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Dog Camp 101

For example, any activity involving dogs risks litigation inspired by bites, fights or injuries. I found an insurance policy offered to dog trainers that costs $350 per year and covers all of my training activities during that interval, including those at camp. Expensive for a couple of weekends, perhaps, but reassuring to have and required by the facility I rent. Reading the insurance policy was another gut check—was I willing to risk being sued? I decided the risk was small, and with the protections I had in place, not something that would keep me awake at night.

Marketing
As a lawyer, I’ve never had to do any marketing, so for my dog camp, I once again relied on friends. Harry designed my web site and accepted software updates as compensation. Stan accepted $50 for the “fun little project” of creating a flier promoting the camp. Robin, a dog trainer, provided her client list. I needed a logo, and got lucky when I found a graphic design student who did an excellent job. I can’t emphasize enough how key my friends have been to the success of my camp. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Some of my initial attempts at marketing were clumsy. I mailed roughly 100 fliers that first year, but later found that all of my guests learned about camp through postings at local off-leash parks or by talking to me when I encountered them and their dogs in local parks. The next year, I skipped the fliers and mailings and saved myself significant money and effort. Instead, I designed postcards with an eye-catching photo of dogs romping on the camp beach, and handed them out at parks and expos. If you aren’t already web-savvy and able to create cards and fliers yourself, learn (or be willing to hire someone to do it for you).

One key marketing factor was providing my phone number; people felt better about signing up after talking directly to me. Another was networking with other dog-oriented businesses in my area, suggesting we exchange web links. Most were happy to do so, as it’s a very supportive community. These exchanges allowed my web site to eventually show up on a Google or Yahoo search for “dog camp,” which brought new potential campers. Try to use such free and creative avenues to market your own camp.

“The Food Here Is Awesome!”
Good food for the human campers is critical! I wanted camp food to be plentiful, tasty and served family-style so campers could get to know one another at mealtime. (Canine campers’ meals come with them from home; imagine the consequences of lots of dogs eating unfamiliar food!)

Luck smiled on me early in this regard. Sitting in court one morning, I chatted with Marie, an attorney I’ve worked with for years. Impulsively, I told her about my dog camp idea and mentioned that my most difficult task would be providing the food. She quite breezily said, “I like to cook for groups; maybe I could do it.” I gave her a look of shock and surprise (remember—I hate to cook), but she insisted that it would be fun for her to do the cooking because she loved trying out new recipes on large groups. Marie refused to accept payment, or even a public thank-you for her efforts; she’s quirky that way, and I accepted her terms. Who wouldn’t?

Marie and her husband Tom did an awesome job—the food was delicious and plentiful. A special touch was a fresh peach cobbler-and-ice cream dessert served to guests as they sat around the evening campfire. To reduce dishwashing to a minimum, we used paper plates and plastic utensils. If my good relationship with the managers of the camp facility is the backbone of my operation, Marie and Tom and the food they create are its heart and soul.

Other camp operators use food services provided by the facility they rent, and hiring a caterer is another option. But we all agree that the success of a camp can hinge on the quality of the food, so don’t cut corners on this part of the operation.

Friends as Volunteer Staff: The Good, the Bad, and the Puzzling
Utilizing a paid staff eliminates hurt feelings or misunderstandings but generates additional paperwork and tax obligations. Every new camp operator has to decide how best to address this issue. Much will depend on your budget; I’m able to keep the cost of my camp low because so many people are willing to volunteer their time to help me run it.

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