Sit, Stay, Speak? Dog Scouts Hike, Bike, Paint
They’re friendly, loyal and trustworthy. But the “obedient” part of the Scout Law can be a challenge, especially if a cat wanders by.
They’re Dog Scouts of America, Troop 157.
Just like the two-legged scouting species, they go hiking and camping, perform good deeds and earn badges displayed proudly on red vests.
Troop 157, which started four years ago, has grown from five to about 70 members — and is a testament to the pet-friendly trend that’s birthed an airline exclusively for pets, bar yappy hours and doggie day cares. Members typically meet the third Sunday of each month, and plan activities at parks, businesses and homes throughout South Florida.
“Not all people have the same interests, and neither do all dogs,” says troop leader Cindi Stone, of Lauderhill, proud pet parent to two Cavalier King Charles spaniels.
But the troop is not an excuse for “wacky pet people” to buy designer doggie duds with matching bling collars. The organization aims to build good canine behavior by teaching new skills and socialization, says Lonnie Olson, the Michigan professional dog trainer who started Dog Scouts in 1995.
The inspiration, Olson claims, came from her over-achieving border collie, Karli. A salesman visiting her home looked at walls papered with photos of Karli bell-ringing for the Salvation Army and visiting hospital wards, at her agility sports trophies, and asked: Why do you do all this crazy stuff with your dog?
“I wanted to say, ‘Were your kids in band or cheerleading or wrestling? Did you go to their competitions?’ ” Olson recalls. “Well, my dogs are my kids. So I thought, why can’t there be Dog Scouts? Dogs want to do neat stuff, too.”
Today, there are 25 troops nationwide and even a Dog Scout summer camp. Yearly membership dues are $25, paid to the national organization, with extra fees for badges.
Dogs and their handlers can earn about 90 badges after first graduating from cadet to scout. Some choices: Puppy Paddling, Bicycling, Drill Team, and All-Dog Band. There’s even a Poop Patrol badge, where dog-owner teams clean up after less civic-minded pups. Certified evaluators, going through a skills checklist, must sign off on each badge.
“People love to do things with their dogs. It’s just that a lot of them don’t know it,” said Holly Blakney, owner of Dog Training Academy of South Florida in Davie and Troop 157 founder. “But once they try it, they can’t stop.”
Blakney blundered across the national Dog Scouts’ website when researching ways that her clients could spend quality time with their pets that didn’t involve competitions or obedience training, “things that aren’t much fun for dogs,” she said.
You may have seen South Florida Dog Scouts out on a weekend, looking like sausages in life jackets, perched on kayaks heading down the Intracoastal Waterway. Or maybe working the room at a charity event, donation bucket in mouth, a requirement for the fundraising badge.
About 12 owners and their scouts — a rainbow of coat colors, ages and sizes — gathered on a recent evening to learn how to paint as part of their “Art of Shaping” badge.
Yes, paint, although the badge actually is about “shaping” behaviors as they create their pictures: Don’t gnaw off booties swaddling your front paws. Dip paw in paint. Touch painted paw to paper. It’s a lot harder and takes a lot more patience than it sounds.
Before he was a Dog Scout, Champ was a bait dog in a fighting ring until he was found abandoned on a Miami street. After adopting the English bulldog, Coral Springs resident Neely Waring discovered he had BB pellets embedded in his chest.
Today, Champ is one of Troop 157’s most famous members, the group’s most proficient painter with his own website, bulliesagainstbullying.com. One of his first paintings sold for $700 at an animal rescue charity auction, Waring said.
“He actually does pick certain colors. For months, he wouldn’t put his paw in yellow,” Waring said.
Some of Champ’s troop mates: a Jack Russell terrier who acted in a commercial and already earned seven badges, as well as several therapy dogs, agility contest champions and rescued canines who were abused and once cowered near strangers and other dogs.
Dr. Lisa Radosta, a Royal Palm Beach veterinarian who is a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, said owners who spend quality time with their dogs build stronger bonds and are less likely to surrender them to shelters. And a program like scouting makes dogs better adjusted, she said.
“Environmental enrichment actually changes the processes in the brain, even in adult animals,” said Radosta, of Florida Veterinary Behavior Service. “Getting out, even if you aren’t working hard, enriches your life.”
Troop member Patricia Harrington, a Miramar mother of two now-grown daughters and one mop-topped Wheaten terrier named Riley, was a Girl Scout leader for 13 years. But she confesses, “The dogs are more fun.”
~Courtesy of http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/
By Diane C. Lade, Sun Sentinel