A small group of Dalmatian fanciers across the United States dedicates much of its spare time to taking the famously spotted dogs back to their roots as endurance athletes that protected carriages as they traversed the countryside. These people run, bike and ride horses with their dogs, keeping track of how much ground they cover each year – in miles.

‘Toby’ keeps Rosie Branaman company as she runs a 5K. Running helps keep Ch. Choco Chip Mystic Moon CD RE OF AX AXJ in shape for the conformation, obedience, rally and agility rings. Photo courtesy of Rosie Branaman.

Rosie Branaman, a histotech at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine and chair of the Dalmatian Club of America Distance Log Program, lives with four Dalmatians who do their best to keep up with her running program. Nine-year-old GCh. Choco Chip TCJ Bon Voyage RN, ‘Aruba,’ has been her major running partner for years and still shows actively. The 2004 Dalmatian Club of America Best in Futurity winner recently won Best of Opposite Sex in the Veterans class at the Greater Twin Cities Dalmatian Club.

Ch. Choco Chip Mystic Moon CD RE OF AX AXJ, ‘Toby,’ may be a runner, too, but he’s also titled in obedience, rally and agility, as you can tell by the string of letters after his name. He’s 8, and still going strong. Four-year-old ‘Reebok,’ Ch. Choco Chip Ready to Run, nicknamed after the athletic shoe company as you probably guessed, was Winners Bitch at the 2010 National Specialty and 2009’s Best in Futurity. Last but not least in this running pack is 13-month-old Choco Chip Paisley Bring on the Rain, ‘Weather.’

Branaman got into Dalmatians after competing in obedience with her first American Kennel Club-registered dog, a German Shepherd. “I decided I wanted to do conformation,” she says. Thinking she wouldn’t be competitive with the professional handlers so prevalent in German Shepherds, she started looking for a long-lived, short-coated, active breed that she could show herself, finally settling on the Dalmatian. Branaman knew she needed an active breed to keep her company on her runs. When her first Dalmatian was old enough, Branaman jumped into agility as well.

GCh. Choco Chip TCJ Bon Voyage RN, ‘Aruba,’ still shows in the Veterans Class and runs with Branaman. Photo by Turley Photography.

She’d already been in the breed for eight or nine years when the DCA Distance Log Program began. “I was already running and occasionally running with my dogs,” Branaman says. “That’s one of the reasons I got into Dalmatians in the first place.” She’s run a marathon, some half marathons, and lots of 5K and 10K runs. She says it’s “pretty common” for the shorter races to allow dogs to run with their owners. “I enjoy having them out in public, having people see them.” Two races near her home in Ames, Iowa, “encourage” dogs’ participation, she says.

This year, about 25 DCA members are tracking the miles they travel with their dogs. “It’s the person’s mileage that is tallied,” Branaman explains. “It’s encouraging you to be out doing things with the dogs.” She’s been in the program for almost 10 years now, logging 718 miles in 2008, 1,069 in 2009, but only 323 in 2010 because she broke her leg in an agility class that year. Since 2003, she’s covered 5,354 miles while walking, running, riding her bike and occasionally riding a horse with one or more of her dogs.

“I’m on the higher end,” she says. “We have people who do 100 miles in a year.”

On the other end of the spectrum, though, is Lori McCrone, with a cumulative total of 11,960 miles. She rides six miles almost every day with 11-year-old ‘Kellie,’ Paisley’s Irish Belle CGC CD RE TRC (a Canadian road dog title), and 6-year-old ‘Dooley,’ Empire’s Dark Irish Hero.

People join the distance program for two reasons, Branaman says: They know it’s good for the dog, but it’s also good for them.

It’s particularly good for the Dalmatians, she says. “It’s a very good outlet for them. I think they’re comfortable doing it. They’re bodies are built for it. They’re a moderate-sized breed.” Plus, it’s “controlled exercise,” so it’s pretty easy on the dogs physically. In addition, “the working out is definitely good for conformation for a breed that should look effortless trotting around the ring,” she says.

Krash,’ GCh. Choco Chip Krash Asteroid RN CA puts in some miles with his owner Jordan Cartwright. Krash was Best of Breed at the 2012 Dalmatian Club of America National Specialty. Photo courtesy of Jordan Cartwright.

In addition to walking, running or cycling, members can rack up miles while four-wheeling, driving a horse-drawn cart or carriage, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or while training for and competing in DCA road trials.

Each year, members earn bronze, silver or gold tokens as awards for covering 100, 250 or 500 miles, respectively. A platinum award recognizes those reaching 1,000 miles over a period of years, with subsequent 1,000-mile accumulations leading to Platinum II, Platinum III, etc. All are listed in the DCA’s “Spotter” annually.

As to why more of the nearly 1,000 DCA members don’t participate, Branaman says people just don’t have time to keep the records. That’s not a problem for her, though. “I enjoy keeping track of the mileage. Being a runner, I like numbers.”

Reebok is Branaman’s 4-year-old Dalmatian, who is also a conformation champion and a runner. Photo courtesy Rose Branaman.

Despite its size, Branaman says the program is “a fun way to encourage people to do mileage with their dogs, and they get them out in the public when they do it.”

Membership in the DCA Distance Log Program may be set for a growth spurt, however. Branaman says she’s been hearing from breeders that more people are getting them specifically to be running partners, as well as pets. In fact, one breeder told her that every puppy she’s sold recently has been to a running family.

In the meantime, if you see someone running or biking with a Dalmatian, give a friendly wave. A little encouragement never hurts.

To learn more about the Dalmatian Club of America Distance Log program, click here.

Part 2 of this article, about DCA Road Trials, will be published on Saturday, September 29, 2012.