Dogs Pulling Weights, what's it all about?
Article supplied by Dog Scouts of America
Weight pulling is a sport that dates back to the earliest times
dogs were used as draft animals. We have horse pulls and
tractor pulls (men with their toys trying to prove that theirs is
bigger and stronger than the next guy's). Now someone thought of the
idea of weight pulling competitions for dogs, so that someone
could say, My dog's stronger than your dog.
In modern times, there are various types of weight pull
competitions and organizations sponsoring them. There is the
IWPA (International Weight Pulling Association), which sanctions
weight pulling competitions and bestows titles on dogs which meet
the pulling requirements, which are based on percentage of body
weight of the dog. There is also the American Dog Breeder's
Association, which sanctions weight pull competitions at dog
shows for the American Pit Bull Terrier. There are also any
number of sled dog organizations which hold weight pulls in
connection with sled dog races in the winter time around the
There is more than just strength involved in weight pulling
competitions, especially the winter events. To pull a weighted
sled over frozen terrain involves first "breaking out" the
runners from the ice. Depending on the weather conditions on any
given day, the sled may be "sticky" or it may slide rather
easily. A good strategy is to have your dog pull to the right or
left, to break out the runners, then to keep it moving, once the
runners are free, so they don't get "stuck" again.
Good weight pulling technique involves keeping the body low to
the ground, and applying all of the strength horizontally. Many
dogs get frustrated when faced with a weight that they can't
easily budge, and they begin leaping into the air, throwing
themselves into the pull. This might help to break the runners
free, but it won't get the sled into the forward momentum it
needs to maintain movement.
The added factor of the runners freezing to the ground makes it
more difficult to pull in this way than in one of the
I have seen weight pull competitions at ADBA dog shows, and the
dogs are able to pull much greater amounts of weight. The "sled"
is on wheels which rolls across a track like a railroad car. The
dog can only pull in one direction, and there is no need to break
the sled free. But once it starts rolling, there is a definite
advantage in going smoothly with the forward momentum, and not
letting the sled stop. I have seen Pit Bulls pull weights
upwards of 1,000 pounds easily this way, whereas the winter
weight pulls often max out at around 800 pounds.
I will try to describe the way the pulls work, based on the ones
I have entered or witnessed. First, everyone brings their dog to
the weigh-in. The dogs are placed in a weighing device to
determine their weight. Then, each dog takes a turn pulling the
weight. They start with the empty sled, which in the winter
competitions weighs 85 pounds. The dogs must pull a minimum of
the empty sled to continue. The dog must pull the weight 16
feet, and has a minimum of 1 minute to do it in. Otherwise they
get a DNP (did not pull), and are disqualified from further
competition. After the initial weight, each handler can "pull"
or "pass" as their turn comes around each time. A handler can
pass up to two times before he has to have his dog pull again.
The reason for this is to allow the dog to preserve his strength,
if the handler is relatively sure that the dog can pull the
weight. The weight is usually added on in 50 pound increments.
As each dog fails to pull the new weight, he is dropped out of
the competition until the last dog pulls the most weight. That
dog is not necessarily the winner, depending on his body weight.
My weight pull dog, Weasel, is a Welsh Corgi. She weighs in at
anywhere from 20 to 23 pounds. By the time she pulls the empty
sled, she has already pulled 4 times her body weight. A 120
pound Rottweiller would have to pull 480 pounds to beat her.
Weasel can pull ten times her body weight. That means the 120
pound dog will have to pull 1,250 pounds to beat her (or 1,200
with a faster time). If there is a tie in amount of weight
pulled, the win goes to the dog that pulled the weight in the
least amount of time. Weasel does quite well at the weight pulls
when she is in good condition. She is low to the ground and
Conditioning is very important for this sport. You don't want to
take a couch potato dog and hook him up to a sled and ask him to
pull his guts out. You will want to do some weight training and
gradually build on the amount you ask your dog to pull over the
To participate in weight pull, you will need a special weight
pulling harness. This kind of harness has more than the usual
amount of padding, and comes down low, across the dog's back
legs, to keep the weight bearing area down low. There is a bar
across the rear of the harness to keep the straps from squeezing
against the dog's legs during a pull. To train, you will need
weights in measured quantities, so you know exactly how much you
are asking your dog to pull, and how much you are increasing the
weight each time. Then you will need some type of sled or cart
to put the weight in to practice having your dog pull it.
Start by having your dog pull a very light weight, like the empty
sled. Call your dog to you from 16 to 20 feet away. Some dogs
will easily pull the sled, and others will say, "I'm Tied!" and
give up. You have to teach the dog that he is not tied to an
immovable object, and can budge the thing he is anchored to.
Start close to the dog with a food reward and back up. If this
doesn't motivate the dog to dig in and follow the cookie, you
might have to attach a line to the sled and help get it started
moving yourself. Once it is moving, it is easier to keep moving.
When the dog starts getting the idea about pulling steadily
forward to earn praise and treats, you can start adding a cue
word to mean "pull." You can just call the dog with his name, but
I think it helps if he has a cue word associated with the kind of
low-to-the-ground, leverage pulling you are wanting him to do.
When the dog will pull this light weight for you on cue, you may
begin adding your incremental weights. I used cinderblocks and
cement stepping stones to condition my Corgi.
Your dog will reach a point when he can't break the sled free
before he will reach a point of not being able to pull it. If you
always break it loose for him, however, he will not learn that he
can do it himself. To get the dog to break loose the sled, you
can have him pull sharply to the right and left. You can do this
by using directional commands, if your dog knows them, or by
standing over to the right and calling, then standing over to the
left and calling. The dog may also be able to jolt the sled free
a little better with a sudden lunge. That is why I try to leave
the dog on a stay command with a slight bit of slack in the tug
line. You don't want him to knock himself out when he reaches the
end of the rope, you just want enough of a snap to jar the sled a
little. Then, you want him to immediately continue pulling low,
to keep the sled moving.
As the handler, it is your responsibility to do a few things.
First, make sure your dog knows what is expected of him. Many
people get the whim to enter their dog in a weight pull
competition, thinking he'd be good because he always "pulls on
the leash." Dogs that have not pulled before often don't have a
clue what is expected of them, and they often try to get out of
the harness, run away, or go over to the spectators. It must be
embarrassing for the owner, when their 100 lb dog won't even pull
the empty sled. Practice before you enter.
Next, follow the rules. Keep your dog in the staging area and be
ready when it's your turn. Don't leave your leash attached to the
dog's pulling ring while waiting. If he learns that pulling does
no good, he will be confused and will not be a good puller. He
has to know that when he has the pulling harness on and is
attached to anything, he must try to budge it as hard as he can.
Don't use food to get your dog to pull. After the pull, you can
give your dog a treat in the staging area, but you are not
allowed to lure him with food, other dogs, other family members,
or other goodies. Be ready when it is your turn to pull, and
quickly take your dog back to the staging area when you're
finished. Know your dog's limitations. Use your judgment as to
choosing "Pass" or "Pull," and don't ask your dog to pull more
weight than you feel he can reasonably pull. Most dogs will limit
themselves, however, and would stop short of pulling until they
hurt themselves. When your dog is unable to successfully pull the
weight, have the chute steward get the sled started, and let the
dog finish pulling it for fun (to end on a good note).
Finally, Keep the safety and welfare of your dog first, as you
would in any sport. Check the dog's foot pads to make sure
they're in good condition. Make sure they are not caked with ice
before a pull. Make sure the toenails are not left too long or
clipped too short. Either condition can prove painful. A split
toenail is very painful condition, and a dog should not compete
until it is well healed.
Weight pull can be a very fun and exciting sport. It's especially
fun to watch a little dog beat all of the larger dogs. One of the
first weight pull dogs I came to know was a Chinese Crested.
These are small, skinny, hairless dogs with the topknot on their
heads. Not exactly the type of dog you would picture being a
weight pull champion. It just goes to show that you can do just
about any dog sport with just about any breed (or mix) of dog!
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