Best in the Nest Series June 24, 2021

Give Your Pooch the Essentials & Extras with Essential Canine

Essential Canine offers dog training and massage all over the Pioneer Valley, with indoor and outdoor offerings to keep your pup engaged and learning in different environments.

This post is part of Swallow Estates Group‘s Best in the Nest Series, which highlights the best local businesses in Springfield, Western Massachusetts, and the Greater Pioneer Valley region.

Dogs are a part of the family—and just like we all have to learn the basics of being good humans, dogs have to learn the basics of being good canines. And just like we all excel at certain hobbies or career paths, dogs have the opportunity to do the same.

At Essential Canine, owner Heather Hitchcock gives dogs the essentials and the extras for living a good life. What began as a canine massage therapy business in 2019 has blossomed into a full massage and training business, with offerings ranging from massage and obedience to nosework and agility training.

Hitchcock has been training dogs since she was about 10 years old, when she first shadowed a fellow dog trainer. She learned grooming, attended dog shows, and joined the Snoopy’s Pals 4-H Club (out of Suffield, CT), which teaches kids ages 8-and-up the basic skills to train and care for their dogs.

“It was a confidence booster for me as a kid,” says Hitchcock. “My neighbors would see how good my dogs were and hire me to their their dogs.”

Essential Canine Puppy Training in Agawam MA

Puppies Oaklee and Halo practice long down stays at the indoor training ring at Dave’s Soda and Pet City in Agawam. (Photo courtesy of Essential Canine)

Hitchcock recalls a childhood-defining moment with the 4-H club. The club presented at
The Big E, New England’s largest fair, competing in competitions with their dogs and staying overnight without their parents for three whole days! For Hitchcock, as a pre-teen, that was such a big deal.

Decades later, she enrolled her own kids into the same Snoopy’s Pals 4-H programming. You could say dog-loving is a bit of a family affair—Hitchcock’s mother raised and bred Cairn Terriers during Hitchcock’s youth. It’s no wonder she gained an affinity for dogs.

Essential Canine Nosework clinic

Essential Canine hosts a nosework clinic at Exercised Finished Dog Training Center in Agawam. (Photo courtesy of Essential Canine)

Essential Canine offers both indoors, outdoors, and private classes. I met Hitchcock serendipitously through her family, who still live in Forest Park, where I also reside. I was walking my vivacious puppy, Duke, and noticed that the woman passing by had a really calm dog, who happened to also be around Duke’s age. The woman turned out to be Hitchcock’s daughter; I mentioned I was looking for puppy training; and the rest is history!

Duke and I first took private lessons with Hitchcock at our home, to learn the basics of loose-leash walking. The first couple of weeks after adopting Duke, I was about to go crazy, because he was such a puller while walking. Within the first lesson, I started to regain my sanity—and dignity! I knew Essential Canine was going to be my new best friend in training Duke to be a good little pup.

Since then, we’ve taken multiple training sessions, both indoor and outdoors, with Essential Canine.

I recommend graduating from private lessons at home, where there is less distraction, to basic obedience classes hosted in the training ring at Dave’s Soda and Pet Food City in Agawam. Going to a foreign location to your dog increases distraction—shoppers, toys, new scents, and even Hitchcock’s own dog—offer up new challenges to overcome.

Essential Canine Group Obedience Class

Graduates of Essential Canine’s Group Obedience Class—including REALTOR® Erica Swallow and her pooch Duke—demonstrate poise in sit. (Photo courtesy of Essential Canine)

This summer, Duke and I also graduated from Essential Canine’s Group Obedience Class, which takes place in the picturesque Hilltop Farm in Suffield, CT. We joined a class of similarly-aged puppies who were in need of group distraction, like us. Duke, per usual, was an energy ball, but Hitchcock gave me specific techniques for working with his high energy.

“You’ve gotta be more exciting than everything else around” was one of the nuggets I’ve taken with me. If he’s excited by the other dogs, I just act a buffoon and redirect his attention! I also learned that he’s highly treat-motivated and will do just about anything for chicken or cheese.

The thing that stands out about Essential Canine, and Hitchcock as a canine massage therapist and trainer, is that she really works to customize the training experience for each dog/human team.

“I take the dog’s feelings into account,” Hitchcock says. She observes the dog’s body language to understand what’s going on in its head. She also likes to read the person, too, she says.

“A lot of training is strict and formal,” she says. “Everyone does the same thing, wears the same collars, and so on. But not all dogs are the same. If a person is against a certain training tool, I will work with them to find another solution. I like people to like their dogs, so we work to get their dog to behave the best way to make that possible.”

Hitchcock is a practitioner of Schutzhund Training, which entails three phases of skills: tracking, obedience, and protection. Schutzhund, meaning “protection dog” in German, is a compulsory breed test in Germany for breeding German Shepherds. Hitchcock says Schutzhung is ideal for playful, energetic dogs and centers the dog’s happiness, alongside obedience, in training.


Heather’s Local Recommendations

Heather Hitchock Iron Dog competition massage

Essential Canine owner Heather Hitchcock gives canine massages at the DogHill K9 Iron Dog Competition in Huntington, MA. (Photo courtesy of Essential Canine)

Having grown up in Springfield’s Historic Park District, Hitchcock is full of local recommendations, from where to take your dog to where to grab a great meal. Here are some of her top recommendations, spanning the region, even southward into Connecticut!

  • Snoopy’s Pals 4-H Club is perfect for anyone who has children and dogs, says Hitchcock. The program teaches kids ages 8-and-up the basics of caring for their dog, including feeding, grooming, and maintaining veterinary care and documentation.
  • Forest Park Historic District, where Hitchcock grew up, is her favorite place, she says. “I love the big houses with the big windows and high ceilings. And you can get everywhere from there,” she says, whether you’re going north to Northampton or Amherst, south to Connecticut, or hopping on the Mass Pike to head east to Boston. It also features one of America’s hidden gem parks, Forest Park. Walk your dog along the paved loop and take a dip in the streams, Hitchcock suggests.
  • Harkness Memorial State Park makes for a great day trip. At just over an hour away, driving, it’s positioned right on the Atlantic Ocean in Waterford, Connecticut. It has a big, beautiful lawn for playing fetch, a picnic area for a family snack, luscious gardens for strolling, and an oceanfront beach that’s open to fishing, though no swimming.
  • Wilma’s Scoop Du Jour is a family favorite for the Hitchcock’s, offering Hershey’s Ice Cream, served by a super friendly staff.
  • Tosca is an upscale Meditteranean-inspired restaurant featuring Owner & Chef Kevin Cousin, who has not only served as an executive chef at a number of Massachusetts’ finest restaurants, but also studied culinary arts at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in France. Enjoy the patio in the summer, or book an intimate wine tasting and dinner for that special occasion. Fun fact, Hitchcock first met Chef Cousin when she was hired to train his dog!
  • Frigo’s received a rave review from Hitchcock for its hot sandwiches and catering options. “You’ve gotta go down and check it out,” she says. The deli now has two locations—one in downtown Springfield and the second on Shaker Road in East Longmeadow.


Though not all of Hitchcock’s above recommendations are dog-friendly, there are so many dog-friendly places in Western Massachusetts, whether you’re looking for outdoor play, puppy socializing, or training classes, like those offered by Essential Canine.

Above all, Hitchcock just wants you to have a blast with your dog.

“I really like for people to like their dogs,” Hitchcock says. “A lot of people try regular training, and it doesn’t work. Different dogs need different things, though. That’s why I customize my training for what each dog and person needs.”

Find Essential Canine online and on Facebook.