The setting: A sunny July day at a prep school running track in Los Angeles. The players: One man and 45 dogs. The goal: Set a new world record for most dogs walked simultaneously by one person.
It was, Bob Morris says now, “an adorable mess.”
Morris, 31, is the professional dog-walker who attempted the feat earlier this month. He typically walks no more than four dogs at a time, pausing along the way to shoot Instagram photos and videos of his charges. But he says he didn’t hesitate when a client asked him to to try to break the five-year-old Guinness record, which involved 35 dogs.
How hard could it be?
At his wife’s urging, Morris said he watched a few YouTube videos of past failures to break the record. He figured he could improve on their plans with a better leash and well-chosen dogs. So he “grabbed a bunch of rope and a bunch of carabiners at Home Depot,” he said, and fashioned one long lead to which the dogs were attached two-by-two.
There were 45 dogs of various sizes, because Morris said he also learned from the videos that some pooches might drop out, and therefore he needed “a buffer.” Most belonged to his clients, and Morris said he believed just getting them all to the track on time would be his biggest challenge.
“My overall, complete arrogance, it typifies the whole world around us. Just your standard white man thinking he can’t fail,” Morris, the owner of Yo! Dogwalker, said in an interview. “I never thought I couldn’t do it.”
The dogs, however, didn’t seem to get the memo.
They didn’t like walking on the surface of the track — which they’d need to do in laps for one kilometer — “so they were all running,” Morris said. They got tangled, and some slipped out of their harnesses. There were football tackling dummies in the middle of the track; some dogs charged them. A goldendoodle was a particular troublemaker.
Dog owners tried to help, Morris said, but that would disqualify the whole attempt: To satisfy Guinness rules, only Morris could touch the leash.
And the laps? “Every corner was a disaster,” Morris said.
The client who put Morris up to the task works for SuperDeluxe, a company that makes quirky videos on topics such as “The History of Pooping.” It also made a video on the dog-walking record attempt, which is at the top of this post, and which nods to the still-current record holder: Joseph Orsino Jr. of Pittsburgh.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Orsino said the secrets to his success were “the grace of God” and his own gift of communicating with dogs. Also, he noted, it is crucial that he is not just a dog-walker, but a professional dog trainer with decades of experience.
Orsino said he knew from a young age that he had a way with dogs. In high school, he was a champion dogsled musher. During the Vietnam War, he was an army K-9 trainer. Today, Mr. O’s Dog Training promises to educate its pupils in one day, and it also offers a special class for dogs that have been assigned roles in weddings, like ring-bearer.
So in 2011, trying to set a Guinness World Record for dog-walking “just seemed like the thing to do,” Orsino said.
The plan was to walk on a trail with 20 big dogs in front of him and 15 small ones behind. To make that happen, Orsino said he had a leash specially made “by an Amish guy.” He did a few practice runs.
On the day of the official attempt, it was raining. And the dogs spread out to his sides, making their party 28 feet wide and ruling out the possibility of a trail walk. So they walked in circles for a kilometer, getting soaked.
“We had to turn the dogs,” he said. “It was a difficult time, it really was.”
But he did it. Orsino said in his case, unlike that of Morris, getting all the dogs in one place was in fact the hardest part. Getting the canines to cooperate? No biggie.
“It wasn’t just walking. It was communication,” he said. “All those dogs and myself, we were working together as a team. So when I stopped, they stopped. It wasn’t just me dragging them around on a rope.”
Out in California, Morris said he plans to give it another shot.
“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t want to go down like this.”