- Take your dog to his veterinarian for a check up. You want to be positive that your dog is physically sound and capable of pulling weight. Veterinary clearance is essential to your dog's health and safety.
- Be sure your dog has a solid training foundation. He should pay attention to you, respond quickly to your commands and know the basics: sit, down, stay and walking nicely on lead in heel position. If his foundation isn't solid, consider taking a basic obedience class before you begin draft work.
- Learn the other commands and skills your dog will need to know for draft work and begin to teach him those commands.
- Don't be in a hurry. There's a lot for your dog to learn, and a lot of equipment for him to get used to. He'll need to learn in very small steps. It may be several weeks before you can actually hook him up to a cart.
- Remember that dogs should not pull any weight until they are physically mature. If you start training with a pup, acclimation to equipment and dragging light loads (like an empty paper bag or milk jug) should be his limit.
- Keep it light and have fun! Your most important role as a handler is to make sure your dog feels safe and enjoys what he is doing!
Frequently Asked Questions
Carting is a sport that can be enjoyed by dogs of any breed and any size. Sheltie, St. Bernard, Maltese or Malamute -- with proper equipment, handling and training, all can be taught to safely pull a cart or wagon.
Dogs can learn to cart at any age but must not pull any weight until and unless they are physically mature and sound. (For Bernese Mountain Dogs, this means two years of age.) Please check with your breed's drafting recommendations and your veterinarian before you ask your dog to pull weight. The Wilczek Woodworks Training Wheels are an ideal lightweight training apparatus for dogs of all ages.
If you're just starting out, you'll need a harness designed specifically for carting and custom fitted for your dog. We recommend a set of lightweight "training wheels" or a small competition cart (if your dog is mature), and, of course, a collar and lead. Wilczek Woodworks' Carting Starter Kit includes the basic apparatus you'll need; the training wheels (included) can be fitted with a freight box for novice competitions or for hauling small loads around the yard.
Dogs need to have basic obedience skills in order to start carting. Sit, down, stay, walking in heel position, good attention and reliable response to commands are essential. If your dog doesn't have those skills, consider a basic obedience class.
Once basic skills are mastered, carting training can begin. We recommend training with the help and direction of an experienced instructor or seasoned handler. If this is not possible, we have available several good instructional books. The training is progressive -- you can't just hook your dog up to a cart. He must be acclimated to all of the equipment, the concept of pulling, the "confinement" of walking between the shafts, and so on. He'll also have to learn some skills that don't come naturally -- like backing up, and turning by crossing his front legs.
There is no clear answer to this question. Your dog's conditioning, physical soundness, age, the apparatus, the temperature and humidity, and the surface on which you will be working all impact the amount of weight that can be pulled.
We sell only Siwash type harnesses, which allow freedom of movement for the dog's shoulders. They also distribute the weight of the object being pulled more evenly than other types of harnesses. Initially, they are more difficult to put on but the effort is worth it. Band-type harnesses are available at discount sources but they can put unnecessary & potentially dangerous stresses on your dog. We sell what is safest for your dog.
A cart has two wheels and a wagon has four wheels. It is easier to train a dog to pull a cart, as it is lighter and more maneuverable than a wagon. Most people use carts for competition work. A wagon is more stable than a cart and weight distribution does not affect the dog as much as in a cart. In a cart, it is critical that its load be centered over the axle so that the shafts are properly balanced and not pushing down too hard or pulling up on the dog's harness. A wagon is also much more practical for hauling children, firewood, groceries, etc. Either apparatus can be used for fun such as parades and exercising your dog. We recommend only using wagons for pulling children.
A tree (a.k.a. wiffle tree or singletree) is used to convert the pulling force of the two traces attached to the dog's harness to a single point on the apparatus being pulled. It keeps the traces from pinching the dogs haunches. It also acts as a shock absorber between the moving dog and the pulled equipment. It moves up and down and swivels back and forth, smoothing out the forces exherted on and by the dog. We highly recommend always using a tree to protect your dog by smoothing out all the stresses created by both a moving dog and the equipment he is pulling.
The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America, Newfoundland Club of America, Saint Bernard Club of America, Mastiff Club of America, North American Bouvier Association and American Working Collie Association have draft test regulations and offer drafting titles. The AKC does not have drafting regulations at this time. Some clubs will allow other breeds to enter their competitions. Be sure to contact the test sponsor to see if your dog will be permitted to compete.
Brace refers to two dogs working together and located next to each other.
Cart shafts must keep the equipment upright in addition to being used by the dog for turning and braking. It is recommended that three shafts be used for safe brace work. Each dog will have its own outside shaft and share the inside or center shaft.
Wagon shafts do not balance the load which is stable because the wagon has four wheels. The most common brace wagon set up is one single center brace shaft. This works well if the dogs are within 2 inches of each other in height. There is a loss of breaking power on big hills or heavy loads. This is also the least expensive brace system. The four shaft system is more expensive. Each dog has their own set of shafts for great braking and comfort when the dogs are of different heights.
Shafts that are the correct length will be more comfortable and make turning easier for your dog. If the shafts are too short or if the dog is too far back in the shafts, your dog may clip his heels on the tree when he kicks out with his back legs. This is important to check when the cart or wagon with weight is pushing forward as when going downhill or braking.
If you have more than one dog, use the larger dog for setting shaft length. A smaller dog can comfortably use shafts that are a bit longer than necessary but not the other way around.
Wooden cart shafts can be moved forward or backward where they are attached to the box of the cart. Wooden wagon shafts are custom made for your dog and their length can not easily be adjusted.
Lightweight Steel or Aluminum shaft length can be adjusted in several ways. Remove the end caps and shorten the shafts by cutting off a section of pipe. This can be done with a hack saw but a plumber's copper tube cutter will leave a much smoother edge. Tube cutters are available from good hardware stores for ~$10. Remember, you can always cut off more but can not replace pipe that has already been removed.
Example: If your dog has 18 inches of extra space between his out stretched heel and the tree when it is pulled forward with the traces, start with only removing 4 inches of pipe. Use the newly shortened shafts for a while before any additional shortening.
Do not forget to re-adjust your brakes and traces.
The harness shaft loops are always on the shafts in front of the brakes. Be sure that the length of shaft in front of the brakes is appropriate for your dog. When viewed from the side, the end of the shafts should be about even with the front of the chest or point of the shoulder. If the brakes are too far back, the shaft tips will catch on things or poke people standing close to the dog. If the brakes are too far forward, the short shaft tips will poke into the dog when turning.
The traces attach the dog to the tree of the cart or wagon and do the pulling work. They should always be of equal length and holding the tree out from the cart or wagon when the dog is standing still. When the dog is pulling, they should only allow about an inch of shaft loop slippage forward of the brakes on the shafts. If the traces are too long, the shaft loops will slide too far forward when the dog is pulling. In the extreme, the shaft loops will pull right off of the ends of the shafts. When the dog stops or goes down hill, the cart or wagon will roll forward until the brakes stop it. This additional movement and resulting momentum ends up exerting a harder force on the harness shaft loops and therefore, the dog.
If the traces are too short, the dog in harness appears hung between the brakes and the tree. There would be no shaft loop slippage forward when the dog is pulling. This would make the harness chafe and continually exert uncomfortable harness braking forces on the dog.
I was asked if I could explain how to adjust shaft loops. The purposes of the shaft loops are to hold the shafts up, ideally parallel to the ground, and hold the “brakes” which are on the shafts and prevent the cart or wagon from running up on the rear of the dog when he stops or is going downhill. The shaft loops should be large enough so they can easily slide on the shafts, but not so big that they can slide over the brakes. The shaft loops should be the same size and at the same height on each side of the dog.
On Siwash harnesses, the shaft loops are part of the forward girth belt which should be adjusted so it allows one to slide their hand between the belt and the dog. It should not be really tight or so loose that it hangs down behind the dog’s elbows.
One should first adjust the loops so they are of equal size and the correct size for the shafts on the cart or wagon (do not worry about their height yet). Then one should adjust the forward girth belt so it is the right size for the dog. Now one can work on the height of the shaft loops. One should determine if they are equal in height on the sides of the dog. Then determine if they are too high or too low, preventing the shafts from being held parallel to the ground. One can put a little mark with a pen on the girth belt to show where they should be.
Then, take off the girth belt and slide the webbing through the loop fittings until the loops are where you want them. One should not have to change the size of the girth belt when the loops are moved. The pen mark will help one not get confused and end up moving the loops in the wrong direction. Make sure that the loops remain the same size or the fitting or the girth belt will change.
People who have our Wilczek Siwash harness can give Bill a call (603-444-0824) and he would gladly walk them through the process.
Sites of related interest
OK, here are some great links to sites, big and small, that have to do with carting and dogs. Enjoy!
BMDCA - The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America.
BMDC of Watchung - The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Watchung, NJ and PA.
Potomac Valley BMDC - The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Potomac Valley, VA, MD & DE.
BMDC of Nashoba Valley - The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Nashoba Valley, New England.
Swiss Traditions - Great imports from Switzerland.
Sleeping Dog Pottery - Beautiful ceramics in pottery and custom pet portrait