They may be low to the ground and not fast as a greyhound, but dachshund races are quick to capture our hearts and lift our spirits.
Wiener dog races have become the highlight of many area festivals because – gosh, darn it – they are just so cute. And they put a stamp of authenticity to area Oktoberfests almost as much as a stein of beer.
Doxie racing first started in Australia, just for fun, in the 1970s along with whippet and afghan hound racing. Racing dachshunds really became popular after a 1993 Miller Lite TV commercial featured odd sports and the appearance of the documentary “Wiener Takes All” about the Wiener Nationals circuit. The University of California/Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has held a Doxie Derby for more than 30 years as a fundraiser for veterinary students.
Most races are part of city events or fundraisers. The dogs leap – or not – out of a starting box and run down marked lanes (but do not always stay in those lanes) encouraged on by squeaky toys held by their owners at the finish line some 50 to 100 feet away. Most events now require entrants be 100 percent dachshund as there have been groans from the audience when a long-legged “dachshund” won a race. Some have added mixed breed dachshund races.
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In Texas, the Buda Lions Club trademarks itself as “The Weiner Dog Capital of Texas.” It sponsored its 20th Annual Buda Wiener Dog Races in late April. Originally, a county fair, there are barbecue and fajita cookoffs, a bakeoff, arts and crafts, but it is the wiener dog races that attracts more than 20,000 people to this city 20 minutes outside of Austin.
“And most of those are not Buda residents,” says Nancy Handrick, coordinator of the wiener race. Every year there is a theme with accompanying T-shirt, which is a best seller overseas. Visitors come from all over the U.S.
Along with the race is the costume parade – both dog and owner. “We start getting calls in January asking what our theme is so they can start on their costumes. We don’t even decide until March.”
While the dogs are fun to watch, so are the owners encouraging them on with their favorite squeaky toy. Those handlers are kept busy, explains Handrick. They set their dog up in the 3-foot-by-3-foot box, then run to the side to get the dog’s attention to run on cue and beat it down to the finish line with the squeaky toy.
“In the beginning the handlers were on the finish line, but the dogs would stop before they got to the finish line and wouldn’t cross over. So, we started putting the handlers 10 feet beyond the finish line. And yes, some owners have built a little box at home and train all year long,” she says.
And why do dachshunds run? “Well, I think the dogs like to run,” says Handrick, “… and their owners can win $500 and a 5-foot-tall trophy, which is hard to get in the car.”
Fort Worth has its own wiener dog races at Oktoberfest Fort Worth, sponsored by the Trinity River Vision Authority, September 21-23, at The Shack at Panther Island Pavilion. Limited to 50 entries, the dogs first participate in the costume parade at noon Saturday and the races begin at 1 p.m. Entry fee is $5 which benefits the Humane Society of North Texas.
“The races have been a hit from the start,” says Shanna Cate, Trinity River Vision Authority programming and development manager. “It is very informal. Everyone in the audience gets involved and cheering on their favorite.”
Randi Proffitt Leyva of Fort Worth has already entered her 5-year-old Chickis, which she believes will be a winner this year. In previous tries she has placed first in her heat, but lost in the finals.
Leyva first learned about dachshund racing through YouTube videos. “I had just gotten my dachshund puppy and I bonded with my then boss who had a dachshund. We would relax and destress by watching the races on video. It was so cute. I just knew Chickis would do well. She runs fast on her little 2-inch legs and she is glued to me. I knew she would do everything to run to me.”
She first entered Chickis in Oktoberfest Fort Worth two years ago. Chickis has also raced at Fort Woof Dog Park. Why are dachshunds good at racing? “They are hounds so they are prey-driven. They like to dart and chase anything moving. And the races are so entertaining. With their short legs and long bodies, it makes everyone smile. When my husband, Victor, walks Chickis, people light up.”
Oktoberfest Fort Worth bills itself as so authentic you will forget you are in Texas. Enjoy authentic German food, biergartens, music, dancing, clothing and souvenirs. A midway has been added this year, according to Matt Oliver, communications manager. More information on tickets, activities and registering for the wiener race is at www.oktoberfestfw.com.
If you can’t get enough wiener dog racing, take in the Oktoberfest sponsored by the Southlake Chamber of Commerce, October 6-8, at Southlake Town Square. Only the first 200 all-dachshund entries will be accepted. There is a $20 registration fee.
A costume parade of the entries (with owners) begins at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 7, which, says Mark Guilbert, president and CEO of Southlake Chamber of Commerce, “is equivalent to a model walking down the runway. It’s impossible not to giggle.” The races begin at 10 a.m. followed by an Oktoberfest parade around the square – a second chance to see the dogs and some dignitaries.
The event, now in its 16th year, added the wiener dog racing “at lease since 2005,” said Guilbert, “and it is the biggest hit of the event.” He noted that one owner sent along a video of his dog training, “which was basically the dog running in a pasture.”
During the three-day event, there is lots to do with a Family Fun Zone from toddler to young adults, beer tasting booth, handcrafted arts and crafts, lots of food and live entertainment. More than 100,000 people are expected to attend. There are no admission or parking fees. Parking and shuttle service is available at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church. All the details are at http://www.southlakechamber.com/oktoberfest-home.
A Feast of Festivals
• Oktoberfest Fort Worth, September 21-23, 2017, The Shack, Panther Island, Fort Worth www.oktoberfestfw.com
• Autumn at Dallas Arboretum, September 23-November 22, 8525 Garland Road, Dallas www.dallasarboretum.com
• State Fair of Texas, September 29-October 22, Fair Park, Dallas https://bigtex.com
• Oktoberfest in Southlake, October 6-8, Southlake Town Square http://www.southlakechamber.com/oktoberfest-home
• South Street Art Festival, October 13-15, Arlington Downtown District www.southstreetartfestival.com
• Frontier Fall Fest at Log Cabin Village, October 21, 2100 Log Cabin Village Lane, Fort Worth, www.logcabinvillage.org
• Japanese Garden Fall Festival, October 28-29, Japanese Gardens, Fort Worth Botanic Garden http://www.fwbg.org/events