Dog Days of Summer

Some pet lovers and their dogs are finding a week in Vermont at summer camp simply the cat's meow

Feeling down about not spending enough quality time with man's best friend this summer? Want to get Phydough's tail wagging overtime again?

Maybe it's time to get out of the dog house and trot him off to summer camp.

About 200 dog lovers and their pets recently spent a week doing everything from dancing the macarena to sports activities at Camp Gone to the Dogs in Putney, Vt.

"I decided it was about time for a camp for kids that were crazy about animals. Then I said, wait a minute, I'm a big kid and I wanna go to camp!" says Honey Loring, camp founder and director. "I'd been to obedience camp [with my dog] and knew you could have all these people and dogs together and not have pandemonium."

Ms. Loring designed a program big on learning and even bigger on fun. Dog days begin at 6 a.m. and activities continue until 8 in the evening. Campers can spend every minute occupied or they can just sit back and enjoy the show.

Activities include behavior classes and lectures by top instructors on showing and training dogs, all done in a dog-friendly, positive way. There are classes in agility training, obedience, solving behavior problems, retrieving, grooming, and puppy training. Sports-minded dogs can try their hand (er, paws) at sheepherding, swimming, and lure coursing. There's even paw reading, and doggie dancing for the social swingers.

Competitions include a bathing suit pageant, best tail wagger, best kisser, and weenie retrieving (the dog that crosses the finish line with the least-eaten hot dog wins).

"It's so silly," Jane Attaman from Michigan says as she watches Chandler, her tiny, butterfly-eared papillon, taking a swimming lesson. "You feel like such a kid!"

"The camp motto is 'Tails Up!' A happy dog has his tail up," Loring says. "If we can't make it fun, we're not gonna do it."

"I enjoy spending time with my dogs. It's a place you can come and do lots of different things ... or do nothing. And the dogs love it," says Val Reiner, owner of three dogs including Buddy, a white mutt with a black ring around one eye.

Furry campers of 76 breeds ranged in size from two miniature pinchers, smaller and daintier than most cats, to a bear-like Bernese mountain dog named Crash. Quite a few "designer" dogs (mutts to the rest of us) joined their pure-bred cousins. Amy, an abandoned stray, came to camp with Rita Lanson for their fifth time. "I tell people she's a beagle-angel mix because she's so good," Ms. Lanson boasts.

Before the week was out, two-thirds of the campers had signed up for camp next year. All for $800 including room, board, and up to two dogs.

"We're all united by our love for dogs," says Loring.

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