Counselor Tools Staff Supervision

The Camper Whisperer – How to be a Pack Leader at Camp

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Not long ago I was watching an episode of The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan and it occurred to me that his tactics for dog owners (pack leaders) can be applied to the camp counselor. Allow me to explain.

Rules, Boundaries and Limitations

Cesar preaches that dog owners must set rules, boundaries and limitations for dogs and really follow through with them. At camp we set and enforce rules for campers. However, many counselors, especially new counselors, have a hard time enforcing these rules. They want the campers to “like” them. They try to be their buddy. This doesn’t work with dog owners, nor with camp counselors.  The campers will walk all over their counselor as a dog would their owners.

Counselors need to be trained how to set rules, boundaries and limitations, how to make sure their campers are properly informed of these rules AND how to properly enforce them. Consistency is key. Counselors need to be consistent with the following of rules and with the enforcement of them. They cannot enforce a rule one day and not the next or with one camper and not another.

Calm, Assertive Leadership

Cesar says dog owners should set and enforce rules, boundaries and limitations in a calm, assertive and consistent way. The same goes for counselors.

A counselor shouldn’t be passive, “Hey guys. Um…you shouldn’t be doing that…um…I…uh…don’t think that’s a good idea. Please stop.” (in a low, unauthoritave tone).

Nor should they be aggressive, “HEY, KNOCK IT OFF! THIS IS RIDICULOUS!”

Instead counselors should be calm and assertive, “Guys, I need you to stop that behavior because someone could get hurt. If it continues I’ll need to have you all sit out of the next activity.” (in a calm-yet authoritative tone).

Exercise, Discipline and Affection

(Activities, Discipline and Praise)

Cesar says that all dogs need exercise, discipline and affection. For campers, that can be interpreted as activities, discipline and praise.

Camps are full of great activities and campers should be rotated through those activities, not just allowed to do whatever they want to do. I am aware of one particular day camp where campers have free choice in the activities they participate in – all the time. They have a ton of different choices, but even if you want to stay at scrapbooking all week long, you can, except for when there is an all camp event. The problem is that not many kids will actually try new things if they don’t have to. Yet, I have seen lives change because of the experience a camper has had with a new activity, an activity that they would never have tried if they weren’t at a camp that had a mandatory activity rotation program (which most camps do).

Rotating through different activities, from crafts to sports, ropes to sailing, works the muscles, brain and abilities of campers. Some activities will use the left side of the brain while others will work the right. Also, the more mentally and physically engaged kids are in an enjoyable manner – the more manageable they will be. Boredom = trouble. If a dog has not been exercised enough and is bored, they start chewing and causing all kinds of mayhem. While campers may not chew on the furniture, they will find other alternatives to combat boredom.

Discipline is, of course, a must. Without discipline there is chaos. Make sure your counselors know what your camp’s discipline procedures are as they can vary from camp to camp.

Praise (and encouragement) is so important. Camp staff can sometimes forget this. When a camper does the “right thing”, tries a new activity, accomplishes a task, etc. ,they should be praised. Praise good behavior and correct bad behavior in campers, just as a dog owner should with their four legged buddies.

Be a Pack Leader

Counselors that follow these “pack leader” guidelines will have a successful summer. Directors may want to give their staff key chains or stickers with a paw print on it or the words “Pack Leader” to help remind the staff about these key lessons on leading their group of campers.



  • LOVE this and will use it moving forward for all staff! The more we can empower the staff, the more they can empower their campers in all they do! LOVE LOVE LOVE this…thanks for sharing!

  • I have had this same basic though in my head of months now. Kids, dogs, and adults are all about the same to work with. You need to be assertive, and consistent. But to take it a step further, toddlers, youth and the elderly all need to think that something is their idea before it will really work.

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