Steve Kotowske has been around dogs all of his life, particularly German Shepherds. As a kid, his mom had a German Shepherd and they bred to supply dogs to the St. Petersburg Police Department. He continued to own the breed and began training and showing them as a hobby.
Professionally, though, Kotowske trained as a chef and then went into the kitchen-and-design business.
However, six years ago he decided it was time to follow his passion full time.
"When people found out that I trained and showed dogs, they began asking me to train their dogs. So I started going to their homes and training as a hobby, but I began receiving so many requests that I wanted to pursue it full time," he said.
Four years ago, Kotowske opened What's Up Dog Training, Boarding, and Supplies on Lynn Drive in Santa Rosa Beach. It has been so successful that he opened a second location on U.S. Highway 98 in Miramar Beach in September for dog training, pet supplies, boarding, dog supplies and doggy day care.
Kotowske started out training dogs for private narcotics detection and now trains for agencies from Washington State to Virginia through his division he named Armored Canine.
"I'm not huge into that side of it, but I do offer it," he said. "We specialize in narcotic detection work and family protection. We trained alongside Walton County deputies."
Kotowske also trains service dogs for children and for servicemen returning from overseas who need them at no cost. These dogs he pulls from shelters to train.
"We are a benevolent group," he said. "We have been blessed and want to give back."
In that vein, in his spare time, Kotowske also mentors teens.
"We've been really blessed with amazing clients and the market," said his son, Operations Manager Corey Kotowske.
Both locations are open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The U.S. 98 store is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Lynn Drive.
Both locations are closed on Sundays.