Camp leads to new ‘play and train' class

Posted: Wednesday, Nov 5th, 2008

By Barbara B. Covell For the News-Times Once every month, something magical happens in the Yachats River Valley on a lush acreage of open meadow, rich dense forest, and the cool waters of the meandering river. In a span of three hours, 10 dogs and their human companions gather under the guidance of Caroline Spark to learn improved ways of living together. Spark, a Portland psychologist, is a certified pet dog trainer and a certified dog behavior consultant. She became interested in studying canine behavior and positive motivation-based training techniques after the loss of her lifelong companion, Molly, a Labrador mix. “I wished I had known how to train her differently,” Spark recalled. “I've regretted that I didn't see the world through her eyes.” Spark began to evolve her clinical practice to include the relationship between humans and their dogs, often of major import in a family dynamic. The desire to know more about animal learning led to her decision to become a trainer, in addition to maintaining her psychology practice. This past September, Spark hosted a three-day camp for dogs and their human companions on her Yachats acreage, which has become a training facility, blending the best of Oregon's natural bounty with specific tools appropriate for the task at hand. The camp was a sellout, with bookings secured for 2009. Because of the camp and the expressed desire for additional “Play and Train” classes, Spark is hosting a fall series of monthly three-hour classes. This is when the magic happens for dogs of all shapes and sizes, ages, and stages in life. “Dogs learn naturally through play,” explained Spark. “These classes are about having fun with your dog and learning together at the same time.” She added that although many dogs know the fundamentals of sit, stay, down, wait or leave it, these classes offer ways to brush up on these basics of good canine companionship. Other areas covered include polite greetings, walking on a loose lease, and calm grooming behavior. “Exercising a dog's mind and body through hiking, introductory tracking, recall games, fetch, tug, forest agility and ‘Good Rat Hunting' barn hunts (using rat toys), teaches them many things - including motivation, responsiveness, and non-aggressive playing with other dogs,” Spark noted. Spark uses training methods that are reward-based, kind, and effective. She helps people to better understand canine communication and certain behaviors. The goal in all her training exercises and activities is to strengthen the bond between dogs and their people. All training classes are outdoors with limited shelter, so Spark encourages everyone to dress for the Oregon coast climate. She serves hot chocolate and cookies at the end of each class, as there is always a time for people and dogs to gather and reflect on the day's events. The Natural Dog Play & Train Classes are held once a month on Monday afternoons from October through January. Cost is $40 per class or $140 for all four classes. Spark limits registration to 10, and classes are presently full. The next series of Play and Train classes will begin shortly after the new year. For more information, go to Contact Barbara B. Covell at

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