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How to Train Your Dog to Pull a Wagon
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Want to give your dog a fun task that helps you out with chores, gives him an opportunity to earn rewards, and provides excellent physical activity and conditioning? Why not teach your dog to pull a cart? Dogs that were bred to be working dogs, especially, benefit from having a purpose and being able to perform work; it’s what they were designed to do! If you teach your dog to pull a cart, you can have him haul firewood, groceries, or other items, and help around your home or farm. Also, pulling a cart can provide entertainment if you have your dog haul small children in a cart, providing hours of fun for the kids and the dog. Most dogs actually enjoy the work and the attention they get for performing it. There are even competitions you can participate in, where your dog pulls carts with increased weight or around obstacles, or you can participate in local shows and parades to showcase your dog’s ability.
Many large athletic dog breeds excel at pulling carts, and providing these dogs with a job can be rewarding for the dog, as well as practical for their owners. Young dogs or puppies should not be trained to pull a cart, as their joints are not fully developed for work, and they do not have the fully formed muscle tissue required for the work. Dogs should be about 2 years of age before learning to pull a cart and perform cart work. Your dog will need to learn basic obedience commands before learning to pull a cart and commands specific to cart work. Cart work commands such as 'let's go' to initiate pulling and other commands like 'stop' or 'back' or even directional commands to turn right or left can be developed prior to your dog being introduced to the cart, with just the harness on, if your dog is too young to pull actual weight. Your goal will be for your dog to pull the cart in a calm, relaxed manner, without being nervous or frightened of the cart. Gradually, you will add more weight to the cart, being careful not to overload or stress out your dog, as they develop their cart pulling skills. Eventually, your dog will be able to pull appropriate loads for their size and physical ability, to help with chores or participate in competitions or fun activities.
It is important to use the right kind and correct fitting harness when teaching your dog to pull a cart. A harness that is appropriate for dogs to pull a cart is available commercially. The harness should evenly distribute weight and is padded for comfort and extends down the dog's torso with a quick release snap so you can free your dog in case of a problem. The harness should have rings on the side to connect to the shafts of the wagon. The shafts and rings allow the wagon to stop when your dog stops and prevents the wagon from hitting the back of your dog. The wagon you use should have attachments for shafts on either side to attach to the harness, and the wagon would be in good repair and pull easily. You can use a commercially available dog wagon, or convert a child's wagon for use by your dog. Your dog should know basic obedience commands before getting started pulling a wagon. Lots of treats and a leash to attach to your dog's harness will aid with training. Using a clicker can be a useful training aid, especially if your dog is previously familiar with clicker training.
The Prepare Off-Wagon Method
Put the harness on your dog and let him wear it around the house and for walks in the weeks before you are ready to start. This is good for young dogs that are not ready to pull a wagon yet.
Teach your dog obedience commands and cart commands, such as 'stand/stay', 'let's go', 'stop', or 'whoa', and 'back'. Teach your dog to move forward, stop, and back up wearing the harness. Guide your dog on a leash while teaching these commands, provide treats to positively reinforce.
Prepare a cardboard box by punching holes in it and attaching a long cord so the cart drags 5 feet behind the dog. The box has negligible weight, and makes little noise when dragged, but gives your dog the experience of pulling something behind him. Put your dog on a leash and attach box cords to either side of your dog's harness.
Walk forward with your dog on a leash, pulling the cardboard box, until he gets used to the look and feel of something dragging behind him.
Practice commands with box
Start practicing commands such as 'let's go', and 'stop'. Provide rewards.
Introduce training shafts to your dog's harness, wooden poles he can drag behind him attached to his harness, so he gets used to the feel and restriction of the shafts. Walk with your dog on leash and provide cart commands.
Practice dragging shafts
Gradually move the shafts further through the harness so they are protruding in front of the harness, as they will when your dog is pulling a cart. Practice turns and stops.
When your dog is old enough, you can attach a cart with wheels and shafts to the harness and your dog will be prepared to accept the cart and get to work.
The Acclimatize Method
Teach stand and stay
Teach your dog to 'stand/stay' by holding a treat in front of his nose so he stands rather than sits. Handle your dog in the stand/stay; position touch his sides.
Put a harness on your dog while he is in stand/stay let him wear the harness while moving around.
Handler pulls wagon
Walk with your dog in a harness while you pull the wagon next to your dog and behind your dog to get your dog used to the sight and sound of the wagon. Praise him and give treats.
Practice cart commands such as 'let's go', 'stop', and 'back', while you pull the wagon. Reward with treats.
Hook your dog's harness to the wagon with the shafts, do not put weight in the wagon.
Walk your dog on a lead, with the wagon attached, if your dog seems nervous or frightened, stop and go back to walking your dog while you pull the wagon.
As your dog gets used to pulling the wagon introduce cart commands again: 'go', 'stop', 'back'. Reward correct responses to commands.
Make it harder
Add weight to the cart when your dog is comfortable. Practice in different locations.
The Reinforce Pull Method
Put the harness on your dog .Let your dog wear the harness, go for walks, and get used to it.
Attach the harness to a cross bar. Have an assistant hold the cross bar.
Call your dog to you. When your dog tightens up on the harness, click and treat.
Reinforce pull assistant
Have your assistant walk behind the dog, putting some resistance on the harness to keep the lines tight, encourage your dog forward. As he pulls forward, click and treat.
Attach an empty cart to your dog's harness. Have an assistant walk next to your dog while you stand in front of him and call him.
Reinforce pull cart
When your dog pulls the cart forward just a few steps, click and treat.
Continue clicking and treating every few steps. Increase how many steps your dog needs to take before being reinforced.
Add a little weight to the cart. Ask your dog to come forward, click and treat.
Continue adding more weight, eventually decrease clicking and treating and replace with praise. Practice on different terrain and in different situations.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 10/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021
Training Questions and Answers
Bernese Mountain Dog
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0 found helpful
I can't quite get a response on my dog for most tricks.I would think that he would pick this up in no time not to pull a wagon but to pull a cart. Because he is a bernese mountain dog.
Jan. 2, 2019
Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer
1133 Dog owners recommended
Hello Louise, I suggest trying a different motivator in front of him, like tossing a ball, having someone walk in front on him and feed him treats as he takes steps, or encouraging him forward with a tug toy. He may be nervous about the cart behind him or you might be starting too heavy or large. Taking the training slow and rewarding him for all progress, starting with a smaller or lighter cart first and gradually adding weight or moving to a larger one, or making sure his harness is padded and not rubbing may help. It takes the average dog 20-30 repetitions of something to learn a basic trick or command, so try to be patient with him and break the steps down even further for him, motivate him to move with something he likes, and reward even small amounts of progress to show him that he is doing the correct action. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden
Jan. 3, 2019
Jack Daniel's Icon
I got SUPER lucky. I have a 7 year old dog also named Wunder's Art of War CGC TKN TDI RN (AKA Tank). He works because I ask him to. (While rolling his eyes.) He did like doing the nursing home visits, but he's almost 8, & he is starting to like napping more than visits, training, & shows. So, He is retired. My 2 year old Jack aka J.D. Has ALWAYS loved working. When he was little, he loved balls, stuffed animals, & he rarely shreds anything. He never ate anything he shredded either. Training has been amazing. He loves to bait for treats. He doesn't care what kind of treats either. However, if it's a really highly rewarding treat like real meat, my fingers are my livelyhood, so we have to stay away from that! LOL! His favorite toys are little squirrel squeaky toys from Chewy.com, & Chuckit balls. He also has a skateboard, that even if a squirrel is near, he'd rather play on his skateboard. When he was 1, he almost broke my foot. We were in the beginning of a parade, & he was being SUPER naughty. I had trouble controlling him. He stepped on my foot. My shoe fell off, & I just put it back on, & kept going. I am still paying for medical bills, & still going to physical therapy for it. So, I figured, I'd keep training him, get him to heel, & when he was 2 planned on getting a radio flyer wagon. I scored one on facebook for $35! WOOH! I bought him a harness. Tried Tank first. He HATES it. Tried it on J.D. I skipped most of the steps, because I have walked both dogs with the harness just because of my crippledness thanks to J.D. I have also done yard work with the wheelbarrel with them. So, both dogs were exposed to most of the steps already. J.D. was great with the empty wagon. So, I figured I could have him help me with yardwork ect. So, in the picture above, he was waiting for me to finish cleaning up halloween decorations. In the winter, he hauled me from the pool house. Yesterday, he hauled a total of 300lbs to the shed. We do have a hill, & he was getting frusterated with 100lbs. So, I took a 50lb bag out, & he made it up. So, 1 bag at a time, we made several trips up to the shed. He taught himself, that going up hill fast made it a LOT easier! What an AWESOME BOY! :) Maybe eventually, he'll carry me TO the poolhouse!
April 9, 2019
Jack Daniel's Icon's Owner