Kids Can Bring Their Best Friends Along at K-9 Camp
Heading off for the day at summer camp no longer means saying goodbye to the family pet. At Stowe Farm's Kids & K-9 Camp, children bring their dog along with them.
Kids spend a week learning how to train and care for their animal, becoming a more responsible pet owner while building a bond and trust with their furry friend. From obedience basics to games and tricks, canines and their kids learn new skills and build confidence.
The camp, which was met with wagging tails when introduced at the farm last summer, is the idea of Maura O'Connor, the sixth-generation owner of Stowe Farm. The West Millbury staple - which dates back to the early 1800s and started as a Blue Hubbard squash dairy farm - is still home to barnyard animals, apple orchards and homegrown crops, but it continues to widen its breadth of offerings. When they added canine boarding and training to their expansive list of offerings recently, O'Connor said a complementary camp immediately came to mind.
"This was one of my goals after getting certified [in professional dog training] - to educate children on how to handle their own dogs, or how to approach strange dogs," said O'Connor. Last year, she spent three months at the renowned Starmark Professional Dog Training Academy in Texas, and at the Kids & K-9 Camp, she's imparting her knowledge on to dog-loving children.
Two week-long camps for kids and their pups will be offered this summer: July 9th -13th and July 30th -August 3rd. Camp starts with some basic socialization, then moves on to obedience training, grooming and care. Campers and canines are divided into three groups that rotate through stations with three trainers.
Days also include hikes in the wooded land around the farm, playing on an agility course, ice cream for the kids ... and "frosty paws" for the pups.
By the end of camp, children will have trained their dogs to greet others, have good manners, and follow basic commands. They will also learn bathe and brush their pet, differentiate breeds and their distinct lifestyles and temperaments, master pet first aid and gain an awareness of dangers for dogs.
The progress that the dogs - and the kids - make in one week is incredible, said O'Connor.
"We had a boy come to camp last year, his dog was on two leashes, and just dragging him. His mother said she wasn't sure if he'd be able to do this," O'Connor said. "By the end of the week, he was doing everything he was told. You really can teach a dog a lot in a little bit of time - the key is to be consistent."
But can an old dog learn new tricks at camp?
"Absolutely," said O'Connor. Last year, canines in the program ranged from 8-month-old puppies to more senior family dogs.
It is encouraged that campers BYOD (bring your own dog). They can bond, and have extra time to train together when they go home. For some kids, knowing they can bring their pal along with them takes some trepidation out of trying something new.
"It was amazing really," O'Connor said of watching the kids blossom at last year's program. "Shy kids that might not do well at a big camp -- or at camp in general -- they have their best friend with them already. They do it together."
All participating dogs must be up-to-date on vaccinations including rabies and kennel cough, and pet owners must have emergency forms and recent health forms from veterinarians.
Pup-loving kids who don't have a dog can still attend - they will be assigned a four-legged friend to care for and train. Last year, parents who planned on getting a dog for Christmas sent their kids to the camp to prepare. "I thought that was a great idea," said O'Connor.
The K-9 & Kids Camp is for ages 11 and up and is limited to 12 children per session. Stowe Farm also hosts a Horsemanship Camp in the summer for ages 7 and up, which is suitable for novice to more advanced equestrians. For more information or to sign up for camps, visit stowefarm.com.