On Mar. 3, Tripp and I ventured to Finish Forward Dogs in Saco for their UKC Weight Pull fun match. We'd been practicing at home with a lightweight sled, as well as working out in the swim therapy pool, and Tripp had managed to gain even more muscle, so was definitely ready for a trial environment. I was looking forward to getting some training tips and practice on the cart. He's been improving, but he still flies at home and usually his form isn't perfect. (When working with heavier weight, we want good form to avoid injury.) I had no idea Tripp would be so competitive at this event, and turns out he just needed a little more weight to get really nice form. He still managed to zoom through each pull at a speed that surprised the trainer. I love her comment of "holy moly!" at his first time in the chute. Too funny. After a few pulls, increasing weight by 3 cement blocks each time (I think they are around 30 lbs. each), on top of the 200 lb. cart, Tripp was still enthusiastic. As we neared the end of the event, I was ready to stop at any point, giving him every opportunity to tell me he was done... we were up to somewhere around 900 lbs at that point! I wasn't sure if he could or should do it, but I left it up to him. I asked him if he wanted to do more weight pull and he literally dragged me straight into the chute and set himself up. Well I guess so! :-) By the last pull he was still happy to work, but I could sense he was physically tired, so I didn't let him continue. He finished by pulling 1040 lbs! Crazy! I still can't believe my baby did that. His previous top weight pull was "only" 445 lbs. Enough to qualify in a trial, but nothing like this - apparently we could've earned like 20 points toward WP Champion if we were in that class! I reiterate - crazy! I didn't even have plans to go beyond the basic title! LOL I'm not sure if we could ever repeat that performance, or if I'd let him pull that much again even though he suffered no consequences. I'm still new at the sport and I never thought I'd put so much weight behind my dog. I'm still learning that it is entirely dependant upon each dog's physical conditioning and willingness to perform. Tripp certainly had both going for him that day. If nothing else, we will keep it as a really cool memory. His Papa esp. enjoys bragging about how this Poodle beat so many tough bully breeds in weight pull. Oh that's right, we also came out in 2nd place in the match! :-)
I know last time I moved Tripp up only one block per pull. This time, as mentioned, we moved up 3. It seems he has more of a certain number of pulls in him than a certain weight limit. Not that I could move him up 4 or 5 blocks per pull and expect him to do even more weight. LOL I think this was pretty much his limit, and I can't really fathom letting him do more than a grand. 3 block intervals seem perfect for him, so I will remember that for our next trial. And I think a reasonable expectation is closer to 800 lbs. max. But who knows? ;-)
Incidentally, Tripp was zooming around the next day with just as much energy as ever. Which is funny, because we've had rally trials that have him lazing around for days afterward.
So why do weight pull? Many people don't understand the sport; some even think it's abusive. Certainly there are macho handlers who give such extreme sports a bad reputation, who push their dogs too far and do other things they shouldn't. This is not confined to the sport of weight pull however. Even traditional sports such as obedience have their overbearing handlers - for that matter, sometimes regular ol' pet owners do idiotic things to their pets. But most of the people involved in dog sports are out to have fun, and know that you can't make a dog do something like this if he doesn't want to. Even those who train with force (which I do not condone) know it's up to the dog in a trial - you hook them up, then can't touch them, and the dog knows this - he either pulls or doesn't. Just another reason to train without force, as the dog will work for joy and not fear, and not say "neener neener, you can't make me" in the show ring, or weight pull chute as it may be. But I digress...
So again, why do weight pull - with any dog?
1. A competitive outlet. Titles. I'll admit this is the main reason I got started in it. UKC offers Total Dog award for versatility; dogs who place in conformation and qualify in performance at the same event. I wanted the opportunity to try for that. I had no idea the sport would be so addicting, or beneficial in other ways.
2. Conditioning. Weight pull is a great muscle builder. Practice is done at low-moderate weights that do not strain the dog, but only offer a good workout. It is an excellent part of cross training for other working/sport dogs, as well as strength training and weight loss for pets. Strength training is just as important for dogs as it is for humans - it keeps us healthy, and supports our bones and joints. These benefits are not just for the active competing canine; they are just as helpful for the couch potato housedog.
3. An outlet for excess energy. Your couch potato may not need this, but many people have dogs who would enjoy a bit more activity. (And even most couch potatoes would enjoy doing something!) Some people have high energy pets who absolutely need something to do, or else they destroy the house, or simply drive their owners mad. Some bored, frustrated dogs end up having issues such as self-mutilation or other emotional imbalances or behavior problems. Yes, really. They were bred to do a job, thus they need to channel that drive into something. If it's not provided, chaos ensues, in some form or another. Weight pull is a great outlet, as it maximizes the amount of stimulation in a minimal amount of time. All without a whole lot of effort on the owner's part, if you are not inclined to join in any activity. Even "energizer bunny" dogs generally are ready for a nap after a good amount of weight pull. ;-)
4. Physical therapy. The muscle building that results from doing weight pull is particularly beneficial to dogs with certain structural problems. It supports the entire body, esp. hips and legs, not only improving condition and possibly slowing degeneration, but also reducing the odds of further injury due to slips and such. Therapeutic pulling is of course done at very low weights. The reason it is an effective therapy is because it is slow, controlled movement in a straight line. The resistance from the weight stengthens the body better than walking alone. Weight pull is approved and recommended by many veterinarians and physical therapists.
5. Confidence building. There are many sports that can help build up a meek puppy. Weight pull is one of these. Any activity that gets the dog working, overcoming challenges, and building a better partnership with her owner through positive training will increase confidence and help her true spirit shine!
6. Fun! Weight pull really builds up the bond between dog and handler. I've felt this effect on Tripp's and my partnership, even with all the other training we do. Obviously not every dog will be interested in weight pull, but those who are introduced to it properly generally become as addicted to it as their owner. No matter the amount of weight they enjoy pulling (some may prefer just recreational pulling of low weights, and not competition, which is fine!) they are quite obviously having fun. Most get excited at mere mention of the sport, or sight of the equipment. Many thrust their heads and bodies into the harness, eager to get started. If you watch these dogs pulling even heavy weights, anyone who can read body language can see they are happy dogs.
Ensuring safe, fun pulling: Weight pull should always start at very low weights, working up gradually as the dog's condition improves. A vet check and approval may be warranted if the dog is out of shape or has any sort of health condition or structural issue. Always let the dog be successful and don't push your dog beyond it's abilities. Know how to read your dog - you must be able to sense when your dog is stressed or tired and not get too caught up in the activity to stop. Cool downs are imperative! After any workout, just as with humans, dogs must have a cool down period to avoid soft tissue injury. Walk it off, keep those muscles loose. Massage your dog. Teach him to stretch on command, and/or learn proper manual stretching techniques. Work with a good positive trainer to help you learn weight pull techniques and guide your dog into correct form. Weight pull is generally a two person job - most equipment requires someone to act as a brake to prevent the cart or sled from running into your dog. That certainly would not be conducive to having fun! Meanwhile you should be holding the dog on leash when first training to keep her under control until she is confidently and properly pulling. Reward each pull with a great treat or play session, or both - whatever motivates your dog. Make sure you are having fun too. Don't get overly focused on competition. Remember, it's all just a game!
Give weight pull a try... your dog may surprise you! Any shape or size breed can do it, from Mastiffs to MinPins to mutts inbetween. So don't count out your fluffy little lap dog! :-)