If your event is going to be all about the dogs, then it is better to keep the distances relatively short with a few options for everyone. Yes, many dogs can run a long way, but think of this as more of a social event than a workout.
5k or 10k: Most sporting breeds will easily run this far on a daily basis if given regular exercise and lots of runners out there rely on their dogs to be their most reliable running partner come rain or shine! We are just kind of jealous that they get to use four legs and have these amazing, stretchy tendons that make it look effortless. This distance will give them a chance to show off.
1 mile or 2 mile walk: This distance would be for the less active dogs or the less active owners who are getting dragged along by their teacup Chihuahua. Older dogs and owners will also appreciate having a slightly shorter distance that will still allow them to participate in all the fun. Of course people could choose to walk with their dogs on a 5k or 10k course as well.
If you properly communicate the expectations for behavior on the part of dogs and their owners you should have very few issues on race day. Here are a few guidelines every canine-friendly event should have in place:
Dogs are to be on a leash at all times: It does not matter how well you think you can control your dog with voice commands in German, obscure hand signals or telepathy. Leashes should be no longer than six feet long and owners should maintain close control of their pet at all times. Shorter leashes are preferred and retractable leashes of any length should not allowed. It is impossible to maintain proper control of a dog in this kind of setting and avoid tripping runners on the course.
Any dogs displaying aggressive behavior will be made to leave: This is goes double for the owners. Stress to people that they should be comfortable handling their dog in crowds around many other dogs and potentially children. Hopefully your pet owners have an understanding of what a well socialized dog should act like, but there's always one in every crowd who thinks their dog could do no wrong or that they have never done anything like that before. Please.
Put some extra teeth in your waiver: Make sure your waiver very clearly states that owners are 100% liable for the actions of their dogs while participating in your event and in the designated areas of the start/finish area. Also be sure to state that it is up to the sole discretion of race officials to ask a runner to leave the event with their dog at any time and that there will be no refunds in this case.
Paying attention to details and making sure that a race director has appropriate aid stations, medical support, volunteers, race timing, and a myriad of other details is a big job for an event put on just for humans. It is the same for this event except that you are adding an equal number of our four-legged friends into the mix. Here are some of the main additional considerations:
Aid Stations: Have plenty of water on hand. Dogs cannot sweat like humans and can get overheated rather quickly, even on a mildly warm day. Those cheap plastic wading pools form the discount store are perfect to give the pooches a place to get their bellies in the water to cool off while taking a big sloppy drink. Do not worry about having food on the course for dogs for events of this distance.
Medical: Dogs can get in trouble pretty quick just as humans can. Especially when you get a larger crowd, the odds are that something could happen and you need to be prepared. Get a few local vets to volunteer their time and expertise to help man an aid station and/or the medical tent at the start/finish. They will welcome the opportunity to get out in the community and interact with potential new patients, plus they love dogs even more than we do if that is possible.
Poop happens: This is inevitable. State on your website and anywhere else you can that dog owners are responsible for cleaning up after their pet. Make an announcement at the start as an additional reminder. Include a set of mutt mitts with the race packet and have extras at the aid stations and other key locations of the course. Stationing some extra trash cans will also help encourage people to toss it in the right place. Don’t you just hate to see that stuff tied up in a plastic bag beside the sidewalk or along a trail. Do not get us started on that one!
Dogs love to party! Especially after they have had a bit of exercise and are a bit more relaxed. Wait, this sounds like people we know. Create a festive, dog-friendly setting for people to hangout and socialize with their dogs. Have a few extra wading pools if it is really hot. Maybe get a local dog bakery to sponsor the treats at the end as the finisher's award for Fido.
Without even advertising it, lots of dog owners will dress their dogs up in ridiculously embarrassing costumes for this event. The dog will look mortified while the owner gushes about how cute they look. Turn this into a contest with prizes. Maybe get your Vet volunteers to be the judges. Take lots of pictures!
Even if your event is just allowing people to run with their dogs and not making it primarily all about the dogs, these guidelines should get a lot of tails thumping.