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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Drafting and Carting with Your Dogs

Drafting and Carting with Your Dogs


Most tests require a type of flat or buckle collar, and most also allow choke chain or martingale collars, but no prong or electronic collars are allowed. Since most of these tests are run by AKC breed clubs, most will follow the standards of equipment allowed on AKC show grounds.

When a dog is worked “on leash” during a test (usually Novice and Beginner levels), a six foot leash is considered standard since some clubs have an on leash “Stay” exercise built into their tests, and the hander must be six feet away from the dog.

A longer leash also gives the team extra room to avoid “tight leash” deductions or faults during the test. This requirement is similar to many Novice Rally and Obedience tests where tight leashes can become minor deductions or disqualifications in some draft tests. 

Siwash: (pronounced like SI-wash)
This type of harness has a padded “V” that crosses from the shoulders down to the front chest and then back down to underneath the dog. This provides a lot of freedom of movement for their legs and comfort for dogs pulling weight. This is also the common style of Weight Pull harnesses, however the Siwash harness will stop at the waist of the dog and then be connected to the cart by individual traces or straps. The harness is custom fitted to the dog and should have multiple buckles or snaps where a proper fit can be adjusted, and then the extra strap can be trimmed off once the size is determined. 

This type of harness has a type of  thick “band” that comes across the chest of the dog from side to side, instead of in a “V” from top to bottom. It is usually a more decorative type of harness, and is also called a “parade” harness since they tend to be used more where decoration is wanted to pull a light cart without any weights. 

All harnesses will connect to the cart through two ways: once to the shafts on each side of the dog and then by the tracers that connect to the front of the cart. Shafts are the bars that run alongside the dog, just past the shoulders, and connect to the cart. They can be metal or wooden and are sized to fit the dog exactly. The shafts, usually connected by pins and screws, can be removed from the cart for easy packing. 

On the shafts are “brakes.” Brakes are pieces that stop the harness from sliding up and down on the shaft, which is especially important when going up and down hills and carrying heavy weights. They are individually adjusted to the dog depending on where his shoulders meet the shafts and how long the dog is in proportion to the cart. 

Tracers are the lines or straps that run from each side of the harness at the dog’s waist to the front of the cart. These should be individually adjusted to the dog and the harness and the cart. The connection of the traces to the cart is usually a piece of long wood, connected to the cart by an eyebolt, that moves freely side to side as the dog moves side to side inside the shafts. This piece literally moves as the dog moves. 

There is so much variation in carts, even just for tests. There is an even wider assortment if somebody wanted to do more fancy events like parades. Many times four wheeled wagons are used more for parades and informal work around a ranch, since they are less maneuverable, heavier and sturdier than two-wheeled carts, which are less weight for tests. 

For tests, generally two-wheeled carts are used since they are lighter and easier to move on less agreeable surfaces like grass or gravel or dirt. Carts can be handmade or come from a professional cart creator. As long as they are able to perform in the test and adequately carry the necessary weight and maneuver, they can be used. Since the cart’s weight will be in addition to the weight required to pull in the test, which is set inside the cart, most people try to get a lighter weight cart so it does not add to the weight the dog must pull in the test. For example, Dino has to pull between 20 and 40 pounds in a test, so I found a super lightweight plastic cart that only weighs 18 pounds. Plus, the cart is full collapsable and can be easily moved in my car. 

Weight in the Cart:
A common type of weight used in tests are actual barbell weights that have the hole in the middle and then the weights go over a stationary pole in the middle of the cart. I have been using bags of bird seed and ankle weights enclosed in a nylon sports bag. This prevents the weight from moving and shifting in the cart since they are tightly inside the bag. 

The weight required to pull for each test will be different for each club and the level of difficulty being entered. Some Beginner levels can be 20 or 25 or even 40 or more. The more Advanced or Intermediate levels will be higher. Each will be clearly stated in the Rules and Regulations for each club. 

Basic Exercises

Here are a list and brief description of some of the common exercises in Carting and Drafting tests. There will be variation in these exercises, in addition to an increased level of difficulty. For example, a common increased level of difficulty would be if the exercises are to be performed off-leash as in an Advanced level. The exercises will remain the same, but some teams will be performing the exercises off-leash. Also, some of the tests are performed in an enclosed roped off environment, but others will be without ropes. And many tests are held in open public parks with the common distractions of public places on a busy weekend. 

Obedience Routines: 
This commonly requires a “heeling” pattern with a “recall” and a “stay.” Some do it in the same ring as part of the Drafting maneuvering exercises and some do it in a group in a separate ring before the maneuvering exercises. The “stay” exercise is generally with the dog attached to the cart, though I have seen one group do both: a “down stay” without the cart as a group exercise and a “down stay” attached to the cart as a group exercise. Some “stays” with be attached to a leash, and some will be off-leash from across the ring and some will be out-of-sight in the Advanced levels. 

Harnessing, Hitching, Equipment Check: 
This exercise requires the judge to watch the harness be put on the dog and the dog hitched to the cart. The judge will then walk around the cart to confirm the harness is properly fitted and the connection to the cart is correct. Most of the time, the maneuvering exercises in the ring will then follow for that dog. 

There is also a full equipment check at the start of the test without the dog. Before the test, the cart and weight is brought to a designated spot near the ring for the judge to inspect and approve. The collar, leash and weight is put inside the cart for the judge to review separately and any questions can be asked to the handler by the judge at that time. 

Maneuvering Exercises:
Once inside the maneuvering course, the following exercises are commonly seen. Some tests have weight in the cart during these exercises and some will have the dog pull an empty cart. 

  1. 90 Degree Left and Right Turns
  2. Circle Left and Circle Right
  3. Halts
  4. Fast, Normal and Slow Speeds
  5. Backing up a minimum of feet, usually 3 to 6 feet
  6. Different types of distractions outside the ring like sounds and moving objects
  7. Going through gates of different sizes and widths and heights
  8. Serpentines around cones or high stakes like poles or posts
  9. Figure 8 around objects like trees or cones
  10. Loading and unloading of lightweight objects like baskets or backpacks with another human

Freight Haul:
Once the maneuvering exercises are completed by all dogs in that group, a long distance freight haul is also seen in some tests. These are usually done in groups with other dogs and handlers in a line, and the dog is pulling the full designated weight in the cart. There are even specific rules on these freight hauls that must be abided by, like the handlers can not pass each other, without approval by a judge or a steward. Depending on the location of the test, some freight hauls will be in, out and around suburban neighborhoods or more rural locations and hiking trails. Some tests require a half mile, while others require a full mile or longer.

Once again, please read the Rules and Regulations of each club and test to determine exactly what exercises will be used. 

Getting started

Previous training:
Carting and Drafting is not a sport for a beginner handler or dog. I would recommend a solid foundation in Basic Obedience in a show or ring environment where there are a lot of distractions coming at you in all directions. I have seen dogs in Drafting tests who had very little foundation in Obedience, and I have seen them run out of the ring off-leash dragging a full cart towards their nearest favorite person with their handler desperately trying to get them back. 

I have found it also to be helpful if your dog has had some previous experience wearing a harness like for Weight Pull or Tracking. Drafting harness are custom-made for the dog and should fit very snuggly to the body, and the dog should be accustomed to standing still while the harness is put on and removed since this is often a part of many tests in front of a judge. 

In addition, if your dog has had previous training in Weight Pull, then that will be one less thing that dog has to become accustomed to: being attached to a cart that moves behind them when they do. The main difference in a Weight Pull cart and a Drafting cart is that in a Drafting cart, the dog is literally “one with the cart” between the shafts alongside him and must learn how to turn a solid object. Compared to in Weight Pull, where the dog can freely step from side to side and the cart still doesn’t move. 

I have also found that a good “Leave” cue and good focus and attention should already be established, since it will be necessary to have the dog’s full attention, both physically and mentally, while in a cart. Urinating or defecating while in a cart is an automatic disqualification while in a test, even in a freight haul, and the dog must pay attention to the obstacles on the course and not want to leave the ring to smell some bushes or visit another obstacle or person or animal. Touching or crashing into objects and obstacles in a test is a disqualification and is considered unsafe. 

I have discovered the hard way that the single most important word to have in a Drafting dog is “Halt” or “Stop.” If anything comes up at any time where immediate control must be established, that single word can be what saves the test or the practice. While practicing in a large public park, I have had children run directly up to Dino and want to pet him and play with him, without the parents saying or doing anything. Luckily, I can get Dino to “Stay” and “Stand” or “Sit” until the distraction passes, but a less controlled dog could send the cart flying upside down. An uncontrolled dog pulling a cart with a lot of weight in it can be a disaster waiting to happen. 

Any dog who will be pulling a cart should be in excellent physical shape to begin with and if there are any questions, the dog’s own veterinarian should be consulted. The dog should have very good muscle tone and not be overweight. The dog must be able to handle pulling a full cart up and down a hill and at both slow and top speeds and remain under complete control to immediately change direction or speed.

Read the Rules and Regulations of Each Club:
Make sure that the Rules and Regulations of each test and each club are read and understood inside and out. They are all different with their own weight requirements and standards. They should all be posted on the parent club of each breed. This is where working with experienced people can be very helpful. Before my first test, I asked 20 questions at each practice to be sure I understood exactly what I should do and what is required, in addition to reading the Rules and Regulations. 

As with any other sport, practice is essential. However, since these tests are set in real life situations and not inside enclosed buildings with secluded rings, the practice must also mirror what the test will be. 

If local Drafting or Carting groups can be found who hold their own practices in public places, that would be best since the dogs need to have experience working around other dogs, especially on a Freight Haul where there will be dogs very close in front of them and behind them in a single line. My favorite places to practice are college campuses, since there are a lot of distractions with other people and many natural landscapes to practice on like poles, trees, hills, grass, concrete, sidewalks and squirrels running back and forth! These are best on the weekends since you will have more freedom and often parking is free.

Large public parks are also ideal if there is not an issue with off-leash dogs. I would avoid any public parks or public areas where dogs are not leashed and under control since it will be very difficult to focus on practicing and having to dodge uncontrolled dogs and rude handlers at the same time. In a real test environment, there will not be an issue with off-leash dogs, so it is not something that needs practicing. 

Entering Drafting and Carting Tests

I have found a few ways of finding out about Drafting and Carting tests. There is a Yahoo! Carting group, and even though it is very low volume, occasionally news of tests are posted. There is also a Dog Carting group on Facebook that is active with a variety of Carting and Drafting posts from all over the US and Canada. The third way is to check the breed parent club websites. Many have their tests posted for the local clubs. 

The entry forms are standard AKC forms, and simple to fill out. Any questions can be directed towards the test secretary, like other shows.

At the current time, here is the list I have found of the clubs who offer Carting and Drafting tests. I have broken it down into the groups that openly state they allow All Breeds and Mixed Breeds and the clubs who state “AKC Registered Dogs Only” and the handler must contact the secretary to ask if Mixed Breeds or non AKC breeds are allowed. I have found that even though the rules are stated like this, when asked they were open to all dogs of all breeds.

It is also very common in all the groups that the club’s breed will be given preference to other breeds, including Mixed Breeds. So, this means that the club’s breed will be given preference for the open spots and the remaining spots will be given to when the entries are received with Purebreds and Mixed Breeds being treated equally. 

I have not found one so far that states openly that they can decline or accept Mixed Breeds specifically. If they only allow their own breed, they close it to all other dogs, equally to Purebreds and Mixed Breeds. If somebody finds out something different, please let me know. If was very happy to find out that the option to allow or not allow Mixed Breeds specifically was not being taken in Drafting/Carting tests!

Of course, this list and their requirements are subject to change like anything else. This is current as of today. Please let me know if any changes are noted and I will make the change.

These groups state in their rules that All Breeds/Mixed Breeds are allowed, with preference given to their own breed:

American Bouvier des Flandres
Bernese Mountain Dog
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
American Working Collie Association

Some clubs do allow “AKC registered dogs,” but state that, “other breeds” can enter at the option of the club giving the test and preference is given to their own breed.

St. Bernard
Great Pyrenees
(see section 22 in Chapter One: “Entries of Other Breeds”)

Sample Titles

NDD - Novice Draft Dog: Individual Dog On Leash 
DD - Draft Dog Individual: Dog Off-Leash 
NBDD - Novice Brace Draft Dog: Brace of Dogs On Leash
BDD - Brace Draft Dog: Brace of Dogs Off-Leash 
TDD - Team Draft Dog: Team of Dogs (possibly more than 2 dogs) Off-Leash

CS - Carting Started: Individual Dog On Leash
CI - Carting Intermediate: Individual Dog Off-Leash

CX - Carting Excellent - Dog: Handler sits in cart 
CST - Carting Started Team: Two or More Dogs On Leash 
CIT - Carting Intermediate Team: Two or More Dogs Off-Leash
CXT - Carting Excellent Team: Two or More Dogs – Handler sits in cart

Jackie Phillips
Feel free to contact me at any time at that email address.