January 28, 2020

Camp for dogs, camp for kids

By glencadia2  

It’s hard to exaggerate how different the camp experience is for dogs compared to being home. The social aspect of being in a pack is mentally challenging for dogs. Interacting with other dogs, figuring out their relationships, is probably the most sustained mental activity in which a dog can engage. It’s tiring mentally. It’s healthy and normal, but tiring.

Also, changing environments is in and of itself tiring: new people, new places to explore. Further, they are outside much more than at home in most cases. There is more going on – more options for activity. It’s like going for a week-long hike in the mountains with a powerful social dimension. How would you be when you came home?

Some play for eight hours in a day and nap less than home, generally. Others, are less active of course. If a dog wants to find a quiet place to rest and be by him or herself, there is no shortage of corners, crooks of tree roots, quiet spots. We do see dogs sneak off and find a spot they like – under the stairs, or by a tree, or in a corner. Others stay in the flow all day.

Some of them figure out how to sleep here better than others, get comfortable with a bunkmate perhaps, someone they like, learn to take naps in the day, outside in the day… and some don’t figure it out. Being social, they sleep better with a friend if at all possible. In general, as social predators, dogs nap a lot. Napping here is harder: something might be going on and you might not want to miss out. This varies from dog to dog… but a sleepy, slow day at home should be enough to catch up.

In other words, if you were planning to take your dog with you as you train for the marathon the day after s/he gets home from camp, you might want to wait a day.

Your dog might come home from camp tired. “He seems lethargic.” Your dog is not sick, but wiped out. You find a scratch… the dog seems tired… what happened up there?

Seven years ago, my son Ollie, now heading to college, was ten and excited to spend a week camping in the woods with the great people at Flying Deer Nature Center, director Devin Franklin. Camping just over the border in Massachusetts on the top of a mountain about 45 minutes from the nearest road, they decided to play blind man’s bluff. Ollie, blindfolded, tripped, chipped his tooth and cut his lip. Getting out of the hospital, a tooth repaired, a lip sewed up, the first thing on Ollie’s mind was getting back up to the top of the mountain. There were two more days left at camp and he didn’t want to miss anything. So, we hiked back up.

Maybe the blind’s man bluff on the top of a mountain wasn’t smart in retrospect, but in fact, all the kids had a great time. If you are constantly second-guessing every move, you end up not hiking up a mountain at all. You end up not doing anything adventurous at all. I guess you can read about adventures or try to get a vicarious thrill from a movie, but you grow up afraid of ponds and bushes and hills and rocks. There might not even be a reason to have summer camp, for starters. 

If your kid comes home from camp with some scratches on his or her leg, a few bumps and bruises, they can tell you how that happened. Your dog, of course, can’t tell you anything. But a dog has no option for a vicarious adventure. No books, no language, no movie. So, if you take away anything with the risk of a cut, nick, or scratch, they really won’t have any fun. 

Look at the pictures and videos on our website (click the “latest photo” link or search for by month and year). Check out the videos on our YouTube channel. You see dogs wrestling for sticks, swimming, running past trees and rocks, digging holes, hiding under stairs, and all kinds of doggie activities. Obviously, a scratch can happen. A nick. A small cut. Remarkably, however, we almost never get any ticks. I don’t know why – we don’t have ticks. 

We also don’t really have fights. We had probably 2000 trips here in 2019, for example. Pick up in the city, drive to the country, play with other dogs, return trip home, and not one serious fight. In fact, it’s been five or six years since we haven’t been able to stop a fight before it starts. No real fights in more than 10,000 stays at camp. No injuries from transport in more than 25,000 individual dog trips (including both pick up and drop off). Given how free the dogs are, given how we spend time on the road, five how huge the area for dogs is (6000sf inside and 20 acres outside) our overall safety record is great. And we’re always looking to improve! Yet, I don’t think the occasional scratch or nick or small cut can ever be eliminated.

We do body checks and find little cuts and try to report them in a timely way. However, if we were to try to completely eliminate the risk of such minor injuries, we would be a fake dog camp, not the real deal. For the record, everyone else is faking it. You should be glad your dog comes back with a tiny scratch: it proves he or she was actually out playing and having fun. If we locked the dogs up in crates and only let them out to take a very staged and posed picture, then put them back in a crate – as do some or maybe all of our competitors – there would be fewer cuts and scratches. But it also would not be the maximum great dog experience, as we seek to offer. 

What we do is something kind of special. We actually do what you see us do in the videos all over our site: we open the gate and let them out in natural and fun places. Given how free they are, actual fights are remarkably rare. We’re pretty good at stopping those before they start. It almost becomes second nature, reading the dog pack to avoid hostility. Still, even healthy and friendly play can lead to a nick or cut.

So, that’s camp, for kids and dogs alike. A nick or cut is par for the course.  

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