While dog carting is a relatively new sport in Canada, its roots go back to at least the early 1800’s in Europe. Part of the fun of carting your dog is making this connection to the past and understanding our roots a little better and from a novel perspective.
In the early part of the 19th century dog carts were commonly employed in Belgium, Switzerland and Holland. To a lesser extent, they were also found in England, Alsace, France, Italy and Germany. The breeds used varied depending on the location. For example, in the little town of Rottweil in the southern mountainous region of Germany, farmers used Rottweilers to aid in their milk deliveries.
In my research, I found the most references to dog carting to be from Belgium, especially in Flanders. In their native Flanders, Bouviers were used to haul people and produce such as dairy and baked goods, as well as equipment for mobile tinkers and butchers. In times of war, Bouviers served the Belgium military as sentries and haulers of machine guns and wounded soldiers. In fact, various European armies had a Canine Corp up to World War I and their tasks also included pulling massive carts with ammunition and canons on them.
In the early 1800’s, dog carting was important to the economy as it was the cheapest form of transportation. Unfortunately, abuses of the dogs became so outrageous that legislation had to be passed by municipal councils to protect the dogs, especially in Belgium and Switzerland. In Metropolitan London, dog carting was banned in 1837. Currently, dog carting is still illegal on public property in England. The laws in Belgium required that cart dogs be at least 24 inches at the shoulder and they could not be put in harness with other animals. It was made unlawful to ride in a dog cart and the load limit for a single dog was 300 pounds (400 pounds for a pair of dogs). These limits were lifted in war time, however. Also a two-wheeled vehicle had to have a suitable support at the front when the vehicle was stationary. In inclement weather, blankets or other protection had to be provided for the dogs.
Furthermore, the dogs had to be fit and neither pregnant nor nursing bitches could be used. Finally, the dog and cart had to be in the care of a licensed responsible person. These regulations were enforced by inspectors appointed by each local authority .
The only other part of the world that saw any extensive use of carting dogs seems to be the island of Newfoundland where they used, what else, Newfoundland dogs. There, merchants used them to deliver milk, fish and other merchandise. Besides helping fishermen at sea, the Newfs further helped their masters by drawing loads of fish from the shore and wood from the forests. One of the more unique uses of carting dogs in Newfoundland was the delivery of the Royal mail in specially designed carts.
In the rest of North America, there are only minimal records of dog carting until the 1980’s. Antique prints do show such uses as rag pickers in New York in 1867 using dog drawn carts for carrying saleable rags collected from city garbage. They were more of a novelty and, for a time, itinerant photographers would go door to door to sell photographs of children posed in their carts.
In the early 1980’s, dog carting experienced a renaissance. Here in North America, it went from being a novelty to a serious sport. At first it was the breed clubs that developed tests for carting and in countries like the US and the UK, this is the level that they still operate at. However, in Canada the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada set up a Working Dog Committee in 1981 to develop carting tests, but with the direction from their executive that whatever they came up with had to be approved by the Canadian Kennel Club. This resulted in Canada being the first country in the world to have dog carting officially sanctioned by the national registering body for canines. To my knowledge, the only other country where this has happened is South Africa. Dog carting was introduced there in 1986 and soon became an official Kennel Union of South Africa event. In 1989 a Saint Bernard was awarded the first Dog Carting Champion title after earning three Challenge Certificates.
In Canada an arrangement was originally worked out whereby the CKC approved the rules and would award the titles and the Newf Club would administer the tests. The first official test was held in 1986 and the first Draft Dog Title awarded in 1987 followed by the first Draft Dog Excellent title in 1988. Later the national clubs for the Bernese Mountain Dogs and Mastiffs also joined in. Titles were restricted to these breeds until January 1st, 1998 when the Canadian Kennel Club took over full administration of the Draft Dog Rules and Regulations, at which time it became an all breed activity.
The Draft Dog Tests have four levels, a junior test leading to the title of Draft Dog (DD) and a senior test for the title of Draft Dog Excellent (DDX) along with the same tests for two dogs working together. The scoring is pass/fail like the Tracking Tests, but three legs are required as in Obedience Trials. However, up to three judges (judging independently) can be assigned to a Draft Dog Test and this has become the norm.
There are three sections to each test. In the junior level, there is a control section which consists of basic heeling plus a stand stay and a group down stay. This is followed by carting exercises where the dog is tested in the confines of a foot ring with either a cart (two wheels) or a wagon (four wheels). Exercises include harnessing and hitching, manoeuvring and backing up. Finally there is a field section where the dog pulls a load over natural terrain. At the senior level, the exercises are much more difficult and include driving (working the dog from behind) and back packing. To date there are less than 20 dogs that have earned the Draft Dog Excellent title but the numbers are increasing rapidly.
Besides formal tests, there has been a re-birth of every day carting. Dog carts are now commonly used to give rides to kids (as an alternative to pony rides) and for entries in street parades. In urban areas, they are often used to replace a second automobile by carrying supplies such as groceries from the local supermarket or taking a handicapped child to school. Many people find that carting with their dog makes the evening walk even more fun and provides good exercise for their canine buddy at a relaxed pace.
Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979. In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.
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