On Thursday, May 31st, I cut my work week short, loaded up my van with dogs and gear, and made a 7 hour trek up to Lake Delton, Wisconsin for a long weekend away at Perlstein Retreat Center. This was the scenic venue for an incredible event called Camp Dogwood.
Planning for this trip had been going on for months. Fecal tests and vaccine titers had to be run, vet signatures needed to be obtained, and flea and tick preventative had to be established well in advance to assure no pests preyed on our crew in the woodsy camp setting. I scanned the camp schedules over and over to see how we could make the most of our time there without overdoing it. We had a little bit of shopping to do in terms of supplies, and packing the van turned into a game of tetris. Eventually though, the day was upon us and we pulled out of driveway at 5:45am with a stocked cooler, fully charged phones, and four sleepy pups.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by lots of friendly faces and wagging tails. We got signed in, and after a brief misdirection, we did finally find where we needed to be. So we finally unpacked and began moving into the cabin that would become home for the 4 days that followed. Two people and four dogs in a cabin? you say, Are you crazy? Turns out these cabins are enormous. We had all sorts of room to spread out and get comfortable.
After we were all settled in, we ventured down to orientation to meet our camp staff and take a walking tour of the grounds followed by dinner and our first activity period. We chose to attend a session without our pups so that we could learn the proper methods and mechanics of throwing a disc, something I’m hoping to get into in the coming year. The night ended with us relaxing on the porch with the pups before crawling into bed to rest for a few hours before starting it all again in the morning.
Friday started with a bang. I woke up feeling energized and ready to take on the day. We trekked down to the dining hall for breakfast, went over our morning announcements, and then broke off to go do our own things. Activity session #1 was spent at Barn Hunt with Pike and Jinks.
Neither had great interest in hunting rats, but both had the the time of their lives prancing around and leaping over straw bales. Session #2 landed us at the lure course with Swayze and Corona, followed by some time on the beach to cool off. We broke for lunch, more announcements, and a quick break before moving right along to shed hunting with Swayze and Corona again for session #3 and then drive building with Jinks in session #4. Dinner followed and we ended our activities in session 5 hiking a new trail with Pike. Once again, the night slipped away quickly as we chatted and laughed with friends, old and new.
Saturday was equally busy. Pike got to try core conditioning while Jinks went to another disc class.Then we took the whole crew over to another area and got to try weight pull in preparation for the mini competition that was held later that night. We played on the agility field in the afternoon, and then returned once more to take another lesson related to disc and freestyle foundations. There was a costume parade and happy hour before dinner, and then we competed in the weight pull competition in the rain that night.
Sunday morning was tough, as camp was winding down all too quickly and we had to use our remaining time wisely. I got up early to potty dogs and get a jump start on re-packing the van. We ran down to breakfast before coming back to the cabin to finish moving out. There were still several hours of camp left, but we knew that we wouldn’t have time to do it later on without being late to check out. We drove back to the lure course and ran each dog with varying levels of success. Not surprisingly, this was a popular spot that morning as everyone was hoping to tire their pups before hitting the road. Then we went to watch some more barn hunt games before meeting one last time for lunch and final announcements.
The drive home was long, but easy enough. Luckily, traffic was fairly light and we didn’t get held up in any accidents or construction. We made it in just before 10pm, unpacked, showered, and prepared to sleep. It was definitely a wonderful, rewarding weekend, but it was exhausting as well. Waking up for work on Monday morning wasn’t easy.
Now that I’ve had a few days to recover, I’m excited to be able to share my experience with everyone. Camp Dogwood was a great chance for me to grow my skills as a handler of my own dogs and as a trainer of client dogs. The world of dog training and dog sports can be a cruel place, but atcamp we stifled the controversies and used our love for our pups to forge friendships. I was able to try out different sports and activities that I don’t always have easy access to, and because of that, I’m beginning to find out what each of my dog’s “things” might be that they really enjoy and excel in.
As far as things that I’d like to do differently or see changed, there are just a small handful. Arriving at camp was hectic. We were misdirected andsome important move-in information was left out of our initial greeting, which led to mild chaos and stress-driven arguments. I’d like to have seen a more streamlined process, especially for first-time campers, to get us where we need to be and start us off feeling more confident and welcome. There were a couple of activities with rules that seemed to change from participant to participant. While I doubt this was intentional, it was frustrating in the moment. And unsurprisingly there were a couple of escaped dogs running free at various points due to ill-fitting collars and harnesses. This was the fault of owners rather than camp staff, but again, it was frustrating as it happened.
I do plan on returning soon and trying many of the things that I didn’t have time to make it to in my first go-around. I definitely recommend this camp to everyone who is hoping to get into the world of dog sports or who is just looking for a nice getaway and a chance to strengthen the bonds they have with their dogs!
Taylor Herr, IACP-CDT
Director of Training