The sun shines through misty mornings, touching endless acres of pristine meadows with silver. A herd of sheep offers a chorus of “baahs” to welcome the dawn. Are we waking up in Scotland? Nope, just Glen Highland Farm, a magical place nestled in 175 of upstate New York’s most beautiful acres.
While Glen Highland is dedicated to the work of rescuing and placing Border Collies (and is the best example of rescue I’ve seen), each year from July through October the farm opens its gates to dogs of all breeds. It’s a sort of canine United Nations gathering to raise funds to help their Border Collie brethren find homes with people who understand the needs and challenges of this working breed.
This year’s camping crew featured the expected Border Collies as well as a number of Labradors and Lab mixes, a lovely young Leonberger, my English Setter buddy Bentley, German Shepherds and hound mixes, rough-coated Collies and Australian Shepherds, my own rescued Chow mix, and English Shepherds. There was a Maltese mix who really held her own in group play and enjoyed the diversion from her usual life as social and cuteness maven of Central Park. There was even a Schapendoes (a Dutch Sheepdog), a breed new to me as a trainer but already dear to my heart (Smudge was awesome).
Campers can choose between Canine Country Getaways (less formal camping adventures where they are free to relax and enjoy the copious natural beauty and endless trails and streams) and the more-structured Canine Country Camp, for six days chockfull of learning opportunities for dogs and their people.
Mokie and I were invited to return to the teaching faculty of the Canine Country Camp this year to teach Treibball to a mixed group of new and returning campers. The time Mokie and I have spent at GHF together has been the most special and memorable time we’ve shared in her lifetime, and that’s really saying something, since we’ve had a fair number of amazing adventures!
I was excited to reunite with many of my favorite campers from last year and meet new friends as well. I wasn’t the only one -– when I pulled the van up to the gate, Mokie immediately knew where we were and started what I call “song and dance,” where she pumps her legs up and down and sings with joy.
Camp is just over an hour’s drive from my home, but campers traveled from as far away as Texas, Toronto, Florida, and Wisconsin to share the magical experience of six days in the woods with this motley crew of delightful dogs. The events included agility, canine massage, nosework, tracking, canine improv, recall training, canine freestyle, Frisbee, herding, private consultations with well-known trainers for individual training challenges, and, yes, Treibball.
While Mokie relaxed in her x-pen or on a tether during our teaching times, when we were not working she was running as hard as her little legs could carry her down the paths, exploring with doggy friends, or ceaselessly fetching sticks in one of the many streams or at the Bullfrog Pond on campus. She also got three opportunities to return to her favorite pastime (which we discovered at last year’s camp): sheep herding.
Mokie worked groups of three or four sheep at a time and has really improved in her technique. Whenever she runs sheep, there is usually an audience of our favorite campers and a bunch of disbelieving Border Collies. Here’s Mokie’s first experience with sheep from last year’s GHF:
While camp focuses on the dogs, the people love it also. You’ll meet fellow dog-crazy people, share glasses of wine around a campfire, and celebrate one another’s training successes. You’ll learn together about how to be better dog owners, exploring topics like canine nutrition and supplements. You can even get a massage along the side of the creek at Willow’s Run while your dog romps in the water with her best friend.
You’ll make friends that you’ll never forget. I already miss my camp friends and can’t wait to see them next year, canine and human alike!
Sounds like heaven? Maybe Mokie and I will run into you next September on one of paths surrounding this special place. Also, congratulations to the Border Collies who found new forever homes this week (that means you, Scotty!), and thank you to all the campers who make Lillie and John’s work preserving and finding good homes for this wonderful breed possible.