Dog camps are a popular vacation trend for those who enjoy having fun and spending quality time outdoors with their canine companions. Here’s what to expect.
Eight years ago, Tonya and Gary Jensen wanted to take a trip to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. “We were hesitant because we didn’t want to leave our dogs,” Tonya recalls. “No matter how exciting a vacation destination might be, if we had to leave the dogs home, we wouldn’t truly enjoy it.”
They found a solution when Tonya learned of Camp Winnaribbun, a camp for dogs and their people. The couple loaded their three boxers into the car and headed off for a week at the Lake Tahoe camp. They haven’t missed a summer since.
“Our experience was so outstanding that first summer that we pre-registered for the next camp session before we left for home,” Tonya says. “Now, arriving at camp is like having a family reunion.”
A doggie paradise
Imagine a place in the great outdoors where all kinds of fun activities are available to you all day long, and your best friend is there to share it with you. That’s dog camp: an abundance of activities and events especially designed for dogs and their people to enjoy together.
After checking into onsite or nearby accommodations, you and your canine companion can spend a weekend or a week playing, exercising, socializing and relaxing together in the fresh air and sunshine. Hiking, swimming and water sports, training, agility and herding are just a few of the activities you can expect to enjoy at many dog camps, along with events like art and craft classes, educational seminars or training lessons. Some locations also offer winter camps for those who enjoy the snow and cold weather.
“It’s just like regular kid’s camp, only instead of kids, the campers are dogs,” says Dave Eisendrath, who along with Alysa Say co-owns Camp Dogwood near Chicago. Here, campers choose from a wide offering of daily sessions, including a variety of outdoor activities, training refreshers or educational lectures.
“Some like to sample everything,” says Dave. “Others might be involved in agility, so they focus on that. Campers are also welcome to just do their own thing – hike, use the beach, play in an open field.” In the evenings, any dogs and humans who aren’t too tuckered out gather by the campfire to listen to a speaker or enjoy light entertainment.
Although dog camps offer a multitude of things to do, you can participate in as little or as much as you like. “It’s like going into a restaurant and looking at the menu. You don’t have to sample every item,” says Lory Kohlmoos, director of Camp Winnaribbun. “Camps offer an opportunity for challenge, or a chance to just kick back and relax.” Lory reminds her guests to build in free time as needed. “If your dog is a couch potato most of the year, you can’t expect him to come to camp and go all day.”
Why go to dog camp?
Jeanne Richter, director of Camp Gone to the Dogs in Vermont, says part of the appeal of dog camp is discovering what your dog loves to do. “You can’t do many of these activities at home,” she says, adding that her camp’s daily offerings include sheep herding, dock diving, canine and human water sports, tracking, agility and lure coursing. Other sessions are just for fun. “We have free style dance, where the dog and human do patterns to music. There are leash making sessions, and a chance for dogs to make their own ‘Pawtraits’ with non-toxic paint.”
One surprise Tonya and Gary took away from their first stay at Camp Winnaribbun was how much their boxer Pete loved lure coursing. “You don’t think of boxers when you think of lure coursing; it’s normally for hounds,” says Tonya. “Pete starts whining when we pull through the camp gates and is beside herself waiting for the lure to start.”
Aside from all the activities, Jeanne says friendship is a major draw at dog camps. “We have many repeat guests who have formed friendships and plan to meet up every year. At the same time, we reach out to first timers with newcomer tables and mentors.”
Before you go
Here are some things you need to know before heading to camp with your dog:
• Camp tuition typically includes room and board, meals and all activities. Most camps request that you bring a supply of your dog’s regular food. Plenty of access to fresh water is available, so pack a travel water bowl. You can also bring water from home if you wish.
• Access to veterinary care should be included; most camps either have a veterinarian on staff or are within minutes of a 24-hour clinic.
• Dogs of all ages are welcome at dog camps, from healthy puppies to seniors. However, dogs with behavioral issues should overcome their challenges before signing on to camp. An aggressive or very shy dog may be overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of camp, and be unable to adjust.
• As for humans, most camps welcome adults over 18, though some may offer special programs for junior handlers.
• Pack for yourself as you would for any active week spent outdoors: include your bathing suit, hiking shoes, sunscreen, hat and comfortable clothing.
If you want to treat yourself and your canine to a fun filled vacation with other dog lovers, look into dog camp. As with Tonya and Gary and their boxers, it may grow to be your favorite getaway!
Some of these are dog-only camps, while others are for both people and pooches.
Camp Barking Hills, New Jersey barkinghills.com
Camp Dogwood, Illinois campdogwood.com
Camp Dogwould, Ontario www.campdogwould.ca
Camp Gone to the Dogs, Vermont camp-gone-tothe-dogs.com
Camp Unleashed, Massachusetts and North Carolina campunleashed.com
Camp Winnaribbun, Nevada campw.com
Double Dog Ranch, California and Oregon doubledogranch.com
Happy Tails, Ontario happytails.on.ca