Lessons in working your dog in Carting with your Dog

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Draft Training Oct. 24th Canceled

I'll be judging at the Austin Farmer's Market Downtown Doggone to summer doggie costume contest so drafting is canceled this weekend.  Keep checking in for our next class. 

Friday, October 16, 2009

Oct. 17th Drafting clinic

Hi Everyone,

The first drafting clinic of this season start tomorrow, Oct. 17th, 9:00 am.  Class size is limited so please contact me if you plan to show up.  I will email the location when you respond. jennie@romanreign.com

Dogs need to be in control, and teams should have a healthy working relationship.  Training collars and treats are permitted.  No equipment needed on our first day.

See ya there!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shaft height and length fine tuning

Here's some photos showing correct shaft height and length.  Shaft height and balance of the cart are very important.  The height of the shaft should come the point of shoulder of the dog and should not extend more than a few inches past the shoulder.  Length of the shafts, while not a safety issue, can affect maneuvering.  The longer the shafts, the wider the turning radius.  Shorter shafts have a shorter turning radius.

If you do shorten the shafts, make sure you also tighten those traces and move your brakes to the appropriate location. The shafts and cart should be parallel to the ground. Click on photos below for bigger version.

The Forward Cinch Debate - Under/Under or Over/Over & lengthy shaft loops

This is a minor detail in harnessing, but an important one.  Because the difference in either strapping the forward cinch over the primary traces or under the primary traces is subtle, this detail has been thrown to the wayside.  I will be adding more photographs to this particular post to demonstrate the differences.

I have been taught that the forward cinch should be secured under both primary traces.  A number of judges do consider this to be a major issue, and will consider this a failure to harness and hitch properly.  The logic is that the primary traces should be the only straps that give the cart it's momentum.  In other words, all pull power comes from the traces, and no other straps should hinder or rub on the traces.  The points of pull are where the siwash is sewn together at the top and the bottom of the neck piece.  See photo below for a visual explanation.  Click photo for larger version. 

The over/over method of securing the cinch is disadvantageous for several reasons. Click on photo below for larger picture.
  • The cinch loop pushes on the primary traces, thus hindering pulling power. 
  • The cinch loop changes the point of pull (particularly at the upper) on the traces so that the harness is now inefficient.  
  • The adjusting buckles on the upper primary traces can get caught on the cinch loop.  This can rub painfully on the dog's back and/or reducing the dog's pull power.  

I have never been given a logical explanation of why the forward cinch should be over/over the primary traces.  The correct position should be under/under.  Again, some judges won't check it, but others will.

The length of the shaft loops is also important.  Shafts should be held close to the dog's body with little up or down give.  A forward cinch that is too loose or too wiggle room between the cinch or shaft can cause bouncing of the shafts or side to side swaying when the dog is moving.  Additionally, going over hills or bumps can cause the shafts to go up over the dog's back.  Also make sure that the brakes cannot slip through the shaft loops.  This is a serious safety issue, particularly if the cart is loaded.  I'm a safety stickler.  Make sure all pieces are safety put together before harnessing and hitching your dog. Click on photo for large image.

Harness and Hitch checklist

As a judge, here's the list of items I check when performing the harness and hitch judging.  Note: other judges may or may not check the same things I check. 

* Check cart balance by lifting the shafts.  In a loaded or unloaded cart, there should be only 1 lb of pressure (may be a little heavier depending on the weight of the shafts). Any weight that is heavier than the weight of the shafts indicates that the cart is unbalanced or improperly hitched.

* Check trace tightness.  They should be tight and taut.  If the traces are not fairly taut, it will cause multiple problems.  This is very serious safety issue, and I would consider it to be an unsafe rig. 
  • The shafts may sway from side to side or up and down. 
  • The pull power is coming the shafts and not the traces.  The dog will NOT be using the correct body parts to pull the cart.  
  • The cart may lurch when the dog starts to move.  
  • The cart may push forward on the dog until the brakes stop it when the dog stops.
  • The shafts might come out of the shaft loops and then the dog will not have a way to steer the cart. Example of one case I've seen: A standard poodle was pulling a loaded cart up the hill with loose traces. The cart rolled backwards due to the slack in the traces and the shafts came out of the shaft loops. Click on photo for larger version.

 * Check fit of the neck piece on a siwash.  I check out how snug it is, and I check that the prosternum is at the V.  If you put your fingers right at the inside of the V, you should feel the prosternum bone.  If you do not, the neck piece is either too big or too small.  Too big or too small can pinch a dog's neck.

*Check for tightness of the cinch (forward) and belly band. It should fit the dog perfectly. Not loose, nor too snug.

*Check that the shaft loops are tight and cannot go over the brakes.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Preparing for a Draft Test

I got returned from a draft trial just last night, and with the weekend fresh in my mind, we're going to go over some draft trial tips and info before diving back into training posts. Here are some skills that I encourage my draft students to master before going to a draft trial.

Basic Control - both dog and handler will need to have a solid working relationship with several commands. For basic control, the dog that can qualify in rally obedience should have enough control for a draft test's basic control.  The dog needs to:
  • sit on command
  • stay in position for 3 minutes
  • heel with the handler (not necessarily in heel position)
  • turn left
  • turn right
  • halt (no sit needed)
  • about turn
  • recall (come when called)
Basic control is NOT scored like competitive obedience and the requirements are not as strict.  The dog does NOT need to be in heel position at all time, and you may talk to your dog during the entire test (except the stays).

Harness and Hitching:  You should be able to harness a dog correctly, and hitch a dog correctly.  In my opinion, harnessing and hitching should not be a jerry-rigged last minute chore.  It is first and foremost, the most crucial part of safety in dog drafting.  Dog drafting is a sport that can be very dangerous to you and your dog if do not do it properly.  Thusly, I am a stickler for safe harnessing and hitching.  While I have not failed someone for minor issues with harnessing, I cannot pass a dog that is in an unsafe rig.  Future posts on that.

Maneuvering course: My rule of thumb is if a dog can master the following exercises with only voice or hand commands and no treats, then they can pass any draft test.  Yes, they are much more difficult than what is required, but I always try to train for tougher than the test. 

  • 360 clockwise pivoting on the inside wheel, but not moving it
  • 360 counter-clockwise pivoting on the inside wheel, but not moving it
  • Back up in cart 10 feet in a straight line
  • Back up unhitched 10 feet in a straight line
  • Pull through narrows that are two (yes, that's two) inches wider than the cart for 15 feet
  • Pull through high narrows that are two inches wider than the cart for 15 feet
  • Parallel Park with no leash guidance
Freight Haul:

  • Out of sight stay for 5 minutes
  • Properly load and balance a cart
  • Navigate a steep hill up and down
  • Halt a dog
  • Maintain control of a dog that likes to cart quickly

Happy Training!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Drafting Seasons Starts

Photo by Michael Taylor
A big congrats goes out to Janice Swenson and Brooke for earning their Water Rescue Dog (WRD) title last weekend at Lake Kiowa, TX.  Water rescue is an extremely difficult sport, and it requires a fit, obedient, and willing dog.  Don't forget to congratulate Janice and Brooke next time you see them.  Now that the water rescue season is over, it's time to start thinking about drafting.

We haven't finalized the location yet (East Austin), but we're thinking about starting training on Oct. 17th, 9 am.  Get your dogs working on obedience and get those carts out....it's drafting time!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Siwash Harnesses - freight weight and the carting

Frequently, people ask me about harnesses.  Which one is better?  I can't say that of the two siwash harnesses: freight/weight or carting, that one is better than the other.  The both have advantages and disadvantages.  I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 harnesses now, and the only one I haven't tried for carting is the parade harness.  I'm not a huge fan of the parade harness, and I've heard through the grapevine that many other judges aren't either.  I'll go into detail about that on another post along with specialty harnesses including the Wilczek, weight pull harnesses, and leather harnesses.

Mouse has a freight/weight siwash with a cinch and cinch loop added because I want to do weight pulling and carting. However, the freight harnesses is too "wimpy" for real competitive weight pulling.  Do not take this to a weight pull.  You will need a true, heavy duty weight pull harness to do some serious work.  The disadvantages of a frieght/weight siwash is that it is a one-piece so you must take the entire thing off to let
the dog potty or else hook the spreader bar up to the shoulders of the dog so they can walk around without tripping. On the other hand, being a one-piece is also an advantage as it is easier to
untangle and easier to put on.

The carting harnesses usually is more complicated than the freight weight harnesses. There is the neck piece, belly band, and 2 traces. You MUST be absolutely certain that the 2 traces are the same length so that the weight is distributed correctly. These two traces either attach to a tree or 2 points on the vehicle. The advantage of the carting harnesses is that you can just unhook the traces without having straps hanging off everywhere.

I personally lean towards the carting harness.  It's just a personal preference.  There is no performance differences between the two harnesses if used properly.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Preface and big thanks!

As I write this drafting handbook, now blogpost, I think of all the people who helped me put together this guide.  The inspiration, support, and guidance that helped push me to write this book comes from a plethora of people.  These supporters came from all walks ranging from my training mentors, my academic students, and people who wanted to learn what drafting.  Over the years, people and their dogs have taught me more and more about draft work, and how to deal with problems in drafting.   Additionally, many drafters have also contributed their knowledge, time, and ideas to the construction of this handbook.  I would like to express my appreciation and thanks to those supporters.  

I started in draft with the late Dick Shumer, a serious master drafter, trainer, and friend.  Dick Shumer was a Jack of all trades who taught more than just canine drafting.  He also taught us how to build carts, how to jerry-rig just about anything, and he was the absolute king of bungee cords.  Dick is the kind of person that gives and gives, and never expects anything in return except for the satisfaction of his students being happy.  He taught us the meaning of generosity, patience, and forgiveness.  Thank you for so much you have done for me and the Austin canine drafting community. 

Another big thank you goes to Janice Swenson for all her time, effort, and support.  Janice is a wealth of knowledge and experience.  Should know ever have a question, Janice will more than likely have the answer with all the caveats.  If she doesn't have the answer at the moment, you can guarantee that she'll have it soon with more information than you ever needed to know.  Janice is like google for dog drafting. 

Other thank you to
Debby Quigley, Judy Ramsey, Letty Alamia, John O'Niel,  Kathleen Conway, Molly McNally and family, Karen Kimborough, Barbara Cecil, Connie and Jon Beauregard, Bill and Jeannette Faure, Shannon Hennigan and Sue Urban, Chris Christensen, Ron and Pam Capelli, Don Beard, Glenda Parks, Ann Logan,  Patty Pearce, The Kretchmars, Huck Bothner and Jean Measell, and  Michael and Audrey Starns, and Ron Horn for all your support. 

For those who don't know about my professional life, I began graduate school around the same time I got my first Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Mouse.  Grad school is supposed to be a time consuming and mentally challenging experience.  My graduate school experience was all that and more.  Another special thanks to all those who supported me through dog training and grad school.  Roman Reign is very thankful for those who provided moral support.

And last but not least, a big thanks to Mouse, my first sweet and gentle giant.  He has no concept of his size, and as he matured, he had no concept of his age (you'll be getting a glimpse of what I mean later on).  As a veteran now, he still looks and acts like a 6 month old goofball.  Thank you to Mouse for being incredibly tolerant, incredibly patient, and incredibly forgiving as my first dog.  I can't even begin to count the number of times I've made mistakes with you, and you just kept on trucking.

Another points I must bring up in writing this book is that I was formally trained as a scientist in social psychology.   My field of research was in behavioral neuroendocrinology.  My academic training and many of my dog trainers were very methodological with very structured training programs.  This book, now blog, is similar in lay out and structure.  Each exercise will be approached step by step with supplementary videos on youtube.  My hopes is that with these two methods, you will be able to understand the concept and goal of each exercise.  You should also understand each step and why the steps are important (no skipping around!)  My recommendation for training is if you reach a speed bump in your training, back up about 3 steps.  If you reach another speed bump that isn't addressed in this handbook, do not hesitate to contact me.

Welcome to Canine Draft Work.

Canine drafting is a fun activity for active dogs.  Drafting, also known as carting, is a sport in which a dog pulls a cart, wagon, or other vehicle. More deets on the specifics in later posts.  Many large breed dogs have a history of drafting successfully.  The Newfoundland, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Mastiff, Rottweiler, and Great Pyrnees are some of the more common breeds that participate in drafting.  I've been drafting for seven years with my Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, and I've been judging draft trials for almost 3 years now.  I had planned on writing an updated drafting book, but I decided that it would be easier and more logical to post it as a blog.  I can easily answer questions via the comment feature, and I can also edit and add information more readily.