Source: Emily Thomas

Even Dogs Are Doing Triathlons Now

Let’s go hooman!

Emily Thomas had a problem. Her lovable but energetic husky-collie cross, Tegan, trashed the house while she was at work.

Her response was to take Tegan on a quick run in the morning. It worked, and the routine was expanded to a couple of runs a week. Sometimes she’d ride her bike. Swimming lessons soon followed.

What started as a way to calm Tegan’s nerves has become a full-on, triathlon training regimen: Tegan did 550 miles in her first year of training, according to Thomas’s Mushometer app (think Garmin for dogs).

As the cycling and triathlon industries boomed, sporty dog-owners started dragging Buddy along. And so the competitive sport of triathlon for dogs was born.

- Highlights from the 2106 Iron Dog competition. Source: You Tube

A pan-European competition, named Iron Dog, has been held for seven consecutive years, organized by an Austrian race dog organization. Similar events have popped up in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany. The Tridog competition is coming to the U.K. next year, the nation's first.

To prepare Tegan and Thomas’s other two dogs are training four or five times a week, strapped to her by marine-grade bungee cord in a lightweight harness–athletic kit that costs anywhere between £70 ($87) and £150. Each dog requires several sets.

“The two boys are water dogs,” Thomas said. “Tegan wasn’t so keen.”

It took six sessions to get her comfortable with the water, distracting her from swimming with a waterborne game of fetch. “It’s intense–and not cheap either–but I wanted her to be able to swim,” she said.

While the organized competition is relatively new, the concept has its roots in dog sledding.

Sled dog racing originally happened only on snow. Later, three-wheeled rigs were created and the discipline of “scooterjor,” or dry land mushing, was invented. A version of this is used in dog triathlon to replace the cycle leg. And the courses are shortened - the bike leg for example is 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) in Iron Dog - so the dogs don't overheat.

Training a dog for a triathlon isn't much different than for humans. Thomas takes her dogs out running three times a week, and alternates two weekly sessions of bike training in the winter with swimming in the summer. But there are crossovers: Fitness app Strava has a section for dogs.

Dogs Tegan and Judo during a scooter race.

Dogs Tegan and Judo during a scooter race.

Source: Emily Thomas

Eager to get started, a training day was set up in the U.K. in October, which sold out. “We’re going full speed ahead for the biathlon at the end of January,” Thomas said.

As well as healthy human competition, there are benefits for the dogs. Thomas’s husky cross, a rescue dog, suffered from separation anxiety. When Thomas took Tegan running with her, she also noticed her behavior change. “I’ve got three high-energy dogs and all I need to do is take them out for a half-hour run in the morning, and they’re fine the rest of the day,” she said.

Gudrun Ravetz, president of the British Veterinary Association, is a triathlete herself. Her labrador, Tess, runs with her in the nearby fells but probably isn’t suited to triathlon, she thinks. That said, she’s a supporter of tridog. Research by the body says nearly two-thirds of veterinarians are worried about obesity and mental health problems that stem from leaving dogs alone for long stretches.

“Anything that encourages people to enjoy their time with their dogs responsibly in the outdoors is good for the health of the dog, both mental and physical,” Ravetz said.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.