By Barbara B. Covell For the News-Times
Caroline Spark hosted a one-of-a-kind camp for people and their dogs in September in Yachats that proved a howling success. The Portland psychologist, who devotes much of her practice to the interrelationships between humans and canines, is a certified pet dog trainer who utilizes positive behavior techniques in her teachings and therapeutic interactions.
While the concept for the three-day training camp intensive was uniquely Spark's, many colleagues in the dog training business embraced her notion and volunteered their time and expertise. “I was amazed by the trainers who came forth to be a part of this camp,” Spark recalled. “They came from various locations just to contribute and be a part of this. It went a long way into making this camp the success that it was.”
Spark turned emotional as she recalled the energy and creativity that dogs of all shapes and sizes put on display for their beloved human companions.
Imagine 30 dogs, 26 people, and seven trainers together in one location. The camp schedule was rigorous, beginning with registration on Friday, and ending Sunday with a “Closure Ceremony” that everyone attended.
It was what happened in between that really mattered, for people and dogs alike, and especially for Spark.
Labor Day weekend was one of those gifts of picture-perfect weather that many hold as a special memory. Early Saturday morning, the camp participants gathered for a morning hike, spreading out across a five-acre meadow.
Spark loves this memory the best.
“Dogs of all shapes and sizes, doing what dogs do best.,” she said. “Sniffing the morning dew, the grasses, picking up whatever ‘smells' they could gather. One of the dogs was a Katrina rescue, several were career-change guide dogs, and there were some therapy animals present.”
The schedule included specific games, such as nature-oriented, fetch-and-find, forest agility, water fetch, and treasure tracking. Spark planned carefully for each game, with safety being the priority at all times.
At the end of each day, Spark had a reception for all attendees on the deck of her Yachats home. Dogs and people - spent from a full days' activities - enjoyed time together over refreshments, fly ball, and Frisbee displays, and the opportunity to relax and converse. This was a camp feature much appreciated by everyone.
Canine Freestyle, taught by Philomath trainer Julie Flanery, is a type of stylized movement with dogs. In this activity, trainers teach dogs specific movements, which they then bring together in a specific routine. A popular example is a “spin” progressing to a “figure of eight” through a person's legs.
Spark said the Canine Freestyle in the meadow was one of the most popular workshops at the camp.
Helix Fairweather, a nationally known canine trainer from Albany who specializes in distracted and unfocused dogs, taught a popular session on agility and how to control your unleashed dog.
Other recognized trainers who participated in the camp were: Carol Helfer DVM, fly ball; Greta Kaplan, fly ball; Susan Fletcher, nature games; and Lisa Plymale, nature games. Several of these trainers were from Happy Go Lucky, a positive behavior training facility in Portland.
Spark said that these professional trainers, who volunteered their time and expertise were “so into the spirit of the weekend event, and endlessly conveyed the fun of it.”
SamWise, a seven-month old Golden Retriever, Peanut the Pekinese, Tiny the Rottweiler, and Beau Diddley Dawg, a standard poodle from Yachats, are all veterans from Spark's camp. They all have had unique experiences at the camp, including Beau Diddley Dawg's first-time exposure to water, as he learned how to swim.
According to Spark, the feedback from those who attended has been overwhelmingly positive, and she is already half booked for next year's camp. “Most of the comments show people want more of the same,” said Spark.
Sarah Logan from Springfield is the proud owner of four therapy dogs; one of them, Peanut the Pekinese, is still in training.
“What could be more fun than a weekend away with your pooch, surrounded by beautiful scenery, and joined by other dog lovers to learn and play together? There was so much to do,” Logan said. “We did a scenting workshop, and played ‘forest agility.' Caroline had set up a course in the woods, using downed trees for jumps, a line of saplings for weave poles, interwoven branches for a tunnel, and hay bales for tables or jumps. It was amazing.
“Caroline was incredible, she put so much work into this event. She fed us breakfast and lunch every day, and put on a barbecue Saturday night, all with the help of a local caterer. Friday and Saturday evening ended with drinks on her porch, as dogs and humans relaxed and watched the sun set. It has to be the most fun I have had in years.”
Yachats resident Lauralee Svendsgaard brought her Standard Poodle rescue Beau Diddley Dawg to the camp experience.
“Wild Dog Camp was as much a total delight for me as for Beau,” she said.
“Trekking through fields and woods with 27 unleashed dogs and their owners, all shapes and sizes (owners and dogs), and all of us getting along, was a truly remarkable experience. Learning about games and other incentives that inspire good behaviors, providing both mental and physical stimulus, will go a long way in helping all of us deal with the long wet winter. And the tracking game - having never really witnessed dogs tracking, it was so absolutely cool to watch Beau and the other dogs lead us through the woods as they went from one little jar with a bit of cat food in it to another. Every dog was totally into it. We now use ‘scent' as a favorite play tool with incredible results.
“I learned so much, and Beau had such a good time. I can't wait for next year.”
A final reflection
“The fact that people take three days out of their lives to give their dogs a wonderful experience is overwhelming to me,” Spark noted. “One woman did this for her dog who was being treated for lymphoma. She did not know if her dog would be around next year, or what their situation might be. All she wanted was to give her dog a wonderful time, something that they could share together. “
Most of the camp participants stayed at the pet-friendly Fireside Inn in Yachats. Andrea Scharff donated homemade pies; Jim and Ursula Adler volunteered as a support team with registration, parking, and logistics; and Sherry Goldstein provided photography. Local businesses - Waldport's Natural Selection, Alsea Bay Power Products, and Toledo Feed store - donated prizes.
There were no dogfights the entire three days of the camp weekend.
Contact Barbara B. Covell at firstname.lastname@example.org
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