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

Take Your Dog on a Winter Retreat

Does your dog give you that telltale depressed look when you return home from vacation -- the kind of look that says, “You had a great time while I was lonely and stuck at home with the sitter”? Skip this guilty moment by taking your dog with you on a winter ski adventure. Many top resorts nationwide make it easy on you and your powder hound.

“We welcome dogs in our lodge, and everyone has a great time,” says Lucas Milawsky, spokesman for Stowe Mountain Lodge in Stowe, Vt. “Dogs love the attention we give them, and it’s genuine because we really enjoy having them here.”

Whether your dog is lounging in front of a lodge fireplace or hitting the snow-covered trails, it’s sure to have one of the best winter vacations ever. Just a bit of advance preparation is needed.

Ski Resort Dog Policies
At many resorts, a $50 one-time fee gets your dog full entry to your room and other areas, including Snow King Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo., says Matt Webb, a resort spokesman. Milawski says Stowe’s fee is the same. “You can go hiking with your dogs. A lot of owners love to go up on the mountain and play fetch,” says Webb. “At the end of the day, you can relax together in the resort.”

Beyond the standard fee, policies vary widely at pet-friendly resorts. Here are a few questions you might consider asking in advance:

  • What pet amenities do you provide? Vermont’s Stowe Mountain Lodge, for example, provides dogs with a clean bed and a couple of bowls. Most places expect you to bring food.
  • Can dogs be left alone in the room? “At Snow King Resort, it’s OK to leave your dog alone for a few hours during the day, but we like to know someone is with the dog at night,” says Webb. Some other resorts have even more strict policies, requiring the use of a sitter when you can’t watch your pet.
  • Where can my dog go? At most pet-friendly ski lodges, dogs are welcome in certain areas but not in others. For example, they’re often not allowed in areas where food is served.
  • Is there a limit to the number of dogs? Matching the relaxed attitude of vacationing skiers, resorts tend to not set strict limits on the number of dogs allowed, but if you have a canine “Brady Bunch,” you should mention your special needs in advance.

  • Are other types of pets allowed? If you have a dog, a bunny, a cat, etc., check in advance to see if the whole animal menagerie is welcome. Often, resorts only allow dogs but no other animals.

Dog-friendly Ski Resorts
Author and co-founder Len Kain suggests checking out the following canine-ready ski resorts. Be sure to contact each beforehand to determine up-to-the-moment policies. According to Kain:

  • Bretton Woods Mountain Resort, New Hampshire: Provides 8 kilometers of groomed trails for dogs and on-site fido-friendly lodging. Dogs need to be leashed on the trails and at the resort.
  • Bear Notch Ski Touring Center, New Hampshire: Dogs are allowed on most of the over 40 kilometers of groomed trails, and they can be off-leash if under voice control.
  • McGuire’s Resort, Michigan: Dogs are allowed on all 10 kilometers of groomed trails and on-site pet-friendly lodging.
  • Carter’s X-C Ski Center, Oxford and Bethel, Maine: Dogs are allowed at both centers, each of which has more than 40 kilometers of groomed trails. Dogs can be off-leash if under voice control.
  • Tamarack Resort Nordic Center, Idaho: Dogs are allowed on all of the 22 kilometers of groomed trails. Dogs can be off-leash if under voice control.

Snow Play
Once you’ve settled on a resort, days of snow play await. Many dogs love to chase snowballs down hills or to catch them in their mouth like icy Frisbees. You can also have your dog fetch sticks and pinecones for making snowmen, or play hide and seek with dog biscuits and other treasures. In short, it’s a veritable play paradise for pooches. Says Milawski: “We don’t have a house dog here, but many of us wish we did. The guests’ dogs wind up becoming part of our family instead.”


Keep Your Dog Safe in the Snow

Last night’s snowstorm transformed your backyard into a winter wonderland, and you and your best friend can’t wait to get out there and play in the white stuff.

Most canines can’t resist rolling in fresh snow and refereeing a good snowball fight. But you need to be the parent when it comes to your dog’s snow play. Just like a kid, your dog might not know when it’s time to come in from the cold. And it’s up to you to manage the snowballs that form on your dog’s coat.

Ice Is Not Nice
Ice clusters are the bane of medium- to long-haired dog owners. Not only do these frozen orbs make a mess in your house as they melt, the hard balls that form between your dog’s toes can feel like rocks under his feet, making him very uncomfortable.

So what’s the best way to cope with your abominable snowdog? “Use a warm, moist towel to help melt the balls and then use a dry towel, or even a hair dryer, if your dog will let you, to warm and dry your dog’s coat,” says Anne-Marie Forde, owner of The Sudsy Dog, Inc., an award-winning grooming facility in Erdenheim, Penn. “Many dogs with ‘advanced self-help skills’ will try to pull the ice balls out themselves using their teeth. Before you let your dog do that, be sure he didn’t play anywhere where he could have come in contact with de-icer chemicals.”

Be gentle as you remove ice balls, cautions Dr. Jeffrey Berman, co-owner of Fort Washington Veterinary Hospital in Fort Washington, Penn. “You shouldn’t try to pull the ice balls out of your dog’s fur, because it can cause pain and some dogs will nip in defense,” says Berman. “Instead of tugging away, I recommend you speed up the melting process using a washcloth soaked in warm water and lightly massage the ice away. Pay particular attention to paws and pads and check them for lacerations.”

Ice-prevention Strategies
Although there are several techniques to get rid of ice matted into fur, preventing ice from forming in the first place is a good strategy. Before venturing into the snow:

  • Apply petroleum jelly between the toes and on pads.
  • Use products specifically made to protect dog feet, such as Musher’s Secret paw wax. You can find a dealer at
  • Use clippers (not scissors) to trim excess fur on medium- to long-haired dogs (e.g., Poodles, Portuguese Water Dogs, Salukis). Pay particular attention to fur between the toes.
  • Periodically brush snow off your dog’s fur while playing to prevent the formation of ice balls.

Have Fun, Play Safe
You and your buddy enjoy playing in the snow, but you also need to keep safety in mind. Consider these potential risks:

  • Running in deep snow is hard work -- especially for small breeds or overweight dogs, which can lead to exhaustion or heart failure in a dog that has heart disease.
  • Although you might be snug as a bug in your “Michelin Man” attire, remember that damp air and cold snow can be painful for a dog with arthritis.
  • Extreme cold poses a frostbite threat to your dog’s nose and ears.
  • “Ice is more dangerous than snow, because a dog slipping on an icy surface can rupture a cruciate ligament or hyperextend and sprain a limb,” says Berman.

While any dog worth his salt wants to investigate his frozen terrain, pay attention to your pet’s explorations. Some antifreeze products are deadly if ingested, and road salts can irritate his sensitive skin.  

Most dogs love snow, but if your pet starts to shiver from the cold, tires or is hesitant to continue playing, or if you notice the conditions are too icy, it’s time to call it quits and huddle by the fire indoors.


The Best Dog Beaches, Coast to Coast

“Go ahead, make my day,” was a favorite line of actor Clint Eastwood, who also served as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a California beach town south of San Francisco. But the phrase gains new meaning with present Carmel mayor Sue McCloud, who invites you to visit the picturesque town’s beach with your dog.

“Carmel is dog heaven on Earth,” she says, after walking her own Dandie Dinmont Terrier on Carmel’s beach bluff pathway. “Our beach is off-leash, and nearly everything here is canine-oriented,” she says, mentioning the water bowls, treats, restaurants, inns, and more throughout Carmel that are all geared toward dogs.

Carmel’s beach is just one of many of the best dog beaches across the United States. You and your dog can take in the waves from coast to coast with a bit of advance planning. So load up your woody, as the Beach Boys sang, and prepare for plenty of canine beach safaris this summer.

Clues to Dog-friendly Beaches
If you and your dog pull in to an unfamiliar beach town, a few major clues can indicate whether or not the beach welcomes dogs. “In general, if a beach allows swimming, it will not allow dogs,” says Doug Gelbert, author of Doggin America’s Beaches: A Traveler’s Guide to Dog-friendly Beaches. “If a beach has lifeguards, it absolutely will not allow dogs.”

Although human swimmers and dogs generally don’t mix, Gelbert says many beaches permit dog access. The friendliest are “beaches that allow dogs in season, out of season, 24/7, 365 days a year, and dogs are allowed to run off leash,” he says. Some beaches permit dogs on leashes year-round, while others restrict dogs to certain hours or off seasons. Many New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts beaches fall into the latter category.

Three Dog-beach-paradise States
When planning a summer beach getaway with your dog, it’s hard to go wrong with these states:

  • Delaware “In Delaware, you can always get your dog to the beach,” says Gelbert, “even in season.”
  • Oregon “All 360 miles of beach in Oregon are public and open to dogs, he says. Lincoln City particularly welcomes dogs, according to city spokeswoman Sandy Pfaff. “Not only are there 7 miles of pristine beach for the two of you to walk or jog, but also there are numerous hiking trails with stellar views,” explains Pfaff. “Some of the local merchants will even allow your well-behaved pet to shop with you, and there are pet-friendly lodging opportunities to meet any need, desire or budget.”

  • North Carolina According to Gelbert, “North Carolina has the dog-friendliest beaches on the East Coast, mostly on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.”

Best Beaches for Dog Lovers, Countrywide
Gelbert says you can enjoy a dream beach vacation with your dog at the following destinations:

  • California: San Diego Dog Beach, San Simeon State Beach, Pismo Beach, Pfeiffer Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea, areas surrounding San Francisco Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore, Mendocino, Crescent Beach

  • Connecticut: Bluff Point Coastal Preserve
  • Delaware: Fowler Beach, Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware Seashore State Park
  • Florida: Amelia Island, Sombrero Beach, Fort De Soto Park, Bonita Beach, St. Andrews Beach

  • Georgia: Golden Isles
  • Louisiana: Grand Isle State Park
  • Maine: Old Orchard Beach, York Harbor Beach
  • Maryland: Assateague Island National Seashore
  • Massachusetts: Cape Cod National Seashore
  • New Jersey: Island Beach State Park, Gateway National Recreation Area, North Brigantine Natural Area, Corson’s Inlet State Park, Higbee Beach, Sunset Beach
  • New York: Montauk

  • North Carolina: Duck, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Crystal Coast, Topsail Beach, Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, Brunswick Islands
  • Oregon: Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Gold Beach, Cannon Beach
  • Rhode Island: Scarborough State Beach, Cliff Walk
  • South Carolina: Grand Strand, Edisto Beach, Hunting Island State Park
  • Texas: Galveston Island, Padre Island National Seashore
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach

  • Washington: Long Beach Peninsula, North Beach Point

Remember to Bring Water
Bringing water to a beach might seem unnecessary, but Gelbert advises it’s the most important thing you should take on your trips with your dog. “Hiking on sand is tough going and will tire a dog, and fetching sticks in the waves will get any dog thirsty,” he explains. “While drinking some salt water will be inevitable, you want to make sure your dog has fresh water.”

In Carmel, many dogs and their owners make a pilgrimage to the “Fountain of Woof” after their beach visits, according to community services assistant Cindi Lopez-Frincke. “It’s the nation’s first official doggie drinking fountain, where dogs can enjoy fresh running water,” she says.

Take Your Dog to a Ball Game

Bratwurst isn’t the only dog at baseball games these days. Increasingly, major- and minor-league teams are hosting events to which owners are invited to bring their dogs and enjoy a game and related activities.

“My black Labrador, Mike, loves it,” says Scott Kelly, CEO of Black Dog Promotions, which has helped with an event called Bark in the Park for the Arizona Mesa Miners minor-league baseball team. “Mike got to smell a lot of other dogs, and that’s a pretty good day for a dog,” says Kelly. He and others share what it’s like to be in a dog-filled stadium -- and offer advice on how you and your best furry friend can prepare for a memorable summer outing.

Bark in the Park
Kelly and the Mesa Miners co-hosted Bark in the Park, which demonstrates that such events aren’t just about the baseball game. For this event, held at Hohokam Park in Mesa, Ariz., 800 to 900 dogs and their owners enjoyed contests for the cutest, ugliest and best-dressed mutts. “One of my favorites was the contest that determined the owner who looked the most like his or her dog,” says Kelly.

Fans and their pets were allowed to run the bases after the game. Attendees were also treated to discounted food, along with baseball-themed prizes and giveaways. “Aside from a few errant bathroom accidents, it was a perfect day out at the ballpark,” says Kelly.

Dog Days of Summer
In August 2011, the San Francisco Giants will host their 15th annual Dog Days of Summer for canines and their people. This event, like many of its kind, benefits a charity. “Every year, the San Francisco Giants open up hundreds of seats for ticket-holders and their dogs, and we’re the beneficiaries,” says Jen Lu, communications manager for the San Francisco SPCA.

Dogs and their owners sit together in a reserved set of bleachers with great views of the playing field. From start to finish, everyone is kept entertained and active. Last year, while patrons waited in line to enter the stadium, a skateboarding bulldog stole the show. Before the game, pets parade on the field. And some dogs also participate in a costume contest; Tina Ahn, director of communications and development at the SPCA, recalls seeing impressive canine versions of Giants stars Buster Posey and “The Beard” (pitcher Brian Wilson).

Before the event, professional videographers film dogs that are up for the adoption. As fans enjoy the game, images of these homeless canines are advertised on the enormous JumboTron screens.

Rules of the Game
Chances are your area hosts a dog-friendly ball game. The Philadelphia Phillies have opened up their games to canines. The Florida Marlins have their own version of Bark in the Park, as do the Atlanta Braves. Even cats come into the picture, as Seattle Mariners fans enjoyed a night based on LOLcats by But there’s little doubt that dogs rule at baseball games.

If you’d like to take your dog to a game, Ahn suggests you consider the following:

  • Your dog should be well-socialized and always on a leash. Players might fight with the umpire, but you don’t want your pet to get in a scrap.
  • Ask if proof of vaccinations is needed. The Giants, for example, require proof that your dog has been protected against rabies.
  • Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and pooper-scooper bags, and a few of your dog’s favorite treats and toys. Organizers often provide water and treats, but it helps to have your own stash too.
  • Consider bringing something to shade your dog. It can get hot in the stands.
  • Take frequent breaks to allow your dog to stretch its legs, relieve itself, and work off some energy. A separate field at the Giants games is open to leashed dogs throughout the event.

Finally, “Be sure to buy your tickets early,” advises Ahn. Nearly all these events sell out early. It seems that a mix of hot dogs, canines and baseball make for an ideal warm summer’s day.

Photo: Eukanuba