for Tracking Conditioning
By Dennis Helm
Panda showing perfect weight pulling form.
Along with working tracks that are up to 5 miles
long, we engage in weight pulling. Weight pulling seems to help with
the dog's concentration more than running does. Weight pulling is
an introverted activity as is tracking. Concentration and obedience
are the essential ingredients to being successful both activities.
For the past 35 years I have run my Dobermans
along side my car or van, depending on what I had for transportation
at the moment. I have been weight pulling my Dobermans for the past
7 years. Running 4 dogs from 3 to 14 miles, depending on the dog,
will take up to 4 hours, 3 to 4 times a week. On top of this we average
170 tracking days per year. A lot of time is spent on training.
This summer I have been weight pulling the dogs
over our 100 foot outside track in the early morning. We have not
been doing the running. So far I cannot tell any difference in the
dogs physical condition although their feet are in better shape now
they are off the blacktop. My new 1 year old Dob is starting to have
the massive look of my Panda.
Pulling, like tracking, is an obedience exercise;
so pulling is more satisfying to me than trying to add miles on to
running distance. The AD endurance test is worked with the handler
on a bike and the dog trotting along side. When my 9 year old Panda
passed for an AD endurance title at the UDC Nationals this year, I
tried to keep her speed down to a slow trot. Panda would have none
of the slow stuff. She insisted on towing me at about 12 MPH for the
12.25 mile AD test distance. She was moving at what would have been
a fast run if she did not have me attached to her.
The combination of running and pulling gave
her a stamina I could not hold back. I was luck enough not to have
fallen off of the bike. When she came across wild game on the track
my staying on the bike was in serious question. Panda gave up the
chance for a run through the woods. She was obedient the task at hand.
I believe she is the oldest dog to have ever earned the AD title.
Objectives: Weight pulling is used for
the physical development and conditioning of the dog. Along with physical
development and conditioning, corresponding obedience behaviors associate
with weight pulling are taught.
Equipment: The equipment can be elaborate
or simple. The amount of equipment required depends on what the handler
is comfortable with or finds necessary.
A basic list of equipment consists of the
- Pulling harness
- Pulling line
- Plastic sledge
For the handler who wishes to participate in
pulling competition, having access to the steel pulling cart which
can handle several thousands pounds of weights is handy. Along with
the pulling cart there is the necessity of having a corresponding
amount of weight.
Pulling sledges with a sandbag and weight on board.
The amount of time and effort invested in weight
pulling is directly related to the dogs conditioning and development.
Basic obedience is easily taught while developing the necessary pulling
The basic behaviors needed are:
- Stand stay
- Heal in motion
- Heal in place
- Come on command
- Down and down stay
- Hand signals
The distance of the pulling track will vary
with what your objectives are. If you are striving to enter pulling
competition a 16-foot track is required.
The competition pulling distance is 16 feet.
For those of us whose only interest is conditioning and development
of our dogs any distance can be used.
In harness at a stand stay.
I use a 100-foot track when I am pulling outside
on good weather. During other times of the year, a rugged hallway
or basement can be used. If the pulling activity is going to take
place on concrete, a rubber cover needs to be picked up so the pulling
track can be covered. The cover is used so the dog can get traction
with his feet.
Getting set up
When the dog is first introduced to the pulling
harness with the weight sledge attached by an 8 to 10 foot-pulling
line, a period of conditioning to the equipment and what happens when
pulling will need to take place.
Not having the sledge to close to the dog is
as important as is starting out on a surface which will not make a
lot of noise as the sledge is dragged along. We do not want to startle
or scare the dog. With some dogs, using a 20-foot long pulling line
may be necessary to keep the dog calm. The line can be reduced in
length as the training proceeds.
Hooked up and ready.
When I am pulling my dogs in my basement a distance
of 20 feet is the greatest distance we can work. When pulling outside
we use a 100-foot track.
Weights: The actual weights can vary from sandbags,
to water bottles, to weights from a weight lifting set. The starting
weight for a 40 to 80 pound dog should be 10 pounds. Smaller dogs
can start with 2 to 5 pounds. Training a dog for weight pulling is
like training a human in weight lifting. Muscle structure needs to
be strengthened and conditioned. The weight is gradually increased
in 1 to 3-pound increments.
First we are going to go through a weight pull
the way an experienced dog and handler would work it. After the idea
of what we are looking to achieve is presented, we will work on how
to achieve a proper pull while training the required behaviors.
Having the dog lean into the harness with his head down.
After the dog with harness has been hooked up
to the weight sledge or weight cart, the handler heals the dog to
the end of the pulling line and tells his dog to stand stay. The handler
then moves in front of and facing his dog. The handler takes the dogs
head in his hands and commands the dog to lean into the harness, at
the same time moving the dogs head down toward the ground. The handler
moves back to the side of the dog, with the dog by his left hand.
The command stand stay is given and the handler
then walks to the end of the pulling track, turns, and faces his dog.
After a few moments the handler calls the dog and offers encouragement
as the dog works to pull the sledge/cart to the handler.
As the dog approaches the handler the handler
can reach down and catch the dogs head in his hands. The dog is to
End of pull
To get to the point where a dog and handler
become a weight pulling team, there are a few basic training behaviors
to be mastered.
Conditioning the dog to the pulling harness
and weight sledge is the first step in weight pulling. Once the dog
and sledge, with a minimum amount of weight on board, are hooked up
the handler needs to keep the dog on a leash. The leash is to keep
the dog under control during the beginning of its pulling experience.
With leash in hand and the dog on your left
side, walk the dog to the end of the pulling line and tell the dog
to stand stay. If the dog is inclined to sit down, place your hand
under the dogs flank and cause him to stand. Tell the dog to stand
stay and move in front of and face him. Take the dogs head in your
hands and have him lean into the pulling harness with his head down
and tell him to stand stay.
The behavior we are teaching at this point is
the stand stay. The down and down stay will be taught at the end of
the pull when the dog is taken off of the leash so the sledge can
be turned around. The heal command is taught as the dog is brought
to the point where the pulling line is attached to the harness. Hand
signals can be worked in anytime.
Catching the dog at the end of a pull.
Move a few feet away and call the dog. Again
catching the dogs head in your hands as he reaches you, and pay him
for working. Some dogs will try to pull right past the handler so
catching his head in your hands will keep him from going by. If the
handler has some food in his hands, stopping the dog will be easier.
Repeat this exercise over and over until you can back up to 16 feet
without the dog moving.
Additional help for the dog
new to pulling
The dogs first reaction to pulling the sledge
may be fright leading to flight. Calm your dog while eliminating his
flight option with control of the situation through the leash. The
only option available to the dog is to be his compliance.
Guiding a new pulling dog down the track.
Start with a 10 pounds or less in the sledge.
Once your dog is standing calmly, tell him to heal and start walking.
It is normal for the dog to be concerned with what is going on behind
him, so keep control though the use of a leash and reassure him that
everything is fine. The dog is to pull at a steady rate; not a panicked
run. The fright/flight phase must be mastered before the dog can progress
with his proper weight pulling training. Walk along side the dog as
he pulls the sledge over your designated course.
You may need to repeat walking along side of
your dog while he becomes accustomed to the pulling harness and the
sledge being dragged behind him. The dogs confidence needs to be developed.
After the fright /flight phase is over, and
the flight option has been eliminated, again heal your dog to the
end of the pulling line and tell him to stand stay. Step in front
of your dog and face him. Take his head in your hands and tell him
to lean forward, causing the dog to lean into the pulling harness
with his head down and back hunched up in proper form. Stand up and
go back to the dogs side and order him to stand stay. This is to be
repeated until the dog does not move.
Walk to the end of your pulling track. Turn
and face you dog without moving for a short time, and then call him
through verbal command and hand signal. The dog should have already
learned to come through verbal commands. In pulling competition the
verbal command are used but this is a good opportunity to teach hand
When the end of the pulling track is reached
cause the dog to stand stay once more. At this point give the dog
a spoon full of liver sausage or something he likes. My dogs receive
a few pieces of dry dog food for their efforts. We want the dog to
associate the pulling experience with something enjoyable. Your dog
is working hard and deserves to be paid.
Once the dog has pulled the track, detach him
from the pulling line, and place the pulling bar of the harness up
on his back so it does not interfere with the dogs walking. Down and
down-stay your dog so it can rest. Now turn the sledge around so the
dog can make the pull in the opposite direction. When ready give the
dog the command to heal. Heal the dog to the end of the pulling line
and give the command to stand stay. Hitch the dog to the puling line.
Move the dog forward until the pulling line is tight and start the
process all over.
The start of a pull
With a heavy weight on the sledge, the dogs
front feet may come off the ground as his back legs push off to get
the sledge in motion. It is important that the dog be set up properly
at the start of a pull. The dog needs to be leaning into the harness
with his head down as shown.
When pulling the weight cart the hardest part
of the pull is getting the cart in motion. The sledge is a different
situation, as the level of resistance for the dog remains consistent
for the distance of the pull.
Working the pulling track
Repetition is what builds and conditions the
dog. Our target objective is to work the dog through 3 sets of 5 pulls
with the dog pulling 3 to 4 times a week. As the weight increases
and the dog is starting to have a hard time with the pull, reduce
the weight considerably and increase the number of repetitions. Start
building the weight up once again. The dog needs go be given a few
minutes rest between pulling sets.