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Road Dog Trials

Dalmatian participating in Road Dog sport.
Photo Credit: Robert Von Mayr

About Road Dog

Road Dog is a sport uniquely tailored for the Dalmatian, celebrating the breed’s traditional role as a coach dog alongside a horse-drawn carriage. This rather fashionable activity assesses the “Dal’s” inherent skill set that’s required to perform its historic “coaching” function, including endurance, pace, and obedience. Road Dog is about showcasing this breed’s heritage and its natural affinity for working in tandem with horses.

Training for Road Dog focuses on more than just physical stamina and obedience. It includes teaching Dalmatians to navigate different terrain, respond to a variety of commands while in motion, and how to interact safely and effectively in the presence of other animals and myriad distractions. Comprehensive training is needed to prepare a dog for the complexities of the trial course, which may include different landscapes and unanticipated challenges.

Format of the Road Dog Trials

Road Dog Trials are set on courses that mimic traditional carriage routes, often combining road and trail elements. This setting provides a realistic environment for the Dalmatians to demonstrate their coaching abilities. The course design is strategic, aiming to test not only the physical capabilities of the dogs but also their mental agility and their adaptability.

In judging these trials, there’s a focus on the harmony between the dog and the handler, assessing how well the dog responds to the handler’s cues while maintaining its pace and demonstrating its endurance. The judges also look for signs of the dog’s enjoyment and willingness to participate, as these are indicators of the dog’s natural aptitude for the sport. The scoring system in Road Dog Trials is multifaceted, taking into account the precision of the dog’s performance, its consistency throughout the trial, and the quality of its interaction with the handler and the environment.

The approach to judging a Road Dog Trial emphasizes the importance of a well-rounded performance, reflecting the sport’s historical roots and its evolution to become a one-of-a-kind event that honors the unique characteristics of the Dalmatian breed.

Two Dalmatians running with a woman riding a horse while participating in Road Dog Trials.
Photo Credit: Robert Von Mayr

History & Evolution of Road Dog

The sport of Road Dog showcases the Dalmatian’s historic roots as a carriage dog. Although the breed was originally bred for guarding and herding taks, the Dal became distinguished for its useful role alongside horse-drawn vehicles where the dogs excelled due to its remarkable endurance and speed. This breed’s journey from working alongside carriages to becoming the stars of Road Dog Trials is a testament to the breed’s adaptability and the desire of its many supporters to preserve its heritage.

The transition from practical use to competitive sport was driven by enthusiasts who were keen on maintaining and celebrating the Dalmatian’s traditional skills. This led to the creation of Road Dog Trials, where the breed’s abilities can be evaluated in a structured environment. These trials, evolving over time, have gained recognition within the canine sporting community. The establishment of various levels reflects the sport’s commitment to acknowledging different aspects of the Dalmatian’s coaching abilities as well as its acclaimed endurance.

Today, Road Dog Trials are a contemporary sport that tests both the physical and cooperative capabilities of the Dalmatian. It is not only a means of assessing a dog’s endurance and obedience, it also assesses how well it works with its human partners alongside a horse or in a carriage. This pleasurable activity continues to honor the Dalmatian’s historic role, emphasizing its ability to perform accurately and enjoyably in a public setting.

Three Dalmatians running with four people riding horses while participating in Road Dog trials.
Photo Credit: Robert Von Mayr


Road Dog Trials


June 2024 Vol. 32 No. 6

on sale now