. (Photo: Susan Fried)

“Some owners think their dogs like wearing clothes, but dogs don’t care,” he says. “Dogs often like the pressure and safety feeling of the clothing, and owners should know this.” He also believes it is important that owners train with their dogs to know “‘what they’re saying.’” Brown says, “Just because a dog is not speaking English doesn’t mean it’s not speaking to you.” Brown’s favorite part of training is taking a dog who is not confident, teaching them a new skill, and watching them gain that confidence when they master the skill. Brown has one dog of his own named Stone, a pitbull-mix with a huge head and heart; Stone literally goes everywhere with his human. Brown can be found on Facebook and Instagram.

Wright, Clark, and Brown all had different upbringings, but their shared love for dogs is obvious when watching them train together. They also gave the same answer when asked what the hardest part of the job is, and hint: It’s not the dogs. 

“Sometimes owners come to you with problems that they feel they already have an answer to,” says Clark. “They don’t always understand how to ‘fix’ the problem, so it can be like training the owner and the dog at the same time.” 

“Sometimes clients have expectations for their dogs that aren’t realistic for their specific dog,” Brown adds.

They also share the understanding of the impact of being Black men in this industry. Wright says, “I think when people think of the term ‘dog trainer,’ they don’t think of a Black face.” During the last few years and especially during the recent Black Lives Matter movement, there has been a big push to support Black businesses. Wright wants people to know that “We are here, and we want to work with your animal.” 

Wright says a Black-owned and operated pet store is also in the works. 

“I want a place where our community can feel comfortable buying products, getting an animal groomed or trained — I even want to have a Black veterinarian clinic inside,” says Wright. “We want to mentor young Black kids and Kids of Color. We want to do it all and give back to the community.” 

The impact of their work is already being felt by youth. Qojean “Q” Magee,15, is a student intern at NWK9. A year ago, he says he “made some bad choices, got in some legal trouble.” Then Q met Zayne Brown. 

“He is an inspiration to me, doing something he loves,” Q said. “A lot of young people are doing things they shouldn’t to make money, and these three guys are all entrepreneurs.” He says he had a dog as a child, and “… we got rid of that dog. It was hard because I had a connection.” Q says the best thing about interning with NWK9 is “playing with them and getting experience in training,” and hopes to put that experience to work one day when he has another dog of his own. 

Clients also rave about NWK9. Kory Gannon adopted a large mixed-breed dog named Bailey who was very nervous and once bit a neighbor when she got out of the backyard. Gannon met Wright and has been training with him for about nine months. 

“Marcus has the ability to read dogs,” Gannon says. “He always pairs us with dogs who are calm, and it teaches Bailey how to act and helps keep her calm.” 

The two are now part of Wright’s advanced class that trains both at the Des Moines training center and out in the community, often partnering with hardware stores so dogs and owners can use their skills in the real world. After training with Wright, Gannon says Bailey is “able to control her behaviors, is less anxious, and listens.” For Bailey, not getting this training could have meant she would be labeled as aggressive and put to death. 

So while the world will never stop running out of things to separate us, Northwest K9 Training Center plans to continue serving their community and bringing people together. “In training classes, people who would never talk to each other in real life open up because of the commonality of the work,” Wright says, and that common love for their animals might just be more of what this world needs because drooly, sweet dog kisses make just about anyone happy. 

Follow Wright, Clark, and Brown on their socials and from April 25 through May 1 to help contribute to their community efforts as they hold their first-ever dog food drive, “Kibbles for K9s.” The community can drop off cans of wet and new, sealed bags of dry dog food any time between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. from Monday, April 26, through Saturday, May 1, at the training center located at 22659 Pacific Highway South, Des Moines, WA 98198. 

To find out more about training or to support NWK9 with a donation, call 253-332-2131.

Allison Fine is a Bay Area, California native who has called Washington home since 2013. She is a social worker, community organizer, activist and advocate for people with special needs and survivors of domestic violence. She has various roles in political, Queer, feminist, and labor organizations. She lives in Federal Way with her daughter and their two dogs and two cats.

📸 Featured Image: Northwest K-9 co-owners Marcus Wright (front) with Guapo, Tyler Clark and Beans (German Shepard) and Zayne Brown and his dog Stone pose in the training yard of their business in Des Moines. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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