Fun and fitness are two of the many advantages of a dog, and when you want to combine them in a race, there has never been a better time. The number and variety of breeds in which dogs are welcome (and even cared for) is increasing. Health researcher Bethany Merillat, a self-described “nerdy academic,” studied races in the US that dogs can participate in. The result was better insight into the range and breadth of dog racing, as well as a searchable database to help locate dog racing in your state.
The project was a big undertaking. In addition to spending hours searching for races, Merillat contacted thousands of race directors for information on whether races were dog-friendly, how many years the race had existed and allowed dogs, how big the race was, and what benefits and challenges dogs had in participation. She spoke to over 2000 race directors, which is why the project lasted 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 give attendees a great experience. They’re creative about competitions – from the largest and smallest dog to peanut butter licking competitions. It is not uncommon for dogs to receive medical care on site, dog sellers joining in and giving reviews of dogs before the race. There are groups that help people train their dogs before a race so it is fun and safer for everyone.
As is so often the case, the reward for such thorough and extensive research has been a new and detailed understanding of the subject. There are thousands of dog friendly events in the United States. They are most common in large metropolitan areas, but are held in roughly similar numbers in different regions of the country. They occur in every state, with the population size of a state correlated with the number of events held there.
While some races have been around for a long time, most have only started in recent years. While all of the events in the database allow dogs, only a few are specifically designed for dogs. Some of the races have chip timing for dogs and publish the results, but this remains unusual. Spring and fall are the most popular times for dog races and walks. The number of dog-friendly races is increasing, but some races are no longer taking place. It is likely that the large number of new races has resulted in such intense competition for entries that some events no longer have enough participants to continue.