Updated: Aug 8
On May 30, 2023, we had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Tai DeLuna who, along with her spouse Cayra DeLuna, created Ruff Mudder, a world class event that holds the distinction of being North America's first and only obstacle adventure designed for both dogs and their human companions.
Ruff Mudder, based in Clearview Township in scenic Stayner, Ontario, challenges participants with an exhilarating 5.5 km course laden with over 90 obstacles. Embracing the natural beauty of the landscape, the course winds through forests, across streams, and over open fields, offering a mud-filled, fun-packed experience unlike any other.
Catering to all skill levels, this one-of-a-kind challenge fosters a spirit of adventure and teamwork with your pet. Whether you're a seasoned fitness enthusiast or a fun-loving dog owner looking for a new adventure with your four-legged friend, Ruff Mudder offers an unforgettable experience for everyone.
Dive into our Just Add Rover interview to discover more about the DeLunas and the magic behind Ruff Mudder. The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Q: What inspired you to create this event, and how has it evolved over the years?
A: Cayra and I are avid outdoor girls and participate in extreme mountain events, marathons and half marathons. We would do all our training with our dogs, and then would have to leave them home on race day. We wanted to create an activity-based event where “no dog gets left at home”.
We have a 100-acre farm. We wanted the event to provide our farm financial security and we wanted to diversify away from intensive farming practices.
Over three years we built 5.5 kms of trails, emphasizing the natural obstacles present on our farm. We built obstacles like tunnels, bridges, stiles and jumps.
Each year we got more and bigger obstacles as we learned what dogs enjoyed the most. We scrapped obstacles that people or dogs consistently avoided.
Q: How do you ensure a safe environment at your event? Are there any specific rules or guidelines in place?
I’m a veterinarian and Cayra is a paramedic - safety is always on our minds. We needed Ruff Mudder to be inclusive - most people and most dogs can do the course. Every challenging obstacle has a walk around so dogs and people can choose to skip them if they seem scary. The whole purpose of the event is to spend time with your dog and give them the best day. It isn’t a race, and it isn’t extreme.
We are constantly trying new obstacles ideas. We have crazy border collies and a teeny Jack Russell Terrier cross. If they don’t love the obstacle, it doesn’t make it into the event. If it makes it into the event and isn’t highly rated, then it gets cut.
We’ve set height limitations on obstacles so if a dog jumps, they aren’t going to get hurt.
The course is designed to go from sun to shade to sun to water. The maximum time out in the sun is 300 meters. After you are in the sun the course will take you into a shaded area or into the water. Areas like The Canopy, Burmeister’s Bath, the entire creek area, the Fairy Forest and the Forest Bath cool off participants. Obviously, cooling off means getting wet, muddy or both.
The mud and water are safe but unavoidable. Yep- we have several pictures of big dogs being carried across our creeks!
All dogs must be on leash at all times. The leash must be six feet or shorter. Harnesses are encouraged. No prong collars.
We screen all reactive dogs. People are encouraged to review their pup’s behavior as the event simply might not be enjoyable for them. If the dog is reactive, it must wear a basket muzzle.
Most importantly, our staging area is eight acres. Twenty-five dogs leave the start line every 15 minutes so there is no crowding at staying or along the trails. The trails meander through the remaining 92 acres. There is lots of space. Scaredy dogs are held back a few minutes and leave on their own.
We have a 12,000-sq-foot arena in case of an extreme weather event. We can use this as a cooling area if needed. We put up 10 shade tents and there are several treed areas in Central Bark (the staging area).
The veterinary clinic is located on-site and can provide emergency care to the dogs.
Several paramedics are located around the course and the county firefighters hose everyone off at the finish line. We have a written safety plan with Paramedic Services, the Fire Department, and the Ontario Police.
We have several volunteers on the trails. Everyone has our phone numbers if there’s an incident. We also have a “runner” who spends the entire day running the course and checking on all the volunteers. We have an ATV and a Jeep on standby at Central Bark.
Whew. I think that’s it.
Q: Are there any heartwarming or humorous moments that have happened during previous editions of the event?
A: I cry. Every year. Pure joy! It’s every holiday rolled into one.
One of our favorite dogs was a three-legged lab. She rocked the course in her old age. Her family emailed us when she passed, noting that her Ruff Mudder days were among her best.
We have a blind dog that participates every year. He is one of the happiest dogs I’ve ever met. He loves the obstacles, his owner sets him up for success, and he crosses the finish line knowing he’s the champion.
A trainer attends each year with dogs in her program. She tends to take on the most fearful dogs. They go on the course as a group and when they finish…I cry. Those dogs look so happy. They’ve had an amazing day with their families and have accomplished so much.
Last year a group of mushers entered from the East Coast. A few weeks before the event the organizer’s dog died. He was devastated. His wife got him a puppy - they did the course together with the puppy in a pack. He was the nicest guy on the course and won the Ruff Mudder Spirit Award.
Oh my god. I could go on for pages!
Q: How do you involve the local community and pet-related organizations in your event?
A: We choose a few charities every year. Organizations like Dogtopia come on board because they see this - and they want to be part of a unique event.
We are pretty successful in getting (and keeping) sponsors as we offer creative exposure. We know that their sponsorship has to make ethical and financial sense to them. You will see us linking to our sponsors, giving them shout outs on social media and highlighting each one as we lead up to the event. As we only choose awesome companies as sponsors, we are so proud to have them on board.
We also design our coverage around our sponsor's needs. What Dogtopia needs is different than the Free Spirit Adventure Company based in our town.
We carefully curate our vendors. We select around 30 each year and don’t allow overlap. For example, only one treat maker, only one artist, only one collar maker. This ensures our participants see great dog products and our vendors don’t compete with one another. We only allow locally-owned small businesses to become vendors. This supports our community.
The people in our surrounding towns love the event. They know there isn’t anything like this in the world. The farming community loves that we have successfully diversified. I think it gives everyone hope that the family farm can be saved. The actual Township? It has been a hard road. For years they didn’t know whether to love the event (e.g., tourism dollars) or oppose us (e.g., pushing the boundaries of what a family farm should be). This year we are both a Municipally Significant Event and a Signature Event. So, perseverance paid off!
Q: For those followers of mine who are interested in starting their own unique dog event, what are some tips you have for getting the community’s buy-in?
Be unique. There simply aren’t enough dog-focused events out there. We are at a peak of dog ownership in North America and people are craving places to take their furry family member.
Develop a strong social media presence. Take as many free classes as you can on how to market your event effectively and cheaply.
Beg, borrow and barter for the services of talented people. Unfortunately, your event has to look good for people to be interested. If you don’t know how to do this then you need someone who can teach you or do it for you. If you don’t know how to recruit volunteers, then you need to find someone who does. Figure out how to make it really worthwhile for people to help you!
Continually promote the event as belonging to the community. Meet with businesses to see how you can direct participants to their stores (e.g., have your local bakery produce doggy cupcakes, have the bookstore have puppy readings, and promote a local photographer). If the community benefits from your event, they will have a vested interest in your success.
Develop a clear plan as to why you are doing this and what you hope to achieve. It’s absolutely ok if what you want to do is make money (I think women entrepreneurs feel guilty about this). We wanted to create an event where people could bring their dogs and be active. Yet, we had huge bills on our family farm. Ruff Mudder raises a lot of money for charities but it has also helped us retain our farm.
Protect your brand! Trademark your event, your logo and your name. You are creating something unique. You don’t want to lose it or have poor impersonators. The more unique you are the more chance someone else will see the potential.
Don’t be afraid to start out small but always, always aim for the stars.
Q: What were your biggest pain points in starting this venture?
A: Hmmm. Weirdly enough the early years were the easiest. We loved building the obstacles and the trails. We didn’t expect to raise a lot of money. We didn’t expect a lot of people to attend. Every year we just got bigger and bigger.
Every year getting insurance and the proper permits are the biggest pain points. I can’t stress this enough - you have to have insurance! We both worry about the what ifs and every potential event developer has to do the same.
Q: Do you have any tips or advice for first-time attendees who are bringing their dogs to your event?
A: We have a FAQ on our website, and we send out a “what to expect and what to bring email” to every participant. I swear no one reads them!
My biggest tips:
This day is about giving your dog the best day. It isn’t about being the fastest or getting the muddiest.
The winners are the person and dog with the biggest smiles.
Bring water. Bring a collapsible bowl for your dog.
Wear comfy clothes and shoes.
Show up with a smile.
Trust that we have everything planned
Q: Are there any plans for future expansions or improvements to the event?
A: We have been asked to franchise so this will likely happen. It just has to happen on our terms.
We change the course every year. Every year we put in new obstacles. I’d like to hire more people! This is an important way to support our community - and boy do we need to share the work!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Just Add Rover. While we strive to present accurate and reliable information, Just Add Rover does not endorse, approve, or certify such information, nor does it guarantee the accuracy, completeness, efficacy, timeliness, or correct sequencing of such information.
© 2023 Just Add Rover. All rights reserved. This interview has been conducted for www.justaddrover.com and is protected by copyright law. Reproduction of the interview, in whole or in part, is prohibited without prior written consent from Just Add Rover.