Trust is an important part of the human-dog relationship and is critical in carting. In a past column I addressed this issue in the context of training a dog to back up with a cart. Most dogs don’t like to back up; their flexible bodies enables the largest dog to about turn in the narrowest of situations. When I got into Newfoundlands in the 1970’s, dog crates for them were only 24 inches wide. To my amazement any size Newfie could easily turn around in such a cage whereas no human could do so on all fours.
When you are asking a dog to back up most are reluctant but when you want them to do so while harnessed between shafts and with a vehicle behind them, you have taken away their ability to even peek at where they might be going. This manoeuvre then requires absolute trust by the dog of their handler. My training advice is for the human to make absolutely sure that there are no ruts or holes or other impediments behind the cart so that the dog never has a valid reason to not trust you.
Trust however goes well beyond backing up your dog with a towed vehicle. The most basic feature of dog carting is hauling forward while harnessed in shafts. When so configured your dog feels more vulnerable to attack by other animals. Most of his defensive capability is now compromised. His peripheral vision is somewhat limited as he can’t look as far behind or as far down; his flexibility is severely limited by the hard shafts and the mass of the vehicle he is attached to. Now he is unable to effectively protect his human or himself. Moreover any attempt to defend himself would likely result in injury from the harness and vehicle entanglement.
No wonder many canines are reluctant when first harnessed. As I indicated in an earlier column, staging the level of hauling such as starting with an unshafted vehicle like a toboggan, then progressing to a wagon with shafts and finally to a cart will help to develop the trust.
The trust must not only be developed, it must be maintained and reinforced constantly. In other words your canine hauler must be certain that you have his back, literally. This means that not only must you ensure that the cart’s fenders are not hitting things or that he is surprised by something or someone from behind but you also have to protect him from any approaching potential threat. Previously I have described some of the techniques used by carters to protect their dogs. These include carrying a stick or pepper spray.
The most common situation where you would have to defend your dog is an approaching loose dog, whether hostile or not. If you can’t shoo the dog away then you should put your body or the vehicle between the dogs while retaining total control of your canine. This latter is crucial as a dog can be hurt when harnessed in shafts just by contorting his body in preparation for a physical challenge. Best way to achieve such control is to use a double handled leash or a traffic handle. This enables you to control the head while placing your body and/or the vehicle to block the approaching animal.
Always remember when carting, you must have your dog’s back and he must know that you do.
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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