Friday, January 27, 2023

Camp teaches dog owners to be ‘more fun than dirt’

May 19, 2012  

Round Rock resident Ulli Volk. top, was attending his fourth camp, while wife Christine, who volunteers with the Humane Society of Williamson County, was enjoying her third. Here they play Fly-ball with Hugo.

By Ann Fowler

Imagine summer camp, but with dogs instead of kids. Hundreds of local dog owners have been able to do more than imagine, taking advantage of camps run by The Canine Center for Training and Behavior (TCCTB).

TCCTB offers a variety of classes at its facility, nestled on 18 tree-strewn acres on Old Bee Caves Road. But once or twice a year, TCCTB takes its show on the road, so to speak, to give dogs and their owners a chance to play in a stress-free environment – The Lazy Hills Ranch Retreat in Ingram, Texas.

Campers stay in single or double rooms with food for the human campers included in the weekend. Chef Angie Tyler cooked healthy, delicious meals that always included a vegetarian component, with the TCCTB staff serving as sous chefs and/or doing KP duty. “That was maybe a little ambitious,” said trainer Jane Del Re. “We will likely have another scenario next year.”

More than 50 dogs got to romp and play in the nearly 60 classes held over the March 30-April 1 weekend. The spring weather was just warm enough to encourage dogs and their human buddies to take advantage of the on-site swimming pond.

A few of the 37 campers were attending their first camp, but whether the campers or dogs were new or experienced, young or old, the goal of the weekend was fun — and all were clearly successful on that front.

Some of the weekend classes centered on training (Loose Leash Walking, Come!, Social Training Meet and Greet), while others were sport-oriented, like Air Scenting, Tracking, Agility and Rally. The really energetic campers could try the Dog Triathlon – Swimming/Kayaking, Running, Bikejoring (where the dog learns to tow a bike) and Canicross (where the dog learns to tow a hiker).

Yoga with Your Dog allowed dogs to relax as their people performed yoga movements. The Tricks class taught the advanced dogs to roll over or play dead, while the novices might learn to lie down or spin in a circle.

Drawings were held for some lucky dogs to receive biofeedback or massage sessions. And for dogs with a prey drive, a luring course was set up to let dogs to chase a white plastic bag.

The really energetic campers could try the Dog Triathlon – Swimming/Kayaking (above), Running, Bikejoring (where the dog learns to tow a bike) and Canicross (where the dog learns to tow a hiker).

Shari Elkins is the director of training programs at TCCTB and has attended every canine camp they’ve hosted. She said of the weekend, “Dogs need an outlet. When you give a mental and physical outlet for the energy and brain power, behavior problems melt away. The hikes, running and bike work allow dogs to be trained in the real world while we do things we love — together. We started a 5-month-old puppy on her road to bike-jor and canicross so she and her mom can skijor (cross-country ski together) next year when she is old enough. She started by biting the harness and playing tug with it like a toy. Within 30 minutes of coaching, she figured out where to be, how to pull in harness and focus. While you can’t do any real pulling with a puppy, they can still learn the basics so you are ready to go when they are old enough!”

Elkins said all dogs can benefit from canine camps. “We welcome all. Many people think unruly dogs are the only ones who need to go to training. Then we meet ‘easy’ dogs who have been very compliant through their whole lives. You start new sports or basic training with them and they blossom, the relationship grows, and you hear, ‘I never knew my dog could do that!’ ”

Trainer Jane Del Re said it is rewarding to see people come away with a sense of hope for their dog’s future as they “see their dog is capable of being the dog they wished for.” For some campers it is a revelation to find that training can actually be fun.

Trainer Paul Mann, a veteran of every TCCTB Canine Camp, said, “I saw many owners improve their relationship and communication system with their canines. I was particularly moved by watching people build a spirit of teamwork with their dogs and finding ways to motivate them with smiles and emotion.”

Round Rock resident Ulli Volk was attending his fourth camp, while wife Christine, who volunteers with the Humane Society of Williamson County, was enjoying her third. The couple came to TCCTB in 2007 to seek help with unruly dogs. “We learned about reward-based training methods, consistent leadership and pack interaction,” said Christine.

This year the Volks brought their two Jack Russell Terriers, Hugo, 5, and Spunk, 4, as well as a 2-year-old Border Collie/Labrador mix that has been residing at the Human Society facility for almost a year.

“Mojo has stunning looks and is too smart for his own good,” said Christine. “He tests people to the best of his abilities. I started working with Mojo on leash walking and basic obedience skills about 5 months ago — not only to improve his prospects on a forever home, but mainly to keep him from going insane living day in day out in a kennel.”

Initially Christine was hesitant to ask if a shelter dog could come to camp. “You can imagine my surprise and appreciation that the Canine Center gave me an okay without hesitation,” she said, describing the TCCTB staff as having “open minds, huge hearts and tons of trust in the abilities of their clients and especially their canines.”

Christine reports that Mojo was calm and confident around his fellow campers, and did well in a crate, “which gives me great hope for further house-training.”

Said Christine, “My best moment with Mojo at Camp was when he laid his head in my lap during a TTouch session after a hot, strenuous hike. He sighed deeply and gazed into my eyes — totally at ease and delightfully exhausted. No licking of my hand, nudging of my leg, trying to crawl into my lap or mouthing of my arms — all pushiness vanished. It brought tears to my eyes.”

Spicewood resident Janet Duke said she was pleased to see Mojo get a chance to go to camp. She said, “It was an act of compassion and kindness that provided a big boost for the dog’s skills.”

Duke and her Black Labrador, Trust, were Camp novices. She said, “Trust is a recent rescue. I came spend time with him, build our training skills, and try a variety of training activities to determine his strengths and where he’s most enthusiastic.”

Duke said the variety of activities let them try new events over the course of the long weekend. She was delighted to find that the indefatigable Trust is a natural for canicross: “With Trust pulling, he was more tired and I was less tired and we both had a great time.”

Duke pointed out that the days are structured to allow dogs and people breaks throughout the day. She said, “I really doubted Trust could train all day without checking out, but the schedule permitted some downtime and the classes were structured so one dog worked while the others relaxed in rotation. I was astonished at how much we covered and the amount of information and training we gained.”

Oak Hill resident Lupe Garcia came with Brotchen, her 1-year-old Chihuahua. Garcia came to the Canine Center on the advice of her vet. She said she had spent a lot of time and money on behavior classes as she sought help for her increasingly aggressive dog. She was advised that Chihuahuas are mean and this one would likely need to be put down.

“The Canine Center saved my buddy’s life,” said Garcia. Classes such as beginning agility have made Brotchen a sweeter, calmer pup. This was their first experience at the Canine Camp, but, said Garcia, it will not be her last.

Lakeway resident Dyanne Kerr brought her 2-year-old Border Collie/Blue Heeler mix, Pepper, to camp for the second consecutive year. Kerr said in 2011 she saw a poster for Canine Camp in a local pet store. Upon registering for the Camp, Kerr discovered that she could – and now does – take classes at the Oak Hill facility throughout the year.

Last year Pepper, a rescue, was barely able to focus on the classes – but things were different this year. Said Kerr, “This year, thanks to lots of work with the Canine Center folks, she was able to focus on the activities regardless of what was going on around her. We were able to walk around the ranch in a reasonably relaxed manner.”

She added, “At the closing lunch she was able to relax in her cage and even come out and do some tricks with other dogs around. It did not feel like the same dog and made the whole weekend so much more enjoyable.”

Changes like that are the whole point of Canine Camp, according to Del Re: “Our approach is about helping you have the dog that you want to take everywhere because your companion is fun. It doesn’t matter if the dog has behavior issues or not, every dog will think they have gone to heaven. Of course, for those who have dogs with issues, we give them probably the only place where they can relax and enjoy working with their dog among other people and dogs. We give them a sense of safety without shackles.”

Trainer Paul Mann ran the Lure course. He insisted that dogs waiting their turn be securely tied. Pepper was a perfect example of why that was necessary. According to Kerr, “I think the entire camp was talking about Pepper’s obsession with the lure course … so much so that she got off her leash, ran back to the course and climbed through the fence to get back to it.”

Campers were delighted at the variety of classes, which seemed to have something for everyone. Said Kerr, “As in the past, the staff did a great job of keeping everything moving and providing lots of different and challenging activities for both dogs and humans. I love the patience and positivity that every one of their trainers brings to each session and their genuine interest in meeting every dog’s needs.”

Pflugerville resident Kimberly Smith brought her Husky/Chow mix, Emma. She and Emma also attended Camp in 2011. She explained her reason for returning to camp: “The people at the Training Center are awesome, it’s a great getaway and time to hang out with my pup, refresh skills and try new things.”

Smith added, “It was great to see some of the campers from last year and all of the progress they have made with their training.”

Emma, like many dogs, has no real issues – but has an owner eager to find activities they can enjoy together. Said Smith, “Emma is a pretty low key pup, she is older and has had an operation on her knee, she ran the lure course full speed and wanted to do it again. It was exciting to see the dogs get ramped up to chase and let their instincts take over. She looked like she was really having fun!”

Travis Heights resident Becky Davis brought her 10-year-old Plotthound, Cinnamon, and her 3-year-old English Mastiff, Raja. Davis had double duty at Camp, taking classes to work on Raja’s shyness and Cinnamon’s crankiness with dogs, but also teaching Yoga with Dogs.

Davis said Raja was terrified of golf carts and water when she arrived. (Golf carts are the preferred method of transportation for many of the campers.) Raja was successful in dealing with her fears, said Davis, “So much so that I had nearly as much trouble getting her out of the water as I did getting her into it.”

It seemed that every dog and person at Camp had a story, but perhaps none more poignant than that of Frank Prieskop of The Hills near Lakeway. Prieskop brought his two German Shepherds: 7-year-old Magnum and 5-year-old Lainey. Prieskop and his wife were heavily involved in Austin German Shepherd Dog Rescue. According to Prieskop, his wife Katherine was a gifted trainer who passed away on March 31, 2011. Attending the Canine Camp gave Prieskop the opportunity to get out of the house and focus on their dogs on the anniversary of her passing.

Prieskop wanted to give the dogs some new experiences, which they indeed received when they saw horses for the first time. “Magnum accepted it as an interesting sight — probably as a big deer — while Lainey felt it was something to be warned to stay away.”

At the close of camp, certificates are awarded for each class – not necessarily for the best performer, but for the best effort. The Carol Nate award is presented to the person who perseveres through challenges, working with his or her dog(s) for the betterment of all. The award is named for a client that trainers have watched push herself despite her fears – always with a smile.

Carol Nate was in attendance with her Border Collie, Agatha. She stroked Agatha as Shari Elkins spoke about the award named for her.

This year, the Carol Nate Award went to Prieskop. Del Re said, “We awarded the Carol Nate Award to Frank this year for not quitting. His wife was heavily involved in GSD Rescue, and she died a year ago. He picked up the pieces and continued to volunteer. He decided to come to camp on a whim, and was very concerned about his big dog, Magnum, being around smaller dogs. He came anyway, and was a trooper. He also tried things that were really not up his alley, like TTouch and discovered that he could really connect with his dogs. He said that his wife would have loved camp and was so pleased that he came with Lainey and Magnum and would be back. This was really outside his comfort zone, but he did it for his dogs.”

All campers seemed exhausted by the Camp’s conclusion Sunday afternoon, but it was impossible to find a person or dog who did not have a positive outcome. Christine Volk summed up the Canine Camp experience: “Like always, camp was an extremely satisfying and almost overwhelming experience.”

Added Mann from the trainer perspective, “Camp is exhausting, but it is literally one of the most joyous parts of my year as a dog trainer. It is always humbling to be around people who are willing to put themselves out there and try new things with their dogs in the interest of their relationship. The spirit of the campers drives my energy and seeing them connect with their animals gives me immense pleasure and satisfaction.”

For more information on TCCTB, see or call 512-721-8496.



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