Since the posting of our article on Newfies hauling Christmas trees I’ve received a lot of interest and questions about carting with your Newfoundland so I thought I would dedicate a post to this topic because it’s not as easy at it looks. Teaching your dog to pull a cart is actually quite involved and takes a lot of learning and dedication to do it the proper way.
Before I get started I want to say that I’m not an expert in dog carting. Sherman and Leroy have pulled a wagon before and several years ago I had the pleasure of being a steward at a draft competition where I got to see several Newfs compete for their draft title. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot from everyone involved. This post is meant to be just a guideline for people to get basic carting information and to point you in the right direction. If you need more information I highly suggest reaching out to your regional Newfoundland Club or somewhere in your area familiar with carting. You can find your local regional club HERE.
What is carting?
Carting, also called drafting is an activity that involves a dog pulling a cart or wagon. The sport of drafting or carting can be done by just about any dog but dogs that are commonly part of the working breed class are often known for doing this. These breeds include the Newfoundland, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Swiss Mountain Dog, Leonberger and the Saint Bernard.
Before you begin carting, training is needed for you and your Newf. You can not just get a wagon and hook your Newf up to it and expect them to start hauling. A Newfoundland who is going to pull a cart should have basic obedience skills such as sit, stay, come, heel and leave it. They need to have a great attention span and should not be easily distracted. Once that harness goes on the dog should be in work mode and not play mode. It’s recommended that a dog be at least 2 years of age before they start pulling a cart and must be in good physical condition that is determined by a physical exam performed by a veterinarian. It’s recommended to start with the harness first for a few days, then attach the traces, and then attach a few empty milk jugs for the dog to pull and get use to the sound and weight. After that get the dog use to pulling just an empty cart and very slowly add weight. Some dogs may spook easily when they are hooked into the cart for the first time so it’s important to take these steps very slowly.
Along with a regular collar and leash a dog also needs special carting equipment
Harness. There’s a small handful of harnesses that are made to use with carting. One of the most popular and recommended is a Siwash harness. This harness has a padded “V” that crosses from the shoulders down to the front chest and then back down to underneath the dog. This style provides a lot of freedom of movement for a dog’s legs The Siwash harness stops at the waist of the dog and then it’s to be connected to the cart or wagon by individual traces or straps.
Shafts. Shafts are the bars that run along the dog, just past the shoulders and connect to the cart and they are part of the braking mechanism. These can be metal or wood and are sized to fit the dog. If they are sized wrong they can hit the dog while they are pulling the cart and can affect the way they turn when moving. The harness connects 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.
Brakes. 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. 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 are individually adjusted to the dog, 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, which moves freely side to side as the dog moves side to side inside the shafts. This piece moves as the dog moves.
Carts/Wagons. There’s several different carts or wagons you can choose from and they can have 2 or 4 wheels. You can buy carts/wagons or you can build them yourself. Wagons with 4 wheels are used more for parades and basic yard work like hauling groceries or firewood. 4 wheeled wagons are a bit more difficult to maneuver but they are heavier and sturdier then 2 wheeled carts. Wagons work best on even ground 2 wheeled carts are what is most often used in draft tests because they are lighter and easier to move on grass, gravel or dirt. Balancing a load is harder to do with a 2 wheel cart. We used a 4 wheel wagon and modified it to 2 wheels.
Wheels. Wheels are very important on a cart. The smaller the wheel the harder it will be for the dog to maneuver it. Larger wheels will make the workload easier, but they could cause the cart to tip. Wheels will come on premade carts, homemade carts will have sizes that vary based on the cart/wagon.
Sites of interest:
DogWorks-A great place to get premade carts and wagons.
Nordykn Outfitters-where to get the Siwash harness. This specific harness was developed by Newfoundland owners, Consie and Roger Powell, it is for use primarily with a wagon, cart, or travois, but can also be used with a sled or toboggan. Adjustable traces are included. Side release snaps on shaft loops to allow dog to be quickly disconnected from cart.
Wilczek Woodworks-wood carts, wagons and other drafting equipment
Newfoundland Draft Work-2nd edition book. This is a book for beginning draft work with the single dog. Although written for Newfoundlands, the principles apply to all breeds.
How much weight can your dog pull? I’m not going to put a number on this because all dog’s are different and there’s a lot of variables that come into play such as the condition of your dog, what type of cart/wagon he’s pulling, what type of terrain he’s pulling on, temperature and humidity.
I hope that this helps answer some questions that many of you have had. Please remember to take this adventure slow and steady and research the heck out of it before you begin. Also, not all dogs will take to carting so please don’t push them. This is suppose to be a great bonding experience between you and your dog and not something you both will regret.