by Phil Chagnon

The following is an excerpt from the book ‘Fun with Draft’. This book is a compilation of the experiences and training methods of various sources across Canada and the US.  

In the Beginning 
Dogs throughout history have been utilized as draft and pack animals. They have provided invaluable practical assistance to their human families as well as being loyal and loving companions. Many people today utilize this instinct to delight children in parades, to demonstrate and entertain at community events or during therapy visits, or just to have FUN! 
Draft work is Team Work and you need to start thinking of you and your dog as a team. In addition to training your dog, you will also need to train yourself – you are the one who must learn how to choose appropriate equipment, balance a freight load and work in a safe environment. You’ll need to learn how to work together in order to do draft work - whether it's for fun, competition or practical use. There is no 'best way' to train a dog for any kind of work - including draft work. Set your pace according to the confidence level of your dog. A good rule of thumb is to keep your training sessions short at the beginning and end each training session on a positive note. Small steps, and lots of praise and encouragement will build a wonderful team. 
Some dogs are born to work and will take to new experiences and exercises with great enthusiasm. They will learn the various steps in minutes and you will be amazed at the display of their natural ability. You may be lucky enough to have such a dog, or you may not ... you may have a dog that is not as comfortable with new experiences or exercises and will need more coaxing and patience. Either way, you are responsible for your dog's well-being, you can set the difficulty level of your training, and you're the one who needs to make the training FUN! 
Unlike training your dog using Obedience exercises (which ultimately results in a dog that is under the most minimal of voice or signal control), with draft you are encouraged to constantly talk to your dog. Most dogs are happiest when they're pleasing their people - and they're the most confident when they know exactly what is expected of them. Team Work requires that your dog understands what you want - and you need to keep him/her apprised of how the both of your are progressing! 
The biggest step towards a successful experience with draft is a willingness to spend quality play and FUN time with your canine teammate. At some point you may feel some frustration but there will be feelings of exhilaration and accomplishment as well. The most important thing to remember through all your training exercises is to be patient and to make it FUN for both you and your dog. During all training, lavish praise on your dog with every accomplishment. He will respond at his best and learn to truly love his 'work'. With this in mind, let's get started! 
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, soudness & 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 dogs 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 it's 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 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 'teams' 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 my 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, happy voice - encourage, encourage! 
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!


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