At the end of June, Tom McLean, Working Dog Chair for South Eastern Ontario Region, and I went for a ten-hour drive to Ste-Thecle, Quebec. We went there to conduct a water rescue dog training seminar for L’Association des Amis du Terre-Neuve du Québec. The seminar went extremely well because of the tremendous enthusiasm that the club members have for working their Newfs. That would have been reward enough, but there was an extra bonus for Tom and me. We got to learn about another “draft sport”.
We arrived Friday evening along with a demo dog, Tom’s Newf Tuck, at the home of Mathieu Ferron and his lovely wife, Marie-Ange. The initial awkwardness of not speaking each other’s language was soon dispelled by their very warm and genuine welcome. They quickly invited the three of us into the “dog room”. There were trophies and memorabilia galore. What caught my eye in particular were trophies and certificates with the words traction canine.
Next, we went to the big kitchen, the hub of a French Canadian home. This reminded me of my childhood years living with my grandmother in Hull, Quebec. Such a kitchen also serves as living room, den, and dining room and is always filled with love. The only thing that could have improved my grandmother’s kitchen had been added here – Newfoundland dogs. We told them why Tuck was special and they immediately pulled out a ring binder filled with Newf News. Then they located the September/October 1997 issue and read my Carting Corner column which featured Tuck. Now I was quite relaxed, feeling so very much at home. But there was more!
As if in answer to my unspoken query, they put a video tape on that illustrated what traction canine was all about. Tom and I watched in fascination. It was a type of weight pull competition but one unlike anything I had ever seen before.
This competition was different in so many ways. The first thing that caught my eye was the load was being pulled on a rail type track and only for two or three feet. My first reaction was that this was incredibly easy. Then as I watched further I noticed that the track went uphill, about a three-inch elevation from start to finish. Now that is a whole different matter.
In a conventional weight pull the load is pulled wither on a four-wheeled vehicle or a sledge and the course, while 15 feet long, is entirely flat. That means that once the dog has overcome the initial resistance of the load, the going is quite simple for the rest of the way. A person could not normally haul a loaded boxcar if it was at a standstill, but that same boxcar in motion on level ground could be kept in motion. Pulling up a grade is another matter. IN the case of the elevated track, the dogs were obviously working at the max for the entire distance – there was no coasting.
Another big difference was the harness. Instead of a single trace, the participants all used a double trace system which ensures the maximum transference of the dogs’ power to the load. Also, they didn’t use the more conventional siwash harness, but shoe a harness which pulls from the chest and doesn’t tighten around the dog as the pressure on the dog increases.
Quite unusual was the fact that this competition was not limited to the traditional sled or hauling dogs. There was even a Great Dane participating and Marie-Ange won that particular competition in 1990 with a Labrador retriever, the breed they had before getting into Newfs.
Newfoundland were well represented at this event and were pulling loads approaching 2000 pounds. This may seem light compared to some of the conventional weight pulls were Newfs have pulled over 6000 pounds, but such loads cannot be compared because one test is on flat ground and the other is uphill.
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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