Dog Scouts of America: Is Your Dog a Leader?

The Dog Scout owner’s motto reads, “Our dogs’ lives are much shorter than ours — let’s help them enjoy their time with us as much as we can.” Since 1995, Dog Scouts of America (DSA) has been working with dogs and their owners to do just that, enabling pets and owners to stay active and enjoy the human-canine bond.

If your dog is a couch potato or is super-tiny, don’t despair. Founder Lonnie Olson emphasizes that the organization does not discriminate against any breed. Olson’s own tiny Welsh Corgi, named Weasel, doesn’t let her diminutive size stop her.

“Dog Scouts is all about getting together with dogs and humans and just enjoying all the different things you can do with your dog,” says James Helems, who created DSA Troop 211 in Massachusetts. “Like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, you can earn 70 different badges for activities you do with your dog, like agility, kayaking, rescue and even band.”

Dog Scout Certification
Says Robyn Douglas of Downeast Dog Scouts Troop 159 in Maine: “The Dog Scouts of America is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about responsible dog ownership, the important role of the human/canine bond, and to challenge people and dogs to learn how to better serve each other.” Each troop works toward the goals and missions of the DSA and focuses on the unique needs and interests of the local community, explains Douglas.

According to the DSA, any dog can become a Cadet Scout, which is more of an honorary title, or a Dog Scout. For the latter, the only requirement is that you and your dog must be able to pass a test, proving that you are responsible and that your dog is well-mannered and not aggressive toward humans and other dogs. The test can be completed in front of a certified Scoutmaster or via video.

Dog Scout Camp
Ideally, you and your dog will seek certification at a Dog Scout Camp. It’s a six-day learning adventure for you and your dog, with topics each year varying among things such as backpacking, water rescue and flyball. Says Karen Deeds, who has worked as an instructor at the DSA Texas mini-camp: “The relationship between dog and human is truly amazing, and I am proud to be able to promote positive training throughout the community, which strengthens that relationship.”

Once your dog has become a Dog Scout, you get to officially put “DSA” after his or her name. Your pet is eligible to earn and receive Dog Scout merit badges for achievement in different activities.

Dog Scout Badges
“The badge program is going strong, and many people are taking advantage of the ability to earn the badges by video,” says Chris Puls, current president of DSA. Badges are grouped in overall categories, such as trails, agility, obedience and water safety. Then there are subcategories. For example, backpacking, hiking, biking and overnight camping are some of the subcategories under the trails category. You’ll also find badges for less traditional skills, such as PhoDOGraphy.

Fun Prevails
Community service projects, such as those leading to the Clean up America badge, are popular. For example, Mart and Cindy Ratliff of Troop 119 in North Texas helped organize a Meals on Wheels for Pets project. “We get donations from many dog-product companies, as well as a lot of private donations,” say the Ratliffs. “We have a great time at the baggin’ party, where we all get together, decorate the bags, fill them up and then load the van. The smiles and tears (from the recipients) are always worth it!”

Troops organize all sorts of enjoyable activities, depending on the needs of their members. Some like leisurely picnics, but others allow dogs and their owners to participate in sporting events. And then there are more creative activities, such as the Connecticut Renaissance Faire in which Troop 188 participated. According to Kelly Ford, co-leader of that troop, Zora DSA played the piano and Lucy DSA shook a metal pail for tips. By the end of the event, these efforts and more raised a lot of money for a local pet charity.

So what’s stopping you and your dog from joining the DSA? Helems thinks that “most dogs don’t get out enough; they don’t get opportunities to socialize and just be dogs together.” Your own social life might need a boost too. Check out the DSA at

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