Have Dog, Will Race

Professional runner Scott Smith and his dog Murphy
By Karen B. London PhD, September 2018

Spending time with your dog doing activities that you love is a great way to enhance your relationship with your best friend. Most people choose recreational activities, but for professional runner Scott Smith, his work life and his fun life recently crossed paths when he entered a race in which people run with their dogs.

Smith had never participated in a dog race before, but when the Santa Barbara Street Mile race came around earlier this summer, he wasn’t in peak racing shape, so he chose not to enter the elite race. He was aware that the unofficial World Championship Dog Mile is part of the event, and as the proud guardian of two dogs, he decided to give it a try.

Going against his competitive nature, he chose to run with Murphy, the slower of his two dogs. His faster dog, Lizzy, does not enjoy being close to other dogs and is reactive around them, so he wisely let her bow out of the event. Murphy doesn’t run with Smith—like most people, he does not regularly bring his dog to work!—but that’s mainly because Murphy is not a big participant in the sport. Like any proper dog, he loves to go on walks. However, he is usually completely done after 10 minutes of running, and will usually put on the brakes or even lie down if Smith tries to run him for longer.

With Murphy’s minimal interest in running, Smith was all set for a low-key mile race with Murphy, thinking that perhaps a 5:30 mile was a reasonable expectation, but it was truly just a guess. As Smith pointed out, it was hard to make an accurate prediction because unlike when he himself races, Murphy had no training runs to go on. For comparison, Smith has run this mile race in a 3:56. If that doesn’t sound fast to you, you are either unfamiliar with the sport of running, or you have a Greyhound, in which case, it’s going to be difficult to impress you with even the fastest of human speeds.

Murphy far surpassed Smith’s expectations when the pair ran a 4:31 in the race. (The world record for a documented guardian/dog mile is 4:13, set on this course in 2016. The course is famous for fast times for two-legged and four-legged competitors because the race has no turns and is slightly downhill, descending just over 100 from start to finish.) Murphy was so fired up at the beginning of the race with all the excitement of being at the start around tons of dogs that he just took off. Smith slowed up a bit to keep his dog from going out too fast, but in retrospect wonders if it would have been better to let him go crazy for the first quarter mile and then slowed him up.

With about 500 meters to go, they were gaining ground on the leaders, and Smith had a moment when he had visions of winning the race. Alas, it was not to be. With about 200 meters to go, Murphy was done, having lost the enthusiasm he showed at the start of the race. They ended up taking third place, six seconds behind the winner and five seconds behind the runner-up. Smith was happy with the result. He loves to race and it was fun to do so with his dog, who also had a great time. Murphy probably didn’t even realize that they won prizes for their podium finish—a gift certificate to a running store in Santa Barbara and a large quantity of a canine performance supplement.

After the race, Smith’s teammates from HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite (a professional sports team whose distance runners compete at the highest levels of international competition) were congratulatory. Craig Lutz, who matched their finish by taking third place in the elite mile with a 3:54, posed with them after the race. That jersey on Murphy is an authentic one that athletes on this team wear to race.

As professional athletes, these runners are always full of competitive drive, and there has been discussion on the team about how fun it would be to break four minutes in the mile with a dog. Northern Arizona Elite teammate Aaron Braun thinks it may be possible with his dog Cooper. Stay tuned.

Have you ever run a race with your dog?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

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