If you think taking a vacation with your dog is fun, try taking a vacation for your dog. Unlike a people-centered vacation where your dog is by your side, doing what you like to do, a dog camp is designed specifically for what your dog likes to do. And sometimes, neither you nor your dog knows his heart's desire, until it's discovered at dog camp.
Camp Gone To The Dogs is one such camp at Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont. It's situated in a beautiful wooded area with a view of the mountains. There's no TV or Internet. When you come here, you're in the great outdoors with your best friend 24/7, with nothing more pressing to do than to spend quality time with him.
People come to camp knowing they're going to have a good time with their dogs, but they nearly always leave with a joy beyond their expectations.
The camp has 50 activities available to try, including sheep herding, lure coursing, dock diving, flyball, K9 Disc and freestyle dance. This camp is somewhat unusual in that all dogs are welcome to participate in any activity – sheep herding, for example, is not just for the herding breeds. The dogs get to try everything, and do what they want to do.
Because of this, people have discovered some unexpected and remarkable things about their own dogs. A Bulldog, a breed normally not fond of water, loved dock diving. A Maltese, so tiny and almost too cute to be real, discovered his talent as a tracking dog. And, a Papillon, weighing in at barely 10 pounds, found that he had quite a gift for sheep herding!
"It's the spirit of being with your dog and finding out your dog likes to do – and then continuing it at home," said Jeanne Richter, Director of Camp Gone to the Dogs. The real benefit of the camp is that it changes your relationship with your dog forever.
Some campers introduce their dogs to sports like agility or canine freestyle, just for the fun of it, and discover they absolutely love it. They end up training and competing, and winning all kinds of titles. Others just find a deeper understanding of their dog, and continue providing the kind of fun their dog loves back at home.
And some people have truly life-changing experiences. One couple brought their two deaf Dalmatians to camp. Because of their deafness, they'd never allowed their dogs off leash for their own safety, and had no yard for their dogs to run in. At camp, the Dalmatians were introduced to the lure course, an event where dogs chase a lure around a closed track. The Dalmatians ran the course perfectly, having no distractions because they couldn't hear the people cheering. The owners were moved to tears watching their beautiful, graceful dogs run for the first time, eagerly and joyfully around the track. After camp, they sold their house, bought one with a yard, and put in a lure course. Now their Dalmatians can run all they want!
"Here, you get the pleasure of watching your dog be happy," said Jeanne. As the camp director, she gets the joy of watching dogs discover their talents, and their owners being moved by the experience. "I think the sheep herding is the most fun day at camp. Watching the Basset Hounds herd sheep – that's fun!"
Dog camps are open to pure breeds and mixed, big and small, experienced and novices, so any dog can learn new things, or get better at the activities he already loves. If you're looking for a real bonding experience with your dog, there's probably no better place than a good dog camp.
Cost ranges between $600 to $1,500 per person, depending on the camp and length of program. Price normally includes lodging, meals and activities. Here are a few dog camps we've found sniffing around the Internet:
Camp Gone To The Dogs
Marlboro and Stowe, VT
West Stockbridge, MA
Canine Camp Getaway of NY
Lake George, NY
Glen Highland Farm Canine Outdoor Adventures
Between Chicago, IL and Milwaukee, WI
Lake Tahoe, NV