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K9 Gladiators Offers Fun for Runners and Their Dogs

At the starting line on a cool morning, the smell of fresh air and country life surrounded me. My dog, Tesla, wagged her tail beside me, her way of insisting that she was ready. But we had to wait.

The previous pair, a young man and his Dalmatian, had left the starting line just moments before, and we had to wait a full three minutes before officials gave us the “go.” The next team after us would wait another three minutes later, and so on.

But we were off, running a flagged route toward the unknown. The first obstacle was a long, muddy pool. It was refreshing, but mud splattered up on us as we went. Tesla hesitated for a second, but quickly joined me with some coaxing.

The rest of the race was peaceful and serene for us, though it was fast and filled with many exciting and challenging obstacles. A couple of teams passed us, and we passed one team, leaving plenty of space along the wide trails each time. At one point, a team just ahead of us lost the course. The runner knew I had a map on me, which I shared. The runner studied it while Tesla and I completed the A-frame obstacle behind them. The team left my map at the trail to pick up when Tesla and I were ready to move on.

Friendly competition, camaraderie, canine-human teamwork, and bonding: That sum’s up this sport, K9 Gladiators. It’s everything I look for in a dog sport — and more.

K9 Gladiators is the brainchild of Cathy Leavitt of Fremont’s Canine Sports Dynamics. (Canine Sports Dynamics sponsors K9 Gladiator events and K9Ratpack!.) Leavitt’s son often competed in Spartan races, and after hearing him rave about the mud-and-obstacle competitions, Leavitt wanted in, too, and thought, “I want to do that with my dog!” So a new and exciting dog sport — K9 Galdiators — was born.

Together with your dog, you as K9 Gladiators tackle obstacles such as long, wooden tunnels, pits of mud, jumps, A-frames, and empty water bottle pits. A course could contain a pit of balls, a maze of hay bales, a plank to walk, a tire to tug, or some other unusual challenge like a “tractor pull.” Together as a team, you and your dog might have to carry tennis balls back and forth between buckets or army crawl through PVC and netting in a swamp. If you or your dog can’t complete a particular obstacle, no problem: Just do the prescribed number of jumping jacks, sit-ups, burpees, or other exercise challenge, and then move along. For the more competitive set, an “extreme recall” race requires dogs to be called from a stay over a wall. jump, a mud pit, and more. Otherwise, everyone can help a shy dog or tired runner complete the challenge at hand with no penalty.

With the vision of an activity everyone can enjoy, K9 Gladiators is dedicated to getting families outside, exercising with their dogs, and having fun together while challenging themselves. Dogs and people of all ages and sizes are welcome, with room for everyone from the more competitive set to the casual “weekend warriors.” The event even includes team competitions for families and groups of friends with dogs.

Become a K9 Gladiator — you can do it. And your dog will thank you for it.

The next K9 Gladiator race is July 14 in Pescadero at Windance Farm. Learn more at

M. Cecilia Sternzon has been a professional dog trainer for over 20 years, and is the principal and founder of Canine Higher Learning (, through which she manages the pet dog training programs at the Humane Society Silicon Valley. She specializes in high energy dogs ( as well as working with dogs and children ( She lives with her family of humans, dogs, cats, horses, and various other beasts on a small farm in San Martin.

K9 Gladiators crawl through tunnels, mud pits, and more, top of page and below. It’s a fun bonding sport for humans and their canines — as long as the mud doesn’t matter.



Main article photo by: Photos by Mike LeCuyer