Most dogs love to learn new things, and training your dog to pull in harness can be fun for both of you. Virtually any dog can be trained to pull, although if your best buddy is a small breed (under 30 pounds), he is not likely to be suited to pulling anything heavier than, say, an ornamental cart in your Fourth of July Parade. Larger breeds, though, can actually help you with chores around your home.
The size of the dog has nothing to do with its ability to pull – only with the actual weight it will be able to handle. Age is a factor, though. You should not allow any dog under the age of two to pull heavy loads. You can start training, but keep the weight low. This is because your dog’s bones have not finished growing, and bones and joints can be damaged if placed under undue stress. You should also not consider an older dog that has hip dysplasia, arthritis, or any other disorders of the joints or bones, for pulling. To be on the safe side, you should check with your vet to make sure that your pet can pull.
The first thing you will need is a good harness. There are several types that are good for pulling. Sled dogs commonly use trekking harnesses or racing harnesses. They slip easily over the dog’s head, and rest on his body. Racing harnesses are light – as you might expect, this is because they are made for speed. Trekking harnesses are used for slowly moving large loads, and are typically well-padded.
You could also consider a carting harness, which is very similar in structure to horse harness. There is a thick padding across the chest, and a girth that rests behind the shoulders. Webbing is attached to shafts, which are then fixed to a small wagon or cart.
There are several harnesses available online. One of the best is the dog weight pulling harness, made by KnK dog supplies. It is made of durable nylon, and features a separator that lets your dog pull using all four legs. It’s a great buy at just $50.00, and shipping is free.
Of course you will also need a cart, and if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow, you might also want to consider a sled. There are any number of manufacturers you can find online, and if you’re handy, you can also find plans so you can make your own cart. Your local feed supply store may also be a good source for carts for working dogs.
As is the case with most training endeavors, it’s best to keep the sessions brief and fun. Start training by getting your dog accustomed to the harness. He will probably want to give it a good sniff before you actually place it on him. If he seems a bit nervous, give him a treat. It’s something new, but with a little time he’ll begin to equate the harness with the fun things you are going to do together, and you’ll have no problem getting him to hold still while you put it on.
Now, you want to add a bit of weight. Not much to start with, just enough that your dog feels a bit of resistance. Keep him on a leash, and walk forward. He may want to sit down, but you can keep him moving forward with treats, and of course lots of praise.
Over several sessions, increase the weight, and of course continue to motivate your dog with treats and praise. If he becomes very resistant, lighten the load a bit – you can always add more later.
You are also going to want to use consistent commands. “Hike” and “Mush” are two of the most common, but they’re not etched in stone. You can use whatever you like, as long as it’s consistent and not easily confused with other commands that you may have taught your dog. Of course, you need a command for when you want the dog to stop, as well. “Halt,” “Wait,” or even “Whoa” are fine. Whatever works.You will also need to teach your dog to turn right or left. Most people use the same commands that are used for draft horses – “Gee” for a right turn, and “Haw” for left.
Depending on the type of job you want your dog to do, you may find it useful to locate a partner to help with your training. This is because you may want your dog to walk ahead of you, which is of course not going to happen if you are still holding his leash. Your partner can stand ahead of the dog and hold the leash, while you deliver your commands from behind. If the dog does not want to move toward your partner, a gentle push on the rump or the back of the legs can persuade him to move. Once your dog becomes used to walking in front, you can still use a leash for when you might need a bit of extra control – it will just have to be long enough so that you are able to hold it from your behind-the-cart position.
A partner can also be very helpful when you are ready to get your dog used to the actual cart. Even a dog that becomes easily accustomed to pulling weight can become nervous when asked to step between the shafts of a cart. You can distract your dog with treats and praise while your partner maneuvers him into the shafts.
Teaching your dog to pull is not difficult, and can be very rewarding. The main thing is, with each new step, be lavish with the treats and the praise. You want your dog to associate being trained to pull with good things. Once they are fully trained, most dogs enjoy pulling in and of itself. It’s just one more fun thing for you and your dog to do together!