Having Fun with Draft
by Phil Chagnon
(published with the permission of the author)
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.
("Fun with Draft" can be purchased through the
BMDCC Ways and Means and a $5.00 from
each purchase is donated to the BMDCC Rescue Fund.)
In the Beginning
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
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
HEALTH, SOUNDNESS & 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,
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!