Camp Bow Wow

As Holly and I sat and searched for airline flights the “rubber met the road”.  We’d be gone for four nights while visiting our son and his wife in Illinois and this was a trip that Kali could not come along on.  Admittedly it was very hard for me to push the “buy now” button as I sat there looking Virgin America’s website. Hard because as soon as the button was pushed I would be  pushed to find overnight accommodations for Kali.  This would be hard for me.

Kali has never spent the night away from both Holly and I.  Collectively, there have only been five or six nights since Kali arrived 16 months ago when Holly or I have been gone for the night.   There has never been a time when we were both gone for the night.

  So as I pushed the button the proverbial rubber met the proverbial road…

A big part of my anxiety about leaving Kali for several nights stems from the social anxiety she has when first meeting new dogs.   And then some – a lot? -of the anxiety is just the fact that we will be apart for so long and as much as I will miss her I worry that she will miss us even more and be scared.  [Cut to shot of parent with unfounded worries dropping their child off for first day of school….]

Kali and I have been working on lowering her anxiety level around other dogs since she arrived from Taiwan.  There’s been steady progress and while there haven’t been a lot of opportunities for group socialization we’ve used our daily walks to reinforce polite and calm behavior when we encounter other dogs along our way.   At first it was hard work and took a lot of patience on both our parts.   More recently our fellow walkers and dog owners are commenting on how well behaved Kali is.   We’ve seen many of them for over a year now and they can tell how far she’s come, often commenting about her progress.

Recently Kali and I crossed paths with a neighbor whose dog has similar social challenges but this dog seems more aggressive than anxious.  As we got closer I guided Kali to the side of the trail and quickly gained her attention buy saying “watch!”, Watch is a word she has come to know and love because it usually means a treat will follow.  Upon “watch” she immediately gives me her her undivided attention and stares into my eyes.  We passed by the neighbor and her dog without incident and as we did I rewarded her with “good Kali” and give her the treat.  This calm interaction is now very common place which is rewarding.  As we passed by I heard the neighbor say to her dog, “See, now that’s a good dog. Why can’t you be like her?”  It was gratifying in some ways to hear that but I also felt bad for my neighbor who was frustrated and even worse for her dog who was not getting the direction and training from his mom that he needed.  Her primary source of control seemed to be pulling on his leash while he lunges and she yells, “no, no, bad dog”.

So back to the tickets…  Now that they were purchased I switched gears and considered my options for housing Kali while we were gone:  Boarding, house sitter, or maybe have her stay with a friend.  At this point I wasn’t sure.

I decided to look into boarders in the area first.  After considering a few I found Camp Bow Wow within a couple of miles from our home.  Camp Bow Wow offers Doggie Day Care, Spa services, and overnight boarding.  The dogs are campers, the staff are counselors, and the overnight crates are cabins.  You get the idea.  It’s a national chain and the facility near our home has fantastic reviews on Google, Yelp, and everywhere else I looked.  Holly and went to visit (without Kali) and we were impressed with the staff, the cleanliness, the multiple indoor and outdoor areas, the approach to managing 60 to 120 dogs at any given time, large “cabins” for overnight boarding, and the web cams available to see how your dog is doing during day time hours.    They also make sure that all Campers have documented and current vaccines.

The Counselor we spoke with told us there was an interview process to determine if Kali was a candidate for their camp. We liked that because dogs who are aggressive or otherwise unsuited for this environment would not be eligible.  But what about Kali and how she tends to bark at other dogs when she first encounters them?  I wouldn’t be there to say “Watch” and gain her attention and hep her to stay calm.  She’d be on her own and have to socialize and work things out on her own.  Uh-oh…  {Cue parent sitting in car around the block from first day of school unsuccessfully using rear view mirror to try to see their child on the playground…]

A few days later I took Kali in for her “interview”.  A counselor took her away and said that she would take Kali to meet separately  with a similar sized female dog, and then a similar sized male dog.  That was the first step.  If she did ok she would go into the large play area for dogs over 35 pounds. They asked me to wait and then off she went.

The counselor returned within a few minutes and said she did fine.  She told me that Kali barked a couple of times but allowed the dogs to sniff and check her out and she did the same to them.  She pointed to the web cam screens they have in the lobby and said, “There she is – see her?”.  And there was Kali in the middle of the yard with around 20 other dogs sniffing and checking out the newbie.  She seemed to reciprocate and was relatively calm and – wait for it – was having fun.

I left Kali at Camp for about five hours and checked in on the web cams from home frequently.  I was pleased to see her playing chase, sniffing around the yard, and at times just lying down observing.  When I picked her up I scheduled another two days for her to go back next week.  We’ll work up to an overnightnstay within a couple of weeks.  I realize now that I’ve been “the leaf in the drain” that has slowed Kali’s socialization.  I’m a worrier, a protector, and admittedly a controller.  So this was much more of a growth experience for me than Kali.  I get that now.  Holly’s been telling me that for months and of course she has been right.

As we left Camp the counselor handed me a folder with a certificate indicating that Kali had successfully passed the Canine Camper Interview and is now welcome to attend Doggy Day Camp and Overnight Camp.  Proud dad for sure.

Happy Camper

Happy Camper

Kali is now an official Camp Bow Woe Camper and we’ll continue to have periodic visits to Camp for further socialization.

As it turns out a friend of mine who has two pups of her own was eager to have Kali as a guest and we’ll be meeting up next week to do a meet and greet for Kali and her dogs.  We’ll do this a couple of times before we travel to Illinois.   With Kali’s emerging social skills I think she will do just fine.  As for me missing her, well, let’s just say it will be a good growing experience for me too.


Wagging Tales


Great Post Michael and, given Kali and Ray’s similarities, really interesting. I am intrigued (and just a little concerned) about how she will react when you are away….. and she suddenly realizes it. It sounds like camp life may adequately pre-occupy her! As for your comment about the incident with the aggressive dog? So many people shout at their dog and are clearly not grasping a couple of basic facts – shouting at a dog merely tells the dog that your are barking for some reason, and shouting at a barking dog is seen by the dog as simply supporting him/her! The other thing, which really frustrates me, are people who shout at their dog for being aggressive and/or noisy without considering the fact that he/her is doing it for a reason. Identify the reason and deal with it! This is not a complex science, but merely respecting one’s dog and trying to understand its communication methods! 🙂

Thanks Colin. It would be too soon to do 5 days of overnight camp. We’ll do one night soon just to see how she does for possible future needs. I think Kali will do fine with my friend for the 5 days were gone. My friend is a major dog person with a one year old lab and a three or four year old mix. Both friendly and easy going. They may give Kali more attention than she wants but overall I think she will be distracted enough not to miss us too much. Fingers crossed. Hopefully it will be harder on me than her.

Yes yelling is barking isn’t it? Several months ago I observed an owner with her very aggressive dog. The dog was barking and tugging trying to get to Kali and the owner yells at her dog saying, and I’m not exaggerating, “Stop it or I will punch you in the face”. Wow…. I’ll never forget that one. That dog was a direct reflection of the owner. Felt bad for the dog but not so much for that owner….

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