By Fran Buell, APDT
Bare Paw Dog Obedience
If you are one of those dog owners who has not taught your dog to properly heel when out for a walk, you probably experience the strength your dog exhibits as he forges ahead of you, practically dragging you down the street.
Unknown to many dog owners, the power of dogs, from the tiny Yorkshire terrier to the massive St. Bernard, is channeled into a competition called weight pulling, where the dog is taught to use his strength with the use of a specially fitted freight harness and a cart. Safety of the dog is important. First of all, a properly fitted freight harness, age- and breed- appropriate weight training and aerobic conditioning are among the essentials of this strenuous sport.
Entrants in a weight pull are divided into classes based on the weight of the dog. The dog has 60 seconds to pull a weighted cart or sled 16 feet. The weight is set according to conditions, dog size and level of training.
The American Pulling Alliance, which holds weight- pulling competitions, has 13 levels of rules and regulations, from membership, equipment and rail area specifications to eligibility, pull procedures and point systems. Most competitions are open to all dogs, not just giant breeds. The top 25 winning dogs in the 20-pound weight class include a Boston terrier, Jack Russell terrier and a Yorkshire terrier. In the 150-pound weight class, the top 25 winning dogs include the St. Bernard, Alaskan Malamute and the Cane Corso mastiff.
Weight pulling provides fun and exercise for the dog and owner. Training begins at about 4 months when the owner introduces the harness to the pup. The harness is put on so the pup can pull it around and become accustomed to the tug associated with it. Once the puppy is comfortable with the harness, weight is added on the end of a 15-foot cotton rope.
During this time, the pup also begins basic obedience to help the dog focus and obey commands such as stay and come. This is important, as the dog must stay in one spot until the command is given to come. The dog must then pull the weight steadily, without stopping until commanded to do so. When the pup has completed each of these exercises, it is important to give plenty of praise and an occasional treat.
Once the dog understands what is wanted of him, the owner continues training and conditioning the dog. The owner builds up the dog's pulling strength gradually until he is pulling his own body weight 20 to 30 yards at a time. The training schedule then changes to shorter, heavier pulls inserted once or twice a week. This helps condition the dog's body so there are no injuries to muscles, ligaments or tendons. It is important to make sure that the training is slow and the dog is not pushed too hard. The dog's strength capacity for pulling weighted carts will be reached as the dog's body strength is increased.
Weight-pulling competitions are carried out all year round throughout the United States. Questions? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy training.