We went to Dog Bowl!
Dubbed ‘the dog Olympics,’ the Frankenmuth Dog Bowl in Michigan might be the most interactive pet festival yet.
With 25 different events to enter, the 13th annual Dog Bowl in Michigan is more about pup participation than many dog festivals. And not just because it’s a marathon to experience. Tie on your comfortable shoes, you’ll be here for hours – or two days. Dog Bowl runs annually Saturday and Sunday the US Memorial Day Weekend in May. (Check out more pet festivals here).
That means, my dog Victor and I headed south, not north, May two-four weekend.
Crossing the Canadian/US border, the agent asks me, “Where are you headed?”
“Frankenmuth,” I answer.
“To the dog festival?” he asks.
Wait, it’s that well known?
“It’s pretty big,” he says.
Frankenmuth Dog Bowl is one of many annual festivals this small German-themed town promotes while attracting millions of visitors per year. Dog Bowl is popular. Housed in the middle of the touristy River Place Shops, a ‘village’ of boutique stores punctuated by water features, Dog Bowl is ironically more about fun than shopping.
Yes, there are vendors of homemade doggie accessories and dog treats – my dog Victor’s haul was a collar flower (a style I hadn’t seen before), more bow ties and his favorite: chicken jerky. And there are rescues selling gear to fundraise, and even a few corporate sponsors promoting food, dog treats and flea and tick prevention.
The star attraction is the long list of events: Border Collie sheep herding, Rock N Roll K9 agility performance and International Disc Dog Competition. Some events have a fee, but otherwise admission and parking are free.
Advanced sign-up is required to complete in the DockDogs Diving competition, but you can participate without pre-sign up in the lure course, barn hunt, 25 or 50 yard big and little dog dash, leash-free zone (Victor’s favourite) or Saturday Pet Parade along the streets of Frankenmuth.
I’ll admit, it’s fun stopping traffic along Frankenmuth’s busy main street during Dog Bowl Pet Parade at 1 pm on Saturday. Escorted beginning and end by a police car – yes, that’s right, lights flashing – about two hundred dogs and their people ‘paraded’ from the River Place parking lot, over the historic wooden covered bridge (also a feature of Frankenmuth) and back to the festival.
Our newly acquired dog stroller came in handy (affiliate link) – Victor damaged his other ACL last fall and he’s too old for surgery. He’s also aging, so he got pushed along the parade route because we likely wouldn’t have made it otherwise. Victor tolerated the stroller … until he didn’t. Typical Victor style, when he wanted out, he wanted out.
What about other not so athletic pups? They line up for Dog Bowl King & Queen awards, canine costume contest, silly pet tricks, and canine howling/talking contest.
A bonus contributing to the huge crowd is the simultaneously running Hot Air Balloon Festival and Competition. This event usually sees a dozen or more hot air balloons take flight Friday evening, and Saturday and Sunday mornings – weather permitting. Unfortunately, during the incredibly wet 2019 Memorial Weekend we attended, weather did not permit.
Rain also docked the Bavarian Belle tour boat. River water was too high to board, so there were no tours on either Saturday or Sunday. Even the special Canine Boat Cruise scheduled for 10 am Sunday morning was kiboshed. Spending Sunday afternoon on the Bavarian Belle was on the agenda this trip because the Bavarian Belle is dog-friendly every day – not only during Dog Bowl.
I guess we’ll just have to visit Frankenmuth again.
TRAVEL GUIDE: Michigan is very-dog friendly and Frankenmuth must be so during Dog Bowl. Stores lining Main Street are mostly dog-friendly including the White House and Abby’s clothing. Frankenmuth Clock Company is the place for traditional German works of mechanical art. A visit to Frankenmuth Cheese Haus is almost mandatory, as is driving further south to the iconic Bronner’s Christmas Shop, one of the biggest holiday and collectible store likely on the planet.
During Dog Bowl, all stores in River Place Shops allowed pups to weave in and out. Think primarily gift boutiques such as the Enchanted Forest, Yankee Candle Co., Tervis drinkware, and Hello Cats & Dogs, understandably popular this weekend. Winding brick walkways link each store and waterfall ponds entertained water-loving breeds.
There are many places to stay in the heart of Frankenmuth but not many are pet-friendly. Holiday Inn Express and Drury Inn & Suites are two downtown allowing dogs; otherwise you’ll have to stay at Saginaw about a 15-minute drive away, like we did, where there’s a Red Roof Inn, Knights Inn and Super 8 by Wyndham.