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Newfoundlands were bred to work as search and rescue dogs, so they are big, strong, trainable and able to work independently. All these traits make them very suitable to train to pull a cart. Newfoundlands are frequently taught this skill to give them a job, which working dog “Newfies” take to naturally, and to complete a useful task for their owners. A Newfoundland can pull small loads and even children in a cart. Dogs like Newfies can be trained to pull carts specifically designed for dogs, or ones that are homemade or adapted from wagons. A Newfoundland's ability to work independently is coupled with an independent nature; they do not respond well to harsh treatment, but they do respond well to positive, reward-based training, so keep this in mind when working with a Newfoundland dog.
Carting, or drafting, as it is sometimes called, has been a useful activity our canine friends have been trained to perform to aid us with search and rescue, labor, and for fun. Large dogs like Newfoundlands are ideally suited to cart pulling, as they have the strength and are adaptable and willing workers. To pull a cart, a dog should have a good grasp on basic obedience commands. While working on a leash you can begin adapting basic obedience commands for cart pulling, for example, stop or stay can become “Whoa” or you can add right and left commands while heeling that can be used to provide directions when pulling a cart. You will need to provide directions when pulling a cart, to move forward, stop and stand, go right, left and even to move backward. Weight should be added gradually to a cart that is pulled by your dog so as not to confuse or overtax your Newfoundland. Before initiating drafting, make sure your dog is mature and not still developing joints and musculature, as starting too soon can put undue strain on developing muscles and joints.
You will want to get your Newfoundland familiar with basic obedience and directional commands prior to carting. Also, making sure your Newfoundland is used to the harness he will be using for pulling the cart prior to actually hooking your dog up to weight and pulling. Take your time so as not to overwhelm your dog. There are a variety of harnesses made for dogs to pull carts with a common popular style is a Siwash harness which has a padded “V” that comes over the shoulders and in front of the chest. This style allows for easy movement and distributes pulling weight. A proper harness hooks to cart shafts and does not put strain on the neck. Shafts run from the harness to the cart or wagon. Harnesses should have a way to prevent shafts from running through the harness and allowing the cart to ride up on your dog, hitting him in the back of his legs or bottom. When carting, always carry a water dish and water, and check equipment before proceeding to ensure everything is well fitted and in good repair to avoid injury.
The Acclimatize to Cart Method
Put a harness on your Newfoundlander, let him wear the harness while moving around the house.
Pull wagon on walks
Walk with your Newfoundlander on a leash while in a harness. Pull a wagon next to him to get your dog used to the sight and sound of the wagon. Praise him and provide treats as you walk.
Practice cart commands such as 'let's go', 'stop', and 'back' while you pull the wagon. Reward with treats.
Hook up to cart
Hook your Newfoundland'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 Newfoundland gets used to pulling the wagon, introduce cart commands again: 'go', 'stop', and 'back'. Reward correct responses to commands. Gradually add weight to the cart when your dog is comfortable.
The Reinforce Pulling Method
Put a harness on your Newfoundland and let your dog wear the harness. Go for walks and get accustomed to the harness. Provide treats.
Attach your dog’s harness to a cross bar. Have an assistant hold the cross bar. Call your dog to you, and when your dog tightens up on the harness, use a clicker to click and provide a high value treat to reinforce the feeling of pulling.
Have your assistant walk behind your Newfie, putting some resistance on the harness to keep the lines tight, while you encourage your dog forward. Capture the pulling with a clicker and provide treats.
Reinforce pulling a cart
Attach an empty cart to your Newfoundlanders harness. Walk next to your dog with your Newfoundlander on a leash and a treat bag and clicker on hand. 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 Newfoundland needs to take before being reinforced. Add weight to the cart, a little at a time, and continue. Eventually decrease clicking and treating and replace with praise.
The Prepare Off-Wagon Method
Accustom to harness
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 training. Your dog should be familiar with the harness before hooking him up to a cart. Young Newfoundlands are usually not started on pulling until about 15 months of age.
Teach commands for carting
Teach your Newfoundland 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. Teach to moving backward by creating an alleyway with furniture or obstacles for your dog to back through.
Practice with a box
Prepare a cardboard box by punching holes in it and attaching a long cord so the box drags several feet behind the dog. Because the box is light, and and doesn't make noise when dragged, it gives your dog the experience of pulling something behind him without causing undue stress. 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, letting your Newfie get used to having something drag behind him.
Practice with shafts
Introduce training shafts to your Newfoundland’s harness. Use wooden poles he can drag behind him while attached to his harness. Walk with your dog on a leash and provide cart commands. Gradually move the shafts further through the harness so they are protruding in front of the harness.
When your Newfoundland is ready, you can attach a cart with wheels and shafts to the harness and start carting.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 02/06/2018, edited: 01/08/2021