WEight Pull Training

by John Tatman

Canine weight pulling is becoming increasingly popular across the country as more and more organizations are sanctioning these event. The AB is well suited for this, considering it's stature, and therefore he can excel in this sport. While weight pulling can and should be a great deal of fun, it does not go without serious effort and countless hours of hard work both for the dog and the handler.

Training your dog for this event can be done, as with any exercise, in many ways.
The early weight pulls were called "baited weight pulls", this consisted of the dog pulling only for the purpose of trying to reach some object (bait) that the handler would hold or shake in front of the dog. Handlers willingly admit this is a very poor method of pulling, as it not only shows a very negative picture of the breed, it is also extremely inefficient. The dog exerts so much energy jumping and trying to grab the bait that little energy actually goes Into pulling. This method has long been abandoned by any serious (and I might add, winning) handlers, in exchange for dogs who pull on command. -The command pulling dog is very calm and collected and on command puts all his energy into pulling. These dogs are capable of pulling many times that can be pulled by a baited dog.

Equipment needed for weight pulling is quite simple and relatively inexpensive. You need a leash four feet or longer, a prong collar, a weight pull harness, and a piece of chain three feet or longer. The only special piece of equipment is the harness. You must use a weight pull harness, not an agitation or walking harness. -The use of an incorrect harness will limit the dog's ability to pull and could injure the dog. A weight pull harness will cost $50 to $60, (available from ABA's Bulldog Connection). It is extremely important the harness fit the dog correctly.

Beginning training starts with getting the dog accustomed to the harness. Next, attach the chain and then some weight, light but noisy, such as empty milk jugs. Be patient here, there is no time limit. Once the dog shows no interest in anything dragging behind him, it is time to move forward with training.

I treat weight pulling the same as any obedience exercise. I teach the exercise inductively and proof it compulsively. Simply put, you teach the dog what the command "pull" means by having him work (pull) for a reward (a toy, food, praise, or whatever). Once he understands the command, then I set him up to quit so I can reach him when I say pull he must pull. It is essentially the same as reaching the dog to heel. You coax the dog with some reward until he understands, then you use the training collar to correct him if he refuses. While I realize it is not possible to train heeling completely inductively, it Is not possible with weight pulling - not, I believe, if you want to be competitive. Weight pulling becomes progressively harder and the dog will want-to quit. Once he learns to quit he will do so earlier and earlier every time lie pulls. Do not set the dog up to quit by making the weight more than he can pull. Never ask the dog to pull more than lie is capable of. In order to get him to quit, for- the purpose of correcting film, merely tire him out before beginning this training session. Next, hook the dog to a very light weight, one you know he can pull, and when he refuses to pull, using light pressure, pull the dog to you with the leash hooked to the prong collar, while giving the command to pull. Reward the dog when he reaches you and reports. When the dog starts to pull before you can put pressure on his collar praise the dog and do not put any pressure on unless lie stops. Repeat this four or five times each training session until he no longer refuses to pull. Be patient and calm and do not get angry. There will be times further along in training when you will have to remind him he must pull, but don't get upset. This is natural.

You begin the actual work with weight by having the dog drag a light weight. Start with dragging it 30-40 feet and over three to four weeks gradually work up to one to two miles. Only work the dog every other day or you will over train and make little progress, and possibly injure the dog. After the dog is dragging a Iight weight one mile for several training sessions, you will begin heavy training. However, continue your drag work every other day three days a week, for aerobic exercise. This is the most effective way of producing molecules that give the dog energy, called ATP molecules, that the dogs body will store and then use during heavy training sessions. Heavy sessions will alternate with drag sessions three days a week, leaving one day for rest. DO NOT OVER TRAIN!!

Heavy work will follow a prescribed schedule. The first day you will determine the maximum amount of weight the dog can pull. This should be done with a cart or sled of some type. All weights should be correctly weighted and marked as you must keep accurate records of the dog's progress. To determine the maximum amount of weight he can pull, start with a light amount you know he can pull, and gradually add weight until he cannot make the pull by himself. Always make each pull 15 feet. When you reach the point at which you must help him then the last weight pulled without help will be his maximum weight for now. Your schedule will go as follows:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Day 1 Drag weight Drag weight Drag weight
Day 2 Heavy training Heavy training Heavy training
Day 3 Drag weight Drag weight Drag weight
Day 4 Heavy training Heavy training Heavy training
Day 5 Drag weight Drag weight Drag weight
Day 6 Heavy training Heavy training Heavy training
Day 7 Rest Rest estimate new max

Always train using this schedule at least two weeks before finding your dog's new maximum weight. In the beginning, his maximum weight will make fairly large increases. This will diminish as the dog becomes stronger and approaches his ultimate maximum.

Heavy training days consist of three sets of five pulls for 15 feet each, as follows:

Set I 5 pulls at 70% of maximum
Set 2 5 pulls at 80% of maximum
Set 3 5 pulls at 90% of maximum

In set 1, have the dog pull the weight for 15 feet, return to starting point, pull again, till the five pulls are complete. Give the dog two to four minutes rest, then do the second set. Do not give a longer rest - a longer rest allows the muscles to cool down and will slow the dog's progress. On the third set, at 90% of the dog's maximum, the dog should begin to have trouble and you must help him here. Have someone push the weight just enough for the dog to complete the pull the necessary five repetitions. By always being able to complete each pull the dog will learn to trust you. If the dog refuses to pull cut the weight back to 50% of the maximum and repeat earlier corrections with the prong collar. Remember you must be I00% sure he can do what you ask before you ask it.

On the days you drag work the dog you will gradually increase the amount of weight until you reach the dog's body weight. It Is all right to go somewhat higher, but I don't believe it's necessary. Remember this work is aerobic exercise for the purpose of increasing the dogs energy level. The dog's strength comes from the heavy training days. Always give the dog the seventh day for rest.

Training a competitive weight pulling dog takes a great deal of work but you'll find the progress to be very satisfying and you can be sure the consistent winners will always be the hardest workers.

This is just one of many methods of training a dog for weight pulling. I use this method and know it will work, however, as with any training, you must be firm, fair, and consistent to be successful. As you become more experienced, you will want to develop your own schedule and I encourage you to do so, but be sure your methods are based on sound theory, or you will make little progress.


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