They don’t go door-to-door selling cookies or popcorn, but they are just as cute as the scouts who do. Lonnie Wilson founded Dog Scouts of America in 1995 after being inspired by her dog, Karli. From leading Lonnie’s sled team to starring in stage productions and TV commercials, Karli was a top dog in everything she did. Lonnie decided there should be an organization for pooches like Karli and all pup pawrents who wanted to have fun with their dogs.
DSA’s mission is:
to improve the lives of dogs, their owners and society through humane education, positive training and community involvement.
The intention of Dog Scout was and still is to bring together those who believe that dogs really enjoy learning new things and spending time with their owners.
Vice President Sally Hoyle says:
We recognize that dogs want to work. Without having an acceptable activity in which to use up all of that energy that comes built-in with a dog, our canine companions often get into trouble. By better understanding how our dogs think, how they learn and what drives their behavior, and by participating in a variety of dog sports and activities, we become more responsible dog owners, and in turn we show others what responsible dog ownership means.
Lonnie wasn’t sure if there were enough people to support her idea of Dog Scouts, but as they celebrate their 20th year, there are currently 34 troops in 25 states and Puerto Rico and many active members across the U.S. and Canada in areas where there are no troops.
Is there a Dog Scouts camp?
Just like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts go to camp, pooches ruff it at scout camp. There are two camps held in Michigan each summer and satellite camps in Maryland and Texas. The Michigan camps run for six days and are packed with opportunities for every dog, like swimming, canoeing, dock diving, agility, backpacking, hiking, freestyle dancing and more.
First time campers attend Dog Scout class to learn or reinforce the behaviors needed to earn that title. Like all great camps, they have bonfires, but they also host a talent show and a costume parade. The week wraps up with a recognition ceremony where the dogs are presented with their newly earned badges or titles. Besides camp, DSA hosts smaller events throughout the year, including weekend retreats.
Speaking of badges, there are currently 114 badges dogs can earn, and new badges inspired by dogs are released periodically.
We are constantly teaching [dogs] new things as they are hungry to learn and sometimes they do things that make us think: ‘We should have a badge for that!’ Our fundraising badges where dogs collect donations while holding buckets or taking bills from people’s hands are good examples of this.
Other badges include the massage badge where owners have to learn proper techniques for dog massage and dogs have to demonstrate that they would accept the massage, a first aid and CPR badge and a sign language badge. Lonnie’s favorite badges are letterboxing and geocaching.
Kelly Ford from Connecticut and Michelle Kezar from Ontario, Canada, both love the art of shaping. To earn this badge, their dogs had to learn to paint with their paws.
Some badges help dogs be heroes, like the advanced water rescue badge 7-year-old Sassy earned last year. Sassy’s pawrent, Michelle Neu, is extremely proud to have a dog that could help if someone were to get in trouble in the water.
Sally has two 4-year-old Old English Sheepdogs and says her favorite badges are the ones where her dogs surprise her.
That’s the case with the messenger dog badge that both Katie and Sam earned this year. It’s an advanced badge that requires both distance work and nose work with the dog out of sight from anyone throughout much of the exercise. Katie and Sam tackled the exercise differently, but seeing each of them come running out of the woods at top speed with fur flying was a sight to behold!
She says she had to trust her dogs when working to earn this badge.
Dog Scout Shelby Benson and her mom Julie have earned 50 badges! Julie is most proud of Shelby’s search and rescue and messenger dog badges.
How do you get involved?
Sally says Dog Scouts is a great way for people to participate in many activities that would be expensive and challenging to do on their own. Troops hold workshops on activities like agility, carting, sledding, tricks training and much more. Most activities are offered free of charge. Many excellent trainers with different specialties are Dog Scout members who freely offer their skills and guidance to others. Troops also provide opportunities to get together more casually to hike, go letterboxing, have picnics or play games with their dogs. You’ll have built-in friends of the hooman and pup variety!
DSA members can use the Michigan camp property anytime at no cost with advance reservation.
Anyone can join DSA. There are no breed restrictions. Members support and help one another and celebrate their dogs’ successes together.
You can find a troop on their website. If there’s not a troop near you, DSA provides the tools and support to start your own. You just need two other people from different households willing to join the pack, and you’re troop ready!
DSA will guide you through the process of forming a troop, which includes committing to DSA laws and mission, maintaining active membership and completing a test to ensure knowledge of DSA values, policies, pawsitive training techniques and improving the human-canine bond. Once the troop leader is approved, the leader recruits additional members, the troop is issued a number and the new troop is announced to DSA’s membership.
In order to maintain active status, each troop must hold a minimum of one activity per quarter. Each troop leader provides an end-of-year report which gives the number of new troop members, community service hours performed, badges earned, number of training days, and even the number of stray piles of poop members find and dispose of responsibly. A leadership retreat is held each year to support continued learning and provide opportunities for leaders to interact with one another.
When is your pooch officially a Dog Scout?
To achieve the Dog Scout title, dogs must pass a stringent test, where they demonstrate certain behaviors that are trained using only positive training methods. They need to be able to sit, stay and stand as you might expect, but they also demonstrate an ability to “leave it” by walking past food left on the ground as well as an animal of another species. They must behave appropriately around other dogs both on and off leash. The handler needs to show a thorough understanding of the organization and positive training techniques, either verbally or through a written test.
The evaluator must have seen the dog and handler on at least two other occasions to ensure that the dog can represent Dog Scouts in public by demonstrating model behaviors at all times. The test can be done in person or over video chat.
Don’t worry, you and your dog can be members before your pup is pawfficially a Dog Scout. It gives you something to work on with your pup.
What is the value of DSA?
Sally says the group’s core values are:
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.
DSA wants to provide the best lives possible for their dogs and show others how to do the same.
Dog Scouts has been a fantastic experience for all of us, and I’m sure it will continue to be for many years to come. It’s an organization where everyone is accepted as they are, and dogs experience the kind of love most dogs can only dream of.
Photos via Dog Scouts of America