Charles Bukowski once said: “One day at a racetrack can teach you more than four years at any university.” He was speaking about the walks of life at the track as well as complexities of betting. And you can bet he knew how to win money at the dog track, at least some of the time.
Winning money at the dog track is one of those elusive tasks, like beating the sportsbook or drawing a royal flush, that some people dedicate their lives to. Like those tasks, pulling it off is a rare feat, made even sweeter by its rarity. That’s not to say you can’t win a race here and there; it’s consistently winning money on the dogs that’s tough to accomplish.
I can’t offer you a golden ticket to non-stop dog betting success, with sports betting strategy in general or at the dog track. But I can lay out some basic ideas on how to win money betting on dogs. This post contains all the best information I have about winning more often at the racetrack.
How to Win Money at the Dog Track: Make Simple Bets
Experienced track bettors can load up on trifectas and superfectas, pulling off complicated wagers with seeming ease. These guys make you want to bet like them.
But, honestly, most of us can’t hack it.
Winning money at the dog track starts with making simple bets. That means “to win” or win bets. The easiest way to win money is to bet on the best dog in a race to win.
And about 1/3 of the time, the best animal overall wins. It’s an easy wager. It’s easy to handicap with the free information you have in your hands. And you’ll win often enough to keep things interesting.
Let’s say you’re betting on a typical 10-race program. Out of those 10 races, you should only find 3 or 4 dominant dogs. About 60% of races have no clear favorite. They’re definitely not clear enough for someone just getting started winning money on dogs.
After a few trips to the track, you should gain experience to where you can pick maybe 5 or 6 races out of 10 with enough success to keep you in the game.
As simple as it seems, that’s all there is to getting better at winning money on the dogs. Start small, bet only on races with a clear favorite, and watch as many races as you can stand to gain experience. Eventually, you’ll be ready to try some more complex betting.
How to Win Money at the Dog Track: Do Some Basic Handicapping
Most bettors start out by analyzing the speed of dogs, information that’s made freely and publicly available at every track. Speed is the top-line statistic for racing dogs, and for obvious reasons. But most bettors learn quickly that speed isn’t the only factor.
You can look up dog’s “best times,” and compare information about that best time run to the current conditions where you’re betting. This is a better way to handicap a race than simply looking at a dog’s speed figures. But it still leaves out some crucial elements that go toward determining a racing dog’s success.
When you only look at “best time” or speed, you’re ignoring the big impact of other factors like weather, the dog’s mood, the atmosphere, and the track condition.
Dog Psychology at the Track
Looking at a dog’s speed is only meaningful if you’re also able to gauge a dog’s ability to catch a break.
You have to sprinkle in something of the dog’s unknowable psychology.
How determined to win is the dog?
Is it able to run where it wants and at the speed and pace it likes?
Knowing the animals’ preferences is as much a part of handicapping as speed statistics. Understanding how a dog’s box draw affects the dog is important – some dogs like to be on the inside, some on the outside, and some go all over the place. Comparing a dog’s box draw to its preferences can give you a lot of information. The same goes for track conditions. Some dogs like a little mud, others like the ground to be totally dry.
Knowing these things takes time and exposure. But any amount of insight you can glean based on the factors outlined above will help you handicap a race. Looking past a dog’s pure speed will give you a leg-up on the betting public.
Bet with a Positive Expectation
I’m not being glib.
The key to winning money at the dog track is to make good bets.
Obviously, to win money consistently at the dog track you have to pick winning dogs.
You should only be betting on dogs that give you a positive expectation. That just means you should only back dogs that have a better chance of winning than their odds indicate, at least by your handicapping system.
Let’s say you’ve found a dog that you work out to have a 15% chance of winning. You notice he’s listed at 12/1. That’s implied odds of 7.69%. If this dog was listed at your handicapped odds, he’d be getting 5/1 or 6/1. Boom – that’s a huge positive expectation.
Real-world examples won’t always be so extreme. I’m used to seeing discrepancies more in the range of 5-10%, but I used an extreme example to illustrate the point.
You can work this system in reverse, too. A dog listed at 3/1 has an implied 25% chance of winning. If your own handicapping indicates a chance of more like 15 or 20%, this is a negative expectation bet. Your own odds of the dog winning are lower than what’s offered by the track. You fade this dog.
Avoid the Gambler’s Fallacy
Preparing to write this post, I read a piece of academic research on the subject of dog race betting and statistical bias. It’s called “Biases in Assessments of Probabilities: New Evidence from Greyhound Races,” and it was put together by Dek Terrell for the Journal of Risk & Uncertainty.
Terrell found “overwhelming evidence that the gambler’s fallacy exists among [Greyhound] bettors.” One of his findings was that dogs in the 7th position are overvalued due to the psychological perception of 7 as a lucky number.
Superstitions affect betting patterns, and that’s completely ridiculous.
The gambler’s fallacy is a belief that the outcome of an independent event is somehow affected by other events. In layman’s terms, believing that a coin flip will most likely not be tails because it was tails after the last flip. The gambler’s fallacy drives lots of bad gambling habits, from thinking of slot machines as “hot or cold” to using garbage bet manipulation strategies in blackjack and roulette.
Avoiding the Gambler’s Fallacy at the Dog Track
At the dog track, avoiding the gambler’s fallacy means ignoring the impulse to believe that a dog is more or less likely to win just because they won or lost in their last race.
There’s a big difference between looking at a dog’s past performance in the context of track conditions and other factors and just using the gambler’s fallacy to write off a recent winner or loser.
Remember that paper I cited earlier?
It contained another gem of dog betting information:
Bettors consistently underestimate the probability of a repeat win by a dog in the post position of the last winning race. The author blamed all of these misconceptions and misfires by dog track bettors on “misperceptions of the laws of probability.”
Basically, most bettors make dumb choices based on things besides the positive or negative expectation of a bet. You can avoid this by considering each dog independently, using good stats and trends to inform your handicapping, and keeping away from any strategy with an air of superstition.
Remember what Charles Bukowski said about the racetrack – it’s “just another JOB, finally, and a hard one, too. When I sense this and I am at my best, I simply leave the track. When I sense this and I am not at my best, I go on making bad bets.” I’m not sure I 100% agree with his estimation of dog track betting as a job, but I get what he’s saying, and I think there’s wisdom in that one sentence.
Winning money at the dog track is hard. The odds are always against you, and the animals are tougher to handicap than college athletes, moody and mercurial, more at the whim of nature and psychology than even racing horses.
Sticking to the tips in this post will help you avoid big mistakes that lose money and accentuate habits that make you more likely to win at the dog track.