Tag Archives: dog sports

Everything You Wanted to Know About Weight Pulling

With the amount of interest and emails generated due to my last post, I sought out my friend Cindy over at The Nut House to use an article she wrote almost two years ago on weight pull.  She allowed us to republish it for anyone interested in getting into weight pull.  Enjoy!


What is Weight Pulling?

Weight Pulling (WP for short) is a new and growing sport for all breeds of dogs from the smallest Chihuahua to the largest Wolf Hound. What it involves depends on what organization you get involved with. Overall in all organizations it involves your dog pulling a certain amount of weight on a Sled, Cart, or Rail system a certain amount of feet in a limited amount of time.

Maddie the 4 POUND poodle doing weight pulling.
Photo Credit: Lindsay Rae Photography

What Organizations can you pull with?
There are a lot of weight pull organizations that you can join with:
United Kennel Club (UKC) – All breeds can pull here as long as certain rules are followed. Your dog if not already UKC registered, must be spayed/neutered, and either much have a Temporary Listing (TL) number or a Limited Privilege number.
International Weight Pull Association – All dogs are welcome, all you need is a Weight Pulling harness and the entry fee (it’s $5 more if you’re a non-member)
American Pulling Alliance – All dogs are welcome, just show up with a harness and your entry fee
National Working Dog Association (NWDA) – Their main page has not been updated but all show up, and pay an entry fee.
There are other clubs you can join but they are only for certain breeds of dogs (Mainly the American Pit Bull Terrier) like the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA) and the All American Dog Registry (AADR). (Both of these clubs do not allow all Pit Bulls to pull except at fun shows. You must have a UKC/ADBA/ABKC or BFKC registered APBT or AB (American Bully) to pull with these clubs.)

Ok, so now I know about the clubs, what do I need to start pulling?

First off all before you even start pulling your dog, you need to make sure your dog is old enough to pull. While most clubs allow your dog to start pulling around the age of 1 year, it’s not wise to start pulling large loads until your dog is done growing. (But it’s good to start young) If you really want to get into WP, even consider having a vet x-ray your dog’s hips and elbows to have a look for things that could cause your dog(s) health issues in the future. Your Vet will be able to tell you if WPing is OK for your dog or not. Some dogs with slight hip issues are fine pulling while some aren’t.

The first thing you’ll need is a weight pull harness! There are many different websites that offer harnesses for weight pulling, and I’m listing the one’s I have personally used, so I know the quality of the harnesses and how they work.

Brown Dog Designs – This is my favorite Harness maker ever. If you are going to be doing weight pulling for a while, and really getting into it then you want to break down and buy a BBD harness. They quality of these harnesses are the best. It’s kind of like buying a pair of shoes, you’ll be happy with the $25 shoes, but when you decide to splurge and but the $100 shoes once you realize what you’ve been missing. Her harnesses aren’t made to be pretty they are made to work, and work they do.

CD Pits – I’ve used CD Pits in the past. They are wonderful, many different looks to them, and are strong and durable. They are perfect for beginners and advance pullers alike

Tablerock – Nice harnesses, quality made with strength in mind. I love Tablerock because not only do they sell the WP Harnesses but they also sell wonderful quality drag sleds (I’ll explain those later) Table rock has GREAT training harnesses that allows it to grow with your dog. This is perfect for training a puppy to get use to a harness

Stillwater Kennel – I’ve never used their WP harness but I know people who have and they love them. Stillwater has adjustable harnesses though for 20lb + dogs that are perfect for WP training in younger dogs.

*NOTE* Many dogs ARE scared of the harness when you first try to put it on them. Use chicken or other high prized items to get your dog use to the harness before attaching any sort of weight to the harness. Take your time getting your dog use to the harness and make it a positive experience for them. Even think about putting your harness on your dog for walks at first (use a collar not the harness for the leash) but don’t rush it.

Second thing you’ll need is a collar. A simple belt or buckle collar for this is the best; you want it to be loose enough for your dog to breathe easily but tight enough to not fall off while training. Depending on what venue you decide to pull in depends on what type of collar you can use while your dog is pulling.

Third thing you’ll need is either rope or chain. I personally like chain because chain causes noise when it’s dragged and helps prepare the dogs in the long run for the noises that the carts make with weights on them. Starting off with either or is fine though. Rope is actually easier to tie the weights with for younger dogs, while chain is better for bigger weights for attaching (I use a spring snap to keep the weights on the chain).

Lastly you’ll need weight! For beginners, just start with an empty milk jug with some rocks in it. You want it to be easy and just help get your dog use to having the feeling of some resistance on their harness. As your dog gets older and/or more confident then start adding more weight. What to add depends on your dog. A larger dog say 50lbs you can easily add 10lbs without too much issues while a dog that weighs half that may only need 2 to 5 lbs added on. You could also buy a drag sled or make one if you want too. A drag sled is just a small sled that allows your weight to be evenly distributed. It’s not necessary but it’s a nice thing to have.

Ok, I have everything I need, now what?

Now comes the fun part, slowly working your dog up to pulling things!

Nubs the pit bull practicing.
Photo Credit: Dark Moon Photography

You only want to start pulling your dog 10 to 15 yards at a time. Right now you only want your dog to get use to the feeling and noises of the weights behind them. Hook a leash to your dog’s collar and stand in front of them. Call them to you and start walking backwards SLOWLY. Encourage your dog to pull the weight to you and praise them as they do. If they start to pull but stops as soon as they feel resistance, call them again, if that doesn’t work then LIGHTLY give your leash a tug to get your dog to move, and the praise like mad. Only work your dog for about 15mins the first time out. You don’t want your dog to get tired, bored, or frustrated. Do this for about a week before going onto the next phase, adding weight.

A question many people ask at this point is about reinforces (treats). Honestly if you can, refrain as much from food or toy reinforcements as much as you can. Why? Because in most USA organizations food and toy reinforcements are not allowed in the chute. It’s better to train the dog from the very beginning to pull for you and for fun. Adding toys or food is a great way to force your dog to do more then it can do which results in harming your dog. I have used food to get the dog use to the harness and for focusing on me, but never for pulling.

Once your dog is getting confident with the noise and weight behind them, it’s time to add some weight. NEVER SET YOUR DOG UP FOR FAILURE! You don’t want your dog to stop liking to pull. Don’t try to rush how much weight your dog is pulling. If your dog is pulling 10lbs just fine but at 15lbs he starts faltering, then go back to 10 lbs for a few more days then try 15lbs again. How much weight to add depends on your dog. If your dog is only 10lbs, then adding 1 lb of weight is a good starting place, if your dog is 50lbs then 15lbs is a good starting. If it’s really easy for your dog to pull GREAT but do not add more weight, at least this time around. You want it to be easy right now. This isn’t about building mussel but more about building confidence in your dog. You want your dog to feel great about what it is doing, and enjoy it.

Keep working your dog over weeks and months until your dog is at 1 ½ time its own body weight. So if your dog is 50lbs, it should be able to drag 75lbs. At this point your dog is ready for another step, working a cart. At this point you should be working with a mentor or looking for a mentor for help. They will have weight pull cart or rail system set ups or know where to find them. My local WPers have gatherings at one person’s house to work their dogs on his cart and to give each other tips on how to work their dogs better and how to be better themselves.

Just remember to have FUN with weight pulling and fun with your dog. Too many people forget this step and I personally think it’s the most important step of all.

Fore more information or to see the original post, click here.

Dog Sports Open: Best in Show

I had to get up at the crack of dawn this past Saturday for a dog event that I had been invited to attend. (Okay, well maybe not that early since I overslept my alarm like an idiot!) I can’t tell you how regular an early wake up call is in the life of a dog sport addict, but it was so worth it! (The two hour drive…yeah, not so much – especially after I realized I had forgotten my wallet and I was fifteen minutes from my destination!)

I arrived at Cher Car Kennels just after they had started the course walk through. I was nervous when I got out there but I was among like company.  No one knew the layout until the same time I did. Now I didn’t feel quite ad silly.  It didn’t quite kill the butterflies that were brawling MMA-style in my gut much but it allowed me to get my nerves up enough to sign up for Beginner (Obedience only).

The Beginner level was all on leash.  I felt the safest doing that since I haven’t had the time (or desire) to really train or work with Ryker much. (My wonderful cheer team thought I could, but I was absolutely terrified!)

They called this a training trial.  This meant we had the option (with a 5pt deduction) to use a pinch collar.  I, admittedly, took advantage of this offer.  The extra reminder to him was well worth it for my piece of mind.

This year’s course was designed to be similar to a ‘day at the dog show’. (I had a laugh over this since I am not a major fan of doing conformation-type events.). The layout was arranged to expose the dog to a variety of real world scenarios.  In the protection phases, obedience only dogs weren’t penalized if they didn’t react but were given bonus points if they did.

The course layout was six stations long and definitely a challenge when you had to pretend to be in danger at times.  Here the are:

STATION 1: The dog was put in a ‘crate’ on wheels and taken to the second station.  During this exercise, the dog wasn’t supposed to panic or try and escape. (Ryker had a momentary ‘what the heck?!’ moment but settled soon after.)

STATION 2: The dog was unloaded from the crate and asked (or placed if the handler chose) on a ‘grooming’ table.  They then had their coat ‘groomed’ via a blow dryer. (Ryker was great considering being dried with a blow dryer wasn’t a common occurrence. Yay for wash and wear dogs!)

STATION 3: After being groomed, the dog and handler report to the ‘show ring’ where the ring steward sends you to ‘your’ car for your arm band that you have forgotten.

Once in the car, a decoy (in a full suit) starts acting like a threat – banging on the vehicle and yelling. The dog is supposed to defend the car on all sides to ‘protect’ the handler. (Once again, Ryker surprised me.  I never expected him to ‘protect’ me.)

STATION 4: After exiting the vehicle, the dog and handler had to rush back to the ‘show ring’.  In the ring there were two other ‘dogs’ (i.e. stuffies on PVC pipe leashes) that were being shown too (and acting like freaks since their ‘handlers’ had too much fun there.  Ha!). The handler and dog had to gait/heel around the ring with the other ‘dogs’.  The dog was supposed to leave the others around. (Fat chance with Ryker!  He thought they were flirtpole toys!)

STATION 5: The dog and handler were given 1st place.  They had to go up on a multilevel winners podium and ignore the ‘other dogs’ and their handlers.

Once in place, a trophy is put in front of the dog and the dog is agitated so they guard the object.  During the threat display a bucket of plastic balls is dumped onto the dog and handler.  The dog is allowed to startle but should defend shortly after recovering.  (Ryker did exactly what he was supposed to and defended the trophy before and after.)

STATION 6: This was the final station.  For obedience only dogs, they had to do a friendly greeting in a position of control (sit/down-stay).  The dogs doing protection as well would have to do a friendly greeting and then hit the decoy when he ‘attacked’ but out on command. (Cheryl allowed Ryker to be agitated and gave him a bite too.  He also outed beautifully and had the crowd cheering wildly.)

In the obedience only class, Ryker finished with 105 points out of a possible 90pts (Yay bonus points!).  For not having trained much at all in weeks, I couldn’t be happier.  We will definitely be doing this again next year.

Oh, Michelle and Liz?  If you happen to read this…I promise I won’t chicken out of Intermediate next year.  Haha!

Left to Right: Michelle with Ruby & Riggs, Liz with Inara and me with Ryker.
Photo Credit: Demo Dick

Weight Pull: The Canine Strongman Competition

Ryker at the Pride & Prejudice UKC weight pull – July 2011

The sport of weight pull is an incredibly controversial sport amongst many dog owners.  You have on one hand those that absolutely love the sport and the bond it creates with the dog and then on the other you have those who hate and/or fear the sport as a form of cruelty and abuse.  Those same people feel that these dogs are being exploited for the purposes of human gain and the coercion of the dogs into performing on the track.  This, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth for the majority of the weight pull community. (Yes, there are a few bad apples – in every sport.  It’s just human nature.)

Once upon a time, I believed the same way those that are against it thought.  I felt it was barbaric and cruel.  I took the time, however, to go to a pull and found out how completely wrong I was.  These dogs had absolute adoration for their handler/owner like dogs I’d seen paired and running agility or obedience routines.

From that moment on, I was hooked.  I sucked up every little tidbit of information on training, conditioning, equipment and rules that I could get my hands on.  I bought my first harness from Alaskan Dream Dog and had a go at weight pull.  It was a very good harness for a new puller but as I became more experienced and talked to more people I realized I needed a harness upgrade and sank the money into one from Brown Dog Designs.  It’s been madness ever since.

Lyric is starting to get the hang of weight pull.

The love for the sport is addicting.  If you luck out and get a dog that absolutely loves to work (you know what I mean – the whole body wiggling, barking, prancing, etc. when they see that harness get pulled out…) you’ll never turn back and will probably catch the bug like so many of us that have been caught – hook, line and sinker.

That being said, not every dog is going to love weight pull.  There are some dogs that absolutely loathe the concept of being constrained or digging in to get that cart the full sixteen feet down the track.  If a dog doesn’t have that desire for this sport even the strongest bond isn’t going to make them work any harder or better no matter how persistent you are or how much you beg and grovel.  What many people don’t realize is that if you push a dog that isn’t confident you can ruin them and shut them down completely.

I’ve seen it happen first hand unfortunately.  Sadly, every single time it happened it was with an overzealous new handler who meant well but didn’t know any better.  They do say you ruin your first dog but it doesn’t feel any better once you’ve realized you’ve done it.  If you’re able to salvage what you’ve incorrectly done, it will be a slow go to repair the damage and get that dog’s innate ability into focus once more.

If you’re like me and go head over heels for this sport, I would suggest you attend a pull or two and pick the brains of all of the experienced weight pullers at the pull.  The majority of people that attend these events are more than happy to talk to someone new and interested in the sport – even the highly competitive handlers.  They know that at some point in time they too were in the same spot that the newbie they’re talking to is in right now.

Regardless of how your dog does, at the end of the day even if you don’t go home with the coveted Most Weight Pulled (MWP) or Most Weight Pulled per Pound (MWPP) trophy or ribbon you’ve still had a phenomenal day with your dog.  You’ve worked together as a team.  You cheered on new and old dogs while their handlers worked the same track and pulled the same weights you did – some just better than others.

Seeing the smile on the other handler’s faces and the ultimate love and adoration of their dog as they cross the finish line and the judge yells, “Pull!” is one of the most wonderful sights to behold.  Most of us aren’t in it for the glory or the fame.  They’re a nice additional bonus (as are those dust collectors that are stored in boxes waiting for us to move and have a wall of fame for our dogs) but they’re not the cream of the crop.  Spending time with your fellow competitors, their dogs and your dogs means more  in the end.  It helps feed the desire to get back out there and do it all over again – just one more time…or maybe more than more time.

Mika, our youngest, getting to have some fun for her first time.

Small Steps: Competing with Dog Aggression

I don’t claim to be a world renowned dog trainer or have umpteen years in training dogs (though I’d like to think I’m pretty good and always willing to try something new…).  The reality of the matter is I’ve only had a passing interest in canine sports in the last seven-ish years or so.  I’ve done my share of pet obedience prior to that and always had easy dog … one that was compliant and had no real issues to speak of.  That all changed six years ago when I was given Ryker.

Ryker started off as an easy dog.  He got along with everyone.  He has drive in spades.  He enjoyed learning and being challenged with new tasks and goals.  He is also dog aggressive/reactive.  For anyone who’s ever had to deal with this issue, they know what a challenge it is doing competitive sports that involve being in close proximity to another dog.  The worry that passes through you when you’re training – especially in off leash scenarios with a dog that is relatively reactive can be excruciatingly nerve wracking.

For years I was terrified to compete in competitive obedience with Ryker because I was worried he’d go after another dog.  We trained and socialized and then trained some more.  I was never quite comfortable enough to take the plunge into obedience.  It caused me to falter on more than one occasion.  I would fall up short when working with dogs that he was comfortable around because they’d get too close and I would tense up and then he would react.

The reality was becoming more and more apparent that it wasn’t so much a dog problem.  It was a handler problem.  I was the issue.  My body language and reactions set him up to fail when he knew exactly what he was supposed to be doing.  After all, we’d done this all for years and he was a pro at this and so was I.

With the help of some very close people in my life (you guys know who you are), I finally gave in and we attempted our first leg to obtaining his United Companion Dog (AKC Companion Dog equivalent).  We NQ’d during the off leash heeling pattern.  Why?  Well, a previous dog who’d run the course before us had hiked his leg on a pole and having an intact, domineering brat of a dog…well, Ryker had to follow suit and let that dog know it was his turf. (Little did I know that this little action would come back to haunt us at other obedience venues too.  *headdesk*)

Yes, they really did take a picture of him doing this.

My heart sank because I knew I’d NQ’d.  The judge, however, allowed us to continue through the rest of the trial and he was beautiful – even the recall over the jump that we’d only done once prior.  We finally got to the part that made the butterflies start fluttering around like they were on crack in my stomach – the group sit.  I wanted to run to the bathroom and throw up my lunch.  My hands were shaking and I reflexively kept changing positions on the leash.

My friend Jen and her boy, Icon, were with us and I continued to nervously eye up the Novice A – both of them had NQ’d also when they blew off every off leash exercise known to man.  Neither of them wanted to stay when their handlers left them.  It smelled like trouble in my book.  The judge, seeing that neither dog wanted to listen to the handler, asked them both to remain with their dogs – on leash.  I let out a big sigh of relief.

We did our group exercise.  Ryker was placed in a sit/stay next to Icon – a dog he had trained with for many hours and was comfortable with – on one side and a very calm Novice C dog who completely ignored every attempt at stink eye he shot at the strange dog.  We finally left our dogs.

It seemed like an utter eternity standing across the ring willing Ryker to keep his furry fanny firmly planted on the ground and to not get snarky with his neighboring canines.  It was finally all over.  The judge released us to return to our dogs.  My boy had done it.  He finally did it.  I was elated.  I was beyond proud of him.  I didn’t care that we’d screwed up and didn’t actually qualify.  He had done what I felt to be the impossible.  He had helped me overcome the biggest gap in the bridge of our training – my fear.

I knew, right then and there, we could do it and get his UCD.  I knew that all that we had worked for, trained for, socialized for…it was all a reality.  It could be done.  Above all else, I was proud of my dog.  The dog I never thought could do anything that involved having another dog in the ring.  I knew that he -the dog that looked at another dog and puffed out his chest and barked his fool head off at – could do it and that I helped him get there even as much as I’d held him back.

Consequently, there was a second trial that weekend.  I signed us up for it.  The butterflies returned but not so furiously.  Now they were big, beefy beasts that were proudly strutting their stuff and proclaiming that we could do it and they were my cheerleading squad.  We were on a mission and we went in and owned the ring.  We managed to wrangle in our first qualifier – even if we squeaked by with a 178.  I was on cloud nine.  We had done what I thought was the impossible and made it possible.  I truthfully owe that small victory to the dog who never failed to amaze me and the people who knew we could do it.

It’s not much, but we did it. We’re still battling with his loathing of other dogs but each small step makes me realize that we will get through it and we can do anything we set our minds to with a little bit of elbow grease and a good old-fashioned kick in the pants from friends when I start to doubt our foundation as a team.

Now we have one down and two more to go.  Here goes nothing!

Schutzhund: The Dog Sport of Masochists

Another wonderful blog entry by Jen Rainey of Vom Haus Huro.


Masochists? Really? Well, the definition of masochism, is the condition in which gratification depends on one’s suffering physical pain or humiliation. Switch that to pain AND humiliation and it would fit like a glove (or like a crisp new Schweikert trial arm). It is easy to torture oneself with trying for the perfect obedience round. It is all good fun to try for that better tracking score. It is absolutely a good time to train your dog to go after a guy dressed in an almost spot on Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man get up. Sure, it all makes perfect sense. Do any one of those things and have fun. Do all three together? Welcome to my insanity. Welcome to my addiction. Welcome to my sport.

Schutzhund was developed and molded to be the triathlon of the dog world. 3 events, one dog, one handler, one day. What it has evolved into is a highly specialized sport requiring almost Herculean effort and extreme dedication (much to the dismay of close friends and relatives). Tracking. Obedience. Protection. They bill it as the T.O.P. Dog sport. They lure you in with training vests, tracking lines, balls on a string and new jute covers for that shiny new sleeve that you will convince yourself you and your dog cannot live without. Then there is the fourth aspect of the sport, the one that you will hear loudly and proudly discussed in the clubhouse, but hushed in the presence of the “newbs”: the handler injury. If you want to play protection dog, you’re going to have to be willing to bleed.

At this point it sounds scary, doesn’t it? Trust me, it’s not so bad. You will learn to love it. The virus will slowly take over your system and you will find yourself smiling in delight at that perfect 6 a.m. track, as opposed to groaning in indignation at your own stupidity for actually discovering that your alarm clock does, in fact, contain a 4 a.m. and yes, that shrieking alarm does expect you to wake up to “such it up”. Watching your dog at the end of a 33 foot line come up to, and indicate, an article will be the most satisfying experience you have had since graduation. The perfect turn that is taken on a track leg will fill you with the same pride as looking down at a quickly and correctly completed Rubiks cube. Whether you are trying for your IPO1 title and you lay your own 450 yard track with 2 turns, slightly aged and your own articles or you are trying for the elite IPO3 with its 800 yard length, laid by a stranger and aged 45 minutes just to make you queasy, the happiness you experience from a passing score will be the same.  Precision, pride, tranquility. Tracking. One phase down. If you were lucky enough to score 70 points or more out of the possible 100, take those field boots off and strap on your sneakers. Time for obedience.

Schutzhund obedience is one of the fastest paced and exciting things out there. Fast? Exciting? Obedience? I kid you not. Extreme drive and the ability to cap it are essential in obedience. The build up of drive and then stopping it and compressing it becomes an art form. Eventually that build up has to explode. By design, that is inevitable. By training and luck, that explosion becomes crisp, correct and joyful obedience. The sheer joy of having your dog at your side, completely amped up and yet focused on you and remaining compliant and biddable is absolutely unequaled. The multitude of times that your dog had missed the ball and gotten your thumb will be forgotten. Those flesh wounds from doing targeting practice with tug toys that the manufacturers seem inclined to make smaller and smaller are now scars worn with pride and a sense of contentment through accomplishment. A mere 300 paces stands between you an accomplishment. Well, 300 paces, 3 retrieves, motion exercises (sit and down while moving for the IPO1 with a stand from motion and extra recalls added in for the IPO2 and 3) and then the send out. Why split hairs, though. Energy. Compliance. Intelligence. Obedience. A mere 70 points out of 100 once again stands between you and the next phase. Let’s do this.

Protection is in many ways just a continuation of obedience and yet it is the most popular of all the phases in terms of spectators. Maybe because they don’t have to get up at 6 a.m. like you do for tracking. Maybe because not every dog guards the same, but if you have seen one dog do the flat, meter jump and wall retrieves, you’ve seen them all. Or maybe its simply the display of raw power harnessed by the power of a bond with a human utilizing voice. Oh yeah, and the dogs bite stuff. Who doesn’t want to see someone get bit at the end of any day. That’s just good fun. Between the handler and the helper man (who I surly hope has good insurance) stands between 2 and 6 blinds. The dogs have to learn to search the blinds at the direction of their handler in order to show their obedience and their commitment to the search process for locating our bad guy. Now the real fun begins. I know the helper is in the last blind. The dog knows he is in the last blind. The crowd has helpfully pointed that fact out to both the dog and I with their clustered presence in that area in case either of us were too dim to figure it out or too nervous to remember. Target acquired. Missile locked and loaded. Time for blind searches.

Now you need to send your dog, who is almost out of their mind with anticipation, to a blind in the opposite direction of where Senor Bad Guy is camped out. Your dog will look at you like you are crazy and then, if you are lucky, with acceptance, as they race away from their target and around the empty blind. Requirement met. Game on. As your dog races back toward you, you get the extreme pleasure of shouting to your dog “HERE…REVIERE”. This is a two point process. You will see your dog look at you when you yell “Here” with an expression that clearly says “Really? He’s like, right there” but when you get that eye contact and you extend your arm toward the hot blind and say “reviere” you are rewarded by a brief flash of excitement in your canine teammates eyes as they double their speed and race toward that blind and bad guy saying “oh yes, I’ve got this”. Here comes my dog, helper man. Hope you are ready to fight.

Now as your dog disappears behind the blind you hold your breath. One of two things will now happen. Either the excitement will make your dog deranged with its own power and he’s going to go in for a bite or training will have won over and you will hear the sweet sounds of a machine gun bark, complete with ample flashing of all 42 teeth as your dog unleashes a full set of colorful doggy expletives at our decoy buddy in the blind. Once the barking starts, so does the fun The judge now signals you over for the pick up. You watch, awed despite yourself, as your dog ignores your approach in favor of making sure that his suspect stays put. You approach about six feet behind and the moment of truth you have been dreading arrives. “Hier…fuss”. You are asking your dog to leave his guard and return to a heel position. It is time to move this suspect. Come on out dirt bag, we got you.

You try and fool your dog into believing you are in control by ordering the helper around in your best, tough guy voice. Considerably harder when, like myself, you are a girl with a fairly non serious personality. I suggest watching some Law and Order to prepare. It couldn’t hurt. “Helper, STEP OUT”. Now you hope that when the helper steps oput and moves around the blind your dog will stay in heel position. Thankfully, he does. What a good boy. Time for the escape bite. You leave your dog to guard the bad guy while you retreat behind the blind. Bad guy now makes a bad decision and attempts to escape. Kill. Maim. Destroy. It’s escape bite time. Poor guy usually doesn’t get further than a few feet before gaining a weighty attachment to their left arm. A quick out command, followed by the dog releasing shows that you are still in control. Now the bad guy threatens again, the dog counters and the drive begins. During the drive the dog is threatened by the helpers physical proximity and a padded stick for extra emphasis. A leather wand and a little hug? Threaten my dog? Please. He eats my hands for obedience. He knows no fear.

Now after we out our dog from the drive we come to what, for me, is the best part of the day. Courage test time. Now we take our dog WAY down to the very end of the field and face our helper who is at the opposite end. A field apart we square off. It is now the helpers job to show us just how scary he can be. He is going to come at us with everything he has. Yelling, waving his arms and physical presence are being used to imply that he would like to rip me apart…..and my little dog too. Moment of truth time. All the training in the world wont give a dog the nerves to stand up to that sort of threat. That comes from genetics and a lot of luck. Hold that collar. Breathe deeply. Send your dog.

What follows next is beautiful. Helper and dog each hurling toward each other with everything they have. You watch your dog pick up speed, target the sleeve and then launch. A mere few seconds later they are back on the ground and into another fast drive, just to make sure the dog meant that long bite. End of drive. Helper gives up. Out your dog. Now you move in. You pick up your dog in a heel and you move around to disarm the helper by taking the stick. With your ever vigilant dog by your side between the two of you, you move to the judge. Then the words that seal the entire deal. “Jen and Digger. Reporting out for IPO2 protection.” 70 or above and you are now that new shiny title. 80 or above and you get that title and the chance and privilege to attempt the next highest level at the next trial. Hostile. Agile. Mobile. This is protection.

The next week when your 4 a.m. alarm blares, you reach over and turn it off, grab your band-aids and your hot dog slices and head out into the pre-dawn darkness. Why? Because the virus is no longer controlling you. You are now the virus. The only treatment is more training, the only goal the next title. This is schutzhund. Schutzhund is life.

If all goes well you can go to an World level competition and when you are done. It’s time to start the next dog. After all, every addict needs their fix.

The Fault is Mine, The Glory is Theirs

I’ve been lagging on the blog for a bit – a lot of fun (well, not so much!) has happened, but here’s another wonderful article by my GSD-owning training partner, Jen Rainey of Vom Haus Huro.


They know not that they have earned a title. They care not for the scores. They are unimpressed by the cheers of the crowd and they remain ignorant to the scorn of those who judge them. Yet our dogs continue to try, to strive and to achieve. Why? Titles and accomplishments are not for dogs. They are for the owners and the window shoppers. What is for the dog is the time that the owner invests, the pride shared with that much beloved dog and the joy of working together.

When my dogs fail to perform a task, follow a command or pass a trial I always look to myself, to my performance, to find the fault. Did I spend enough time working with my dog? Did I form an appropriate bond? Did I work the dog repetitively with high motivation and fun? Did I myself give a performance consistent with what I present to my dog during training? The fault never fails to be mine. If we do not pass it is because I did not teach the task; because I did not present the same picture; because I failed to bring what I needed to bring to our team. As handlers it is easy to blame the dog, the venue, the crowd, that weird tuft of grass or that sunny spot that blinded us for 5 seconds. But these are not reasons, they are excuses. Excuses because we fail to admit to ourselves and to our ever forgiving canine partner that we, the “higher being” failed to do our job when the heat was on.

One could easily assume that since I look first to myself for fault that I may also look first to myself in success. The exact opposite is true. When we have success it is because of my dog. It is because my dog did his job, as he always does, and brought his half to the team. More importantly the success is his (or hers) because he suffered my repetition in training, he made the correct decision even when I asked incorrectly and he gave me his all when the time to put up or shut up was right in front of us. Because while I worry about the judge, the crowd and the performance, he worries only about working with me and experiencing the joy of teamwork.

Your dog is the only relationship that you will be in where the other participant will put your happiness first. Each and every time. Cherish that selflessness for what it is, strive to deserve it and above all try your hardest to remain ever conscious of it. None of us will ever be good enough to deserve such devotion in our lifetime but we are lucky enough to have it anyway. That in itself is a gift beyond measure. One which we owe our dogs for all of their days.

Back In The Saddle Again

The last time we weight pulled we attended the K9 Fanciers/AABC UKC pull.  As I blogged about prior, UKC altered their rules to limit how much a dog can actually pull.  For a dog like Ryker, who pulled this past weekend, which is an incredibly hard thing to do.  Limiting a dog that has been conditioned and trained to continue to pull well above the 20pt rule – which is only 35x his body weight on the surface we pulled (wheels).   Ryker has pulled well above the 20pt pull with UKC on wheels and has taken many Most Weight Pulled (MWP) and Most Weight Pulled Percentage (MWPP) placements in the regular and Grand classes (when they were offered – they have since been discontinued).

We have not pulled competitively since the weight pull rule change, that is, until last weekend.  We had a chance to get out and pull with the NWDA (National Working Dog Association) for the first time.  Their rules are very similar to the APA (American Pulling Alliance) in that there is one foul and then the dog is done (versus the UKC where you have two fouls), but you are only able to pass two weight increases before you must pull again (APA is unlimited passes).  It really was, in my honest opinion, the best of both the UKC and the APA pulling rules.

Ryker weighed in at a fluffy 51lbs – about four pounds more than I usually pull him at when he’s conditioned specifically for dog sports.  Since we have been out of commission for competition for the last few months, I expected him to be heavier since we had worked to put weight on for the cold Michigan winter.  He outdid what I expected him to do since I went there just to have a blast and work with my partner and my friend.  He pulled 2,078lbs on Saturday for 40.74x his body weight and 2,180lbs on Sunday for 42.74x his body weight.  He took 2nd place in his class against our favorite ‘nemesis’, Jake. (And no, we really don’t think Jake is our nemesis.  He’s a phenomenal pull dog and it’s a pleasure to pull against him.)

The same camaraderie that used to be present at the UKC pulls was there in spades.  It was nice to see some familiar faces, but even more to see a lot of the newer weight pullers who had been training at Currey’s Family Pet Care and were incredibly new to the competition aspect.  Those of us who are ‘old hats’ at this have a lot to look forward to with our new ‘competition’ this coming season and I, for one, can’t wait to attend another NWDA pull.  Thank you, NWDA for giving me and other weight pullers another place to work our dogs!