Fun and fitness are two of the many advantages of having a dog, and if you want to combine them in a race, there has never been a better time. The number and variety of races which welcome (and even cater to) dogs are increasing. Health researcher Bethany Merillat, a self-described “nerdy academic”, researched races in the United States that allow dogs to participate. The results were greater insights into the range and breadth of dog races and a searchable database for finding dog races in your state.
The project was a huge undertaking. Besides hours of searching for races, Merillat contacted thousands of race directors to find out such information as whether races were dog friendly, how many years the race had existed and allowed dogs, the size of the race, and what the benefits and challenges of canine participation were. She spoke to over 2000 race directors, which is why the project took over six months. According to Merillat, the race directors were wonderful—so willing to share information about their races and so passionate about them. Many work very hard to provide a great experience for participants. They are creative about contests—everything from biggest and smallest dog to peanut butter licking competitions. It is not uncommon to have medical care on site for dogs, to have dog vendors and to provide evaluations of dogs before the race. There are groups that help people train their dogs before a race, making it more likely to be both fun and safe for everyone.
As is often the case, the reward of such thorough and extensive research was a new and detailed understanding of the subject. There are thousands of dog-friendly events across the United States. They are most common in large metropolitan areas, but are held throughout the various regions of the country in roughly similar numbers. They occur in every state, with a correlation between population size of a state and the number of events held there.
Although some races have been around for a long time, the majority of them have started in just the last few years. Though all of the events in the database allow dogs, only a few are specifically geared towards dogs. Some of the races have chip-timing for dogs and post the results, but that remains uncommon. Spring and fall are the most popular times for dog races and walks. The number of dog-friendly races are increasing, but some races no longer happen. It is likely that the large number of new races has led to such intense competition for sign-ups, so that some events no longer have enough participants to continue.
Besides the fun that comes from sharing the racing experience with their dogs, many people enjoy the other perks that come with participating in dog friendly events. Great swag is common in events that encourage participation by dogs—bandanas, t-shirts, medals, leashes, water bowls, treats and toys.
The collection of all these data into a single searchable database is a great benefit of the research, especially for those of us who are always looking for a new fun race. It’s easy to use—just put in your state or zip code and a list of every race in your state comes up. The races can be sorted by city or by date, making it easy to find a race that is close by or one that best fits into your schedule.
Merillat says that since she has published the database, she’s had people contact her to add additional races that even her painstaking research did not uncover. So, her work in this area will continue as she maintains the database to keep it current. Additionally, she wants to expand her research to explore the motivation of people to participate in races that allow dogs and those that focus on dogs. Many race directors will allow her to conduct surveys at races in the future so that she can answer questions about why people choose to participate in specific events.
Have you ever run a race with your dog?