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Summer Camps for You and Your Dog

Shack up with your pup in a cabin and live the summer camp dream together.

by Rebecca Wallick
June 1, 2021
Samoyed running by lake
Courtesy of Maian Meadows Dog Camp

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The next time you catch your pup happily ruff’ing in their sleep, we know what they’re dreaming about: summer camp! A good, old fashioned kinda camp with rustic cabins and campfire songs where they can swim, run free and snack on watermelon--where their human can come and play (and nap) too.

That’s right: The classic summer camp experience you remember from childhood — swimming, hiking, boating, rustic cabins, campfire songs and lots of socializing — tailored to four-footed guests. That means days packed with agility, flyball, Rally-O, lure coursing, dock diving, clicker training, freestyle, even painting, not to mention well-earned naps. Two-footed campers can bone up on animal communication, canine massage and much more.

Summer Camp for Pet Parents and Dogs

Research dog camps to determine which best meets your vacation goals. Some focus on competitive agility and obedience, others on off-leash games and hiking, and some are quite rustic. Each camp has its own flavor, style and emphasis, but here are a few favorites: 

Camp Dogwood — Lake, Delton, WI

Called the “Nirvana for dogs” by the Chicago Tribune, Camp Dogwood boasts 600 acres of fields, woods, and lakefront. Three times a year, about one hundred human and dog campers gather to partake in dozens of activities from — depending on the season — sledding to swimming to costume parades. In addition to athletic fun, there are informative lectures such as “‘You Say What?’ Reading Your Dog’s Body Language” and “Keeping Your Dog from Going Stir Crazy in the Winter.” Camp Dogwood makes space for dogs of any size, age, and experience level, with on-leash options and intensity accommodations for all activities. Camp typically runs in June, October, and January. The next camp will be held from October 6 through October 9, 2022.

Camp Gone to the Dogs — Front Royal, VA

Set against the scenic backdrop of Blue Ridge Mountains, Camp Gone to the Dogs is a place to celebrate your dog’s talents — and discover some new ones. Camp instructors employ positive-reinforcement techniques to teach your pup new skills, regardless of their age or experience level. Camp typically runs in May, register early.

Camp Unleashed — Blue Ridge, NC; Poconos, PA

Camp Unleashed is a 4-day retreat focused on rejuvenation and relaxation for you and your pup. If you and your pet are certified city slickers, this is a great opportunity to immerse yourselves in nature and bond in new ways. All activities are optional and the possibilities are endless, so you and your dog are free to choose if you’re craving parkour and hiking or massages and arts-and-crafts. Camp runs in September and October, with upcoming dates of September 2 through September 5, 2022, in Pennsylvania and October 13 through October 15, 2022, in North Carolina.

Canine Club Getaway — Gettysburg, PA; East Durham, NY

Canine Club Getaway is held at the Eisenhower Hotel & Conference Center in June and the Blackthorne Resort in the Catskill Mountains in September. Though the campground itself isn’t as spacious as others, the Canine Club Getaway has the added bonus of a dog-friendly bar, nightly entertainment, and nearby towns with activities such as shopping and kayaking. When you aren’t belting (and barking!) at dog-friendly karaoke, you can catch a seminar led by expert veterinarians and trainers. Canine Club Getaway is ideal for humans and pets who are creatures of comfort — you won’t have to miss out on private baths, air conditioning, wi-fi, or cable while you’re adventuring. The next camp will be held from September 26 through September 29, 2022.

Dog Scouts of America — Saint Helen, MI

Dog Scout camps are held in the woods of Michigan in June and July, with “mini camps” held in August. This year, four-week-long virtual camps are offered in the summer and winter. Participants can take classes and earn badges in topics like obedience, nose work, kayaking, dancing, and more while at camp. If you’re interested in a longer-term, community-based membership, Dog Scouts of America is the camp for you — events are held throughout the year all over the country, and you and your dog can earn badges on your own time. Upcoming camp dates on June 20 through June 25, 2022, and July 18 through July 23, 2022.

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Maian Meadows Dog Camp — Lake Wenatchee, WA

Located on the gorgeous Lake Wenatchee in Washington State, Maian Meadows Dog Camp is a weekend-long retreat for dogs and humans who want a rustic, outdoorsy break from modern life. Optional group activities include a dog costume contest, a dog poetry contest, and lots of games. Individual activities include swimming and hiking along the gorgeous Lake Wenatchee coast. Cabins are bare-bones and don’t include plumbing, so only choose Maian Meadows if you’re willing to rough it. Camp runs in June and September, with upcoming dates on June 10 through June 12 and September 9 through September 11, 2022.

Yellowstone Dog Sports — Red Lodge, Montana

Yellowstone Dog Sports focuses on agility and obedience training. All levels are welcome at this four-day-long camp where your pup can learn skills from herding to, yes, canine dancing. Yellowstone offers two camps in June and August, with upcoming dates on June 7 through June 11, 2022, and August 10 through August 14, 2022.

Plus some camps just for dogs:

Eva’s Play Pups Countryside Dog Camp — Union Dale, PA

Eva’s Play Pups is a 66-acre, fenced-in farm in the Poconos where your dog can run and explore to their heart’s content, all while under the supervision of thoroughly trained Canine Camp Counselors. Swimming, hiking, and individual playtimes are just some of the enriching activities your dog can partake in. 

Camp Bow Wow — Hoboken, NJ

Camp Bow Wow offers spacious play yards for your dog to explore with their new puppy friends. Dogs sleep in spacious boarding with a cot and fleece blanket. Anxious about leaving your pup? Camp Bow Wow has you covered — you can check in on your dog at any time through camera live streams. 

Canyon View Ranch — Topanga Canyon, CA

Featured on Access Hollywood, Animal Planet, HGTV, and more, Canyon View Ranch is basically the Ritz for dogs. The large outdoor playlands are modeled after Disneyland and feature pools, agility playsets, and massive fenced-in yards. 

Is Your Dog Camp-Ready?

Solid, basic obedience skills — sit, stay, coming when called — are critical for off-leash games, heavy-duty play, hikes, swimming and other activities. Good manners help everyone—pups and humans—relax. Here are five skills and traits your dog should have to get the most out of the dog camp experience.

1. Coming when called, reliably.

Recall is high on the list for Annie Brody, creator and director of Camp Unleashed in Massachusetts. Reliable recall “is a biggie, especially for hiking off-leash. We ask people to practice this in safe ways prior to camp if they don’t feel their dog’s recall is totally reliable. It’s also important for heavy-duty play, so you can safely control energy that might get too high.” Your nearby off-leash dog park is perfect for practicing this important skill.

2. Good socialization is critical.

Young dogs should understand verbal cues from other dogs asking them to curb their enthusiasm, while older dogs should tolerate being jostled and bumped by frolicking youngsters, who often move like crashing waves through groups of people and dogs as they play. Little dogs should not be afraid of playful or sniffing big dogs. “Dogs must play well or at least be neutral with other dogs of all kinds and sizes,” says Brody. Your dog park is a great place to practice this skill, too.

3. Flexible and willing to share.

The most popular camp dog is willing to share toys—no hoarding that favorite squeaker toy!—as well as cabin space. Resource guarding isn’t compatible with camp and a lack of jealousy when other dogs greet you or accept treats from you is also important. Your dog needs to be ready to share the love.

4. Be able to chill alone.

If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, they might not be a good fit. “They should be able to rest quietly in your cabin or in a crate without incessant barking,” says Brody. Just like toddlers, dogs get ramped up at camp. A nap each day helps them maintain their composure and manners while you enjoy meals with the group—or your own nap.

5. Lots of patience.

Your dog will need to be super patient with you when you ask them to wear a silly costume or show off their tricks for a camp contest, or when you take endless photos of them at various camp locations and activities. They’ll also need to be patient with other humans, who constantly want to meet and touch them. Your pup will also need patience with the canine co-camper who insists on sniffing, frequently and closely. And, finally, with having their usual day-to-day routine disrupted in such a wonderfully exciting way.

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Rebecca Wallick

Rebecca Wallick was a long-time contributing editor for The Bark and retired family law attorney. She lives with two dogs and runs mountain trails at every opportunity.