Does your dog have what it takes to become a certified Dog Scout? Nearly 600 dogs have passed their certification tests for the Dog Scouts of America, an organization similar to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. Members are part of local troops and earn merit badges by proving proficiency in certain learned skills. Below, President Chris Puls of Dog Scouts of America (DSA) and founder Lonnie Olson explain scouting for dogs.
Dog Scouts Earn Badges
Puls says there are badges for backpacking, water rescue, herding, search and rescue, obedience, Frisbee and much more. Don’t think it’s all just for show; the certification and badge testing is serious and demanding.
“The badges are not easy and they aren’t supposed to be,” says Puls. “Yes, it does take some time to get to that level, but when considered over the span of the dog's life, it’s a short amount of time to get years of benefit. Visitors to your home and people you meet in public with your dog will appreciate the training time you have put in. Plus, you’ll have a better understanding of your dog and a deeper bond.” In order for a dog to be certified, its human companion must pass a written test that proves he or she is an educated and responsible dog owner.
The Dog Scouts of America was founded in 1999 as a nonprofit by Olson, who got her inspiration from an encounter with an insurance salesman. “The guy asked why all the photos of my dogs were on the wall, winning at sports competitions,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Well, didn’t your kids participate in cheerleading, band, Boy Scouts and other activities?’ I told him that my dog likes to play flyball and Frisbee, and be active in the community, just like his kids. The difference was that my ‘kids’ were dogs.”
After this conversation, Olson formally organized all the activities and educational outreach she was already involved in and created the DSA. Like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, DSA’s mission is about more than giving its members fun activities to do. Puls and Olson say the larger mission is one of education that fosters better relationships between dogs and humans and that ultimately saves the lives of dogs.
“The No. 1 reason why people surrender their dogs to the shelter is ‘behavior problems,’ so we decided that we could change all of that by getting our message out to more people,” says Olson, noting that dogs surrendered to shelters are euthanized all too often. “We try to show the owners how they can enrich the lives of their dogs, themselves and the community by learning new things and doing things together.”
Puls says that DSA also encourages troops and members to perform community service. “They often hold fundraisers to help local shelters, provide bulletproof vests to police K-9s, or provide pet oxygen masks to their local fire departments,” she says. DSA dogs are trained to ring the iconic Salvation Army bell and to accept dollar bills from people and drop them into the donation bucket. The trick has helped DSA raise almost $40,000 for The Salvation Army.
Interested dog owners should check out DogScouts.org to find the nearest troop. If not, the site is filled with the information you’d need to participate or even start your own troop. It’s also worth noting that you do not need to pass the certification test to be a DSA member. You can join and do the testing at your own pace, or not at all. If you want an even less committed way to get involved and support the group, the entire month of May is their annual National Hike-a-Thon, in which anyone can participate.