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Fun with Draft

What you'll need to Get Started:

  • A dog that is healthy and sound in structure
  • A dog that has a good grasp of basic obedience commands
  • A steady supply of praise and small treats
  • A good attitude and a happy voice that is ready to encourage, encourage
  • A well fitting and suitable harness and traces
  • A cart (optional)

Health, Soundness and Conditioning

Before getting started with any new 'exercise' be sure your dog is in good health and structurally capable of doing what you are asking of him/her. Is your dog well muscled, fairly lean and not carrying any unnecessary fat? Is he/she free of parasites, arthritic or painful hip, elbow or shoulder joints?

When a dog hauls, the forward push from the forequarters is transferred directly to the harness. The force from the rear quarters travels through the vertebral column towards the neck and chest. If your dog does not have a straight top line, it will tend to bow and give less support when hauling. This dog must use more muscles to keep the top line straight - therefore tiring easier and being more at risk for injury. Similar logic applies to the straightness of the legs. If the legs have a bend in them they will tend to bow more with added pressure.

Honestly evaluate your dog and look at any weak areas that might affect his/her ability to haul. How does your dog compensate for these weak areas and is your dog structurally balanced in spite of them? Learn your dog's different capabilities and limitations and work within those parameters to avoid injury and frustration.

Puppies can be started down the right path for draft work by doing all the exercises leading up to hooking them up to the cart - anything short of pulling weight. Any weight should be introduced only to mature, physically fit dogs at least a year old (and preferably older for larger breed dogs).

As you and your dog progress in your training it's important to prepare yourselves physically for the type of work you'll do. Being physically sound and capable of doing the work is not enough - you need to tone and exercise the physically sound body so that it can work to its best efficiency with a minimum of stress.

Conditioning can be fun - especially if you and your dog condition yourselves together. What you want to do is to increase endurance and muscular fitness gradually so that the stresses of draft work will not cause excessive tiredness, sore muscles and/or pulled ligaments. Begin with short, easy workouts, and gradually increase to longer, more strenuous workouts as the "team's" fitness improves.

Some great conditioning exercises include walking, short jogs, retrieving and the ideal exercise - swimming. Remember to consider your environmental conditions as well. Temperature, terrain, ground condition, timing, and distance can make a difference to the safety of both you and your dog. Get out there and have FUN!

Basic Obedience Commands

Make sure that your dog has a good grasp of basic obedience commands and that you have control over your dog. Control is essential in draft work because you are not working just with your dog, but with your dog attached to a relatively bulky piece of equipment.

Your dog must have an understanding of some basic obedience commands before you attempt to start training in earnest. There are no set commands that you have to use, these are up to you. Choose the commands you are comfortable with (they can be in any language) - just be consistent! An understanding of the following basic obedience is required no matter what level of draft you may be interested in training to:

Move Forward - forward, let's go, with me, follow me Left Turn - left, gee Right Turn - right, haw Move Backward - back, hup Slow Pace - slow, easy Normal Pace - lets go, faster Stop - halt, stop Stay - stay, wait Stand - stand

Praise and Treats

Praising and offering 'treats' while your dog is being bumped and introduced to a harness or cart, reinforces their cooperation and confidence. They don't get the treat if they are acting afraid and most of our dogs are sooooo cookie motivated that they don't even realize they could be afraid, they just go with the flow.

Praise your dog and pop a tidbit in at the split second your dog realizes there are 'jugs' or a cart following them. They're rewarded for their bravery and figure nothing bad is going to happen if they're getting 'dinner'!

Good Attitude

All training is stressful to you and your dog - and it's natural to get frustrated. You can not show this frustration to your dog, especially at the start - so do NOT train if you are tired or stressed out. There is very little chance of accomplishing a positive result if your attitude is negative.

As you train, there are three important words to remember: patience, praise and practice. Always train when you and your dog are in a good mood. If either one of you is tired or is having an 'off' day, or if you feel yourself becoming tense or angry - quit. Go back to training at another time when you both feel good about it.

Learn to read your dog in order to evaluate his mood. Is his tail high or low? Is it wagging? Are his ears back? Does he look insecure? All of these things are indicators and how well you read these will determine the speed of your training. It is possible to spend two minutes or two hours getting your dog used to the harness - it depends on many different factors. The key to all of your training revolves around your ability to read your dog's attitude while keeping yours positive and encouraging.

In all aspects of training remember to use plenty of positive reinforcement; heap on the praise - and always finish a training session with something your dog does well, whether it's draft oriented or not. Remember - keep it FUN!

This is an excerpt from the book Fun with Draft available from Pets First.


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