Summertime brings back childhood memories of swimming, hiking and summer camp with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of crafts, campfires and sleeping under the stars. Like many youngsters, these activities revolved around scouting … troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Today, our dogs keep me company on my outdoor adventures, but I sometimes miss the camaraderie of my fellow scouts. Imagine my delight in discovering Dog Scouts—a national organization that promotes a variety of pursuits for dogs and their owners. I had the opportunity to find out more about this exemplary organization recently when I spoke to Chris Puls, President of Dog Scouts of America.
When and how did the Dog Scouts in America start?
DSA was established in 1995 for people and dogs of all ages and abilities. It was started by Lonnie Olson because of her dog Karli. Karli had been active in several dog sports and she had excelled in many other areas which did not offer registered titles. For example, she was an outstanding frisbee dog. She was the lead dog on Lonnie’s sled team, and she had starred in stage productions and television commercials. She performed tricks and entertained people in hospitals, schools and nursing homes with her therapy visits too. This dog was like an Eagle Scout (the highest rank in Boy Scouts), she had done it all! Lonnie decided that there should be an organization for dogs like Karli or dogs who aspired to Karli’s many accomplishments. And an organization for people who just wanted to have more fun with their dogs and learn new things.
The concept of having a single organization that gave recognition to all of the various activities which dogs become involved in was just too profound to ignore. Lonnie jumped on the idea of Dog Scouts to recognize all the dog activities under one organization (at a time when dog sports outside of obedience were just getting started and when many were breed restrictive). Rally had not yet been created and Agility had just been introduced in the U.S. a few years earlier. The only other “dog camp” had just recently started on the East coast and was geared toward serious competitors in various dog sports.
The idea of pet dogs coming to camp with their owners to learn skills, for which they would get recognition in the form of merit badges, was, as Lonnie says, “the best idea I’ve come up with in my lifetime.” Everyone loves the concept. Everyone wants their dog to be a Dog Scout. And now that concept has spread across the country and even to other countries with troops currently in 22 states plus Canada and Puerto Rico.
Much like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Dogs Scouts is more than fun and games, it involves a lifelong learning, enrichment and dedication. Can you talk about the organization's mission and focus on responsibility?
I think the Dog Scout owner’s motto sums up the mission: “Our dog’s lives are much shorter than ours—let’s help them enjoy their time with us as much as we can.” But the official mission we strive for is: to improve the lives of dogs, their owners, and society through humane education, positive training and community involvement.
We stand for responsibility—to the dogs in our care, to our communities, and to each other. We recognize the importance and benefits of the relationship between people and companion animals, and seek out ways to enrich this bond. We believe encouraging compassion and kindness toward our canine companions builds a more compassionate and kind world. We strive to create a better understanding and quality of life for our dogs and all animals in our world. We believe that our members make a difference by setting an example, developing skills and embracing opportunities to share our philosophy with each other and inspire people to join us. We know that sharing positive ways of training and problem-solving helps to keep dogs in lifetime homes and out of shelters. In Dog Scouts, people help dogs, dogs help people, and the whole community benefits.
We envision a future where dogs remain in happy, lifelong homes with responsible owners. In this vision, all dogs are seen as a useful and welcome part of the community, because people take responsibility for socializing, training, containing and caring for them. We strive to create a world where people view their dogs as part of their family and all dog owners have the knowledge they need to raise well-mannered canine citizens.
There’s an entry point to membership and level of commitment to Dog Scouts, correct? What are the first requirements upon joining Dog Scouts?
All participants must first earn the title of Dog Scout. They do that by earning the Dog Scout badge. This title/badge (and all the other badges) have components for both the dog and the person to learn and demonstrate so that both ends of the leash are involved. The Dog Scout badge requires the owner to learn about responsible dog care and positive training while the dog needs to demonstrate basic obedience like sit, down, stay, come, heel and leave-it as well as showing they are safe around people and dogs.
And like young boys and girls in scouting, there are lots of badges to earn by the dogs and their human companions. What kinds of badges are available?
After the Dog Scout badge is earned, the team is free to learn/earn just about any of the other badges (some have pre-requisites that need to be earned first). Earning badges are optional and not required, but offer a wide range of challenges for dogs and owners. The badges are categorized into the following areas:
There are 88 badges (including the 10 new badges that will be introduced this year, but are not yet present online).
Some of the more popular are the Backpacking and Hiking, Puppy Paddler (swimming), Manners, First Aid/CPR, Agility (all levels), Community Service and Art of Shaping (teaching the dog to wear a bootie that gets dipped in paint, that the dog then swipes at the canvas to create a masterpiece.)
Community involvement is a big part of Dog Scouts as well … how do the Scouts impact their communities?
Many troop members help out in their communities, this includes individuals who participate remotely, without having a troop nearby. Troops have raised funds for bullet proof vests, vehicle temperature warning systems and door poppers for police K-9 units. They have organized drives for specially shaped pet oxygen masks for fire departments and cool bed equipment and vehicle temperature systems to search and rescue teams. And some have secured food and toys for the pets of people in need and low cost spay/neuter programs. They visit hospitals and nursing home with certified therapy dogs, and are active in educational presentations at a variety of events. Plus, DSA members often pick-up dog waste left behind by other, less responsible dog owners. We even have a badge for this! It’s the Clean-Up America II badge (level I is picking up cans and bottles).
I understand that there’s plenty of time for fun and games as well ... can you talk about some of the outings, camps and outdoor activities?
DSA national provides two summer camps each year in June and July at the 70-acre camp facility in St. Helen, MI. These camps run Monday to Saturday and allow the owners and their dogs to experience many sports and dog activities that they might otherwise be unable to do. If a medium sized dog wants to try Earthdog/Go-to-Ground, which is typically limited to small terriers, the dog can try it out because Dog Scout camp has larger tunnels for the big dogs. If a Chihuahua wants to try carting, we have some tiny carts for them to try. DSA encourages the dogs and people to try any activity that is safe for their dog. The camps are $650 for the week and that includes all the activities from 8 am – 8 pm and all meals (lodging is extra and available on-site ranging from $8 per night for a rustic camp tent site or $75 per night for a one-room private cabin with A/C. There are also private and group rooms in the main lodge and a few RVs to rent. People can also bring their own RV—we have sites with electric hook up.
DSA national also holds Spring, Fall and Winter outings that are fun get-togethers and free for DSA members (lodging extra). Members may rent the camp facility for their own use or use it to hold a seminar, troop camp out or other learning activity.
There are also two mini-camps held by troops near Pennsylvania/Massachusetts and in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. These are 3–4 days and include several badge activities and learning sessions.
We have about 40 troops that hold various activities for their members—everything from hikes and parties to community service events and fundraisers. The number of events a troop has per year varies by troop. People can see a map and a listing of troop locations and troop leader contact information online  (scroll down under the map box for contact info).
Are there age restrictions for children joining with their dogs?
We have a Jr. Scout program that is open to children from 6 to 18 years of age. A child of any age can be a member of DSA (with parent’s permission), but some troops have rules about minors attending troop events. This might include the parent needing to stay with the child or the child demonstrating a certain level of competence in controlling the dog. At camp, anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult that must be responsible for them. We usually have a few kids per camp, but mostly it is an adult activity.
Can people participate in Dog Scouts online or virtually ... if they live in remote areas or don’t have a troop nearby?
Absolutely! All the badges can be earned by submitting video of the dog doing their part and written answers for the owner’s part of the badge. Individuals are encouraged to participate in activities like the DSA National Hike-a-Thon, which takes place every May and individuals can organize activities and fundraisers for their community.
We also have various competition and titling events that are open to everyone (with discounts for DSA members). Currently, we offer titles for backpacking, scent detection, carting, treibball (ball herding) and IMPROV (a fun, useful and varied form of obedience). The guidebooks and rules for these can be found at: dogscouts.org .
The dogs must love scouting ... any stories stand out?
We have had a number of dogs who try a dog sport for the first time at Dog Scout camp, and then go on to compete and earn titles. Several have even made it to the National level. This has happened with a number of dogs in Dock Diving, but also in Rally and Frisbee. And dogs of all breeds have found they LOVE lure coursing!
Usually at least half of the campers during the summer camps are people who have attended our camp before, sometimes well over half are repeat campers. And some of the campers have attended every year since the start and are now on staff! Many have attended multiple years and we give out “Happy Camper pins” that award a new “bone” for every 3 years of camp attended. Many people have multiple bones hanging from their pins. The Texas mini-camp filled in less than 3 days last year and this year it filled (50 campers) in just a single day! We often hear from the campers that Dog Scout camp is the best time they have with their dog.
What’s on the Dog Scouts calendar this summer?
We offer camps and events throughout the year—our popular Michigan summer camps held in June and July are currently full as is the Texas mini-camp this fall, but space remains at the Blue Ridge mini-camp in Western Maryland, Aug 16-19, 2012. The DSA Leadership Retreat and two Canine Freestyle camps with WCFO Judge Gloria Voss are offered every April and May.
Current and future outing dates are posted online: http://dogscouts.org/