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Canine Trauma

Australian Cattle Dogs Excel at Weight Pulling

Teressa Keenan

Looking for a new activity to keep you and your ACD busy? Weight pulling just might be your answer. It promotes physical conditioning, strengthens the bond between dog and handler and provides for a constructive outlet for canine competition.

Much like a tractor pull, the object of the game is to see who can pull the heaviest load. The dog must pull a weighted cart or sled for a distance of 16 feet within a 60 second time limit. Dog and handler both enter the pulling lane together. The dog is attached to a cart (or sled, if the competition is being held on snow) and told to stay while the handler leaves the dog and goes to the finish line. Once across the line the handler is not allowed to touch the dog until the pull is completed. The handler calls his/her dog; the timer starts; and the cheering begins. Sometimes you can even see the whole crowd leaning toward the finish line mentally pushing the cart along with the dog. The winner is the dog that pulls the most amount of weight. In the event of a tie the winner becomes the dog that pulled the weight in the least amount of time.

These pictures are of my boy Aky. So far the most he's ever pulled in practice is 2000 lbs. In competition, he's pulled around 1700 lbs. He has earned his WDS on wheels (had to pull a minimum of 23 times his weight at three different events) and is 2/3 of the way to earning his WDS on snow.

We will have to wait until next season to try to finish that one, because I doubt we'll get another chance to pull on snow this season. The season is not over yet -- but he's currently sitting in first place for his region on snow and in second place on wheels.
Any dog can compete in weight pulling; large and small, pure breed and mixed. Some of the most popular breeds have been Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and mixed breeds. Dogs are divided up into 6 different weight classes so that they will be competing with other dogs of comparable size. The different classes are: 35# and under, 36-60#, 61-80#, 81-100#, 101-120#, and 121# and over. The largest dog to be seen competing in a weight pulling event was an English Mastiff weighing in at approximately 250# and the smallest dog has been a 12# poodle.

The International Weight Pull association (IWPA) is a non-profit organization that promotes the sport of weight pulling. The IWPA was first organized in 1984 and has been growing ever since. It consists of 10 regions spread out across the United States and Canada. The pulling season officially begins on September 1st and runs through April 1st. Dogs and handlers compete at various events throughout the season earning points. At the end of the season the points are tallied and the top three dogs in each weight class for their region earn medals and the opportunity to attend an international pull-off competition.

In addition to earning points individual dogs can compete against themselves to earn working dog titles by pulling a specified percentage of their body weight at three or four events. Three certificates are available: Working Dog (WD) in which the dog pulls 12 times their weight (5 times if pulling on snow) at 4 different events; Working Dog Excellent (WDX) in which the dog pulls 18 times their weight (10 times if on snow) at 4 different events; and Working Dog Superior (WDS) in which the dog pulls 23 times their weight (15 times if on snow) at 3 different events.

Although not as popular as northern breeds and terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs can excel at weight pulling. Weight pulling is an athletic event; quite simply put; the strongest dog will win. ACD’s are most definitely athletic dogs. They are well built, muscular and posses the stamina needed to continue to pull as the sled gets heavier.

We will be attending the International Weight Pulling Championships this year in Leavenworth, Washington April 29-30th, 2000.

Here are a couple of pictures of Cito weight pulling. Cito is 5 and is retired from pulling. He pulled for one year then I found out he had elbow dysplasia so we quit. Before we quit pulling though he earned his WDX title on snow; the gold medal for his region/weight class on snow and the silver medal on wheels.
In addition to being physically strong Cattle Dogs are mentally tough. The handler has no contact with the dog during the pull, so it is up to the dog’s willingness to pull. The most important quality in a good weight puller is "heart and desire" while many Malamutes and Pitt Bull type dogs have the physical strength to pull much higher weights than my German Shepherds the thing that has continued to win medals, earn titles and allow us to compete in the annual pull-off is the "heart" these dogs posses. They strive to please and they just never quit trying. Like my GSD’s; Cattle Dog’s have huge hearts and ton’s of determination. This quality, which draws so many of us to the breed, also provides the basis for Cattle Dogs to be successful at weight pulling.

Along the same lines as heart, a successful weight pulling dog must have a strong bond with his/her handler and have the desire to please. No food or toys or other treats can be used in competition. The only tool you have to convince your dog to try his hardest to pull the cart is your voice. The desire to please and the strong bond most all Cattle Dogs have with their humans only helps them to do well at this sport.

Lastly, but still important, is obedience. Cattle Dogs are smart and very willing to learn. In competition the dog must stay in place while the handler goes across the finish line. If the dog moves the cart before the handler is across the line it is considered a false start. Two false starts and the dog is disqualified.

There are 5 ACD’s from 3 different regions currently participating in the IWPA this season. Bulldozer who is currently holding the silver medal in his region on wheels; D.D. who is currently holding a gold medal in her region on wheels and won the gold last year on snow; Jack who is currently holding onto the silver medal on wheels (was 4th place over all last year) and who pulled a personal best of 1225 lbs. this year; Breeze who is currently in 4th place on wheels in his/her region this year and Inferno who is currently in 10th place in his/her region this year. Although the standings are not final yet for this season you can see that ACD’s are having fun and bringing home the medals too. In addition to these 5; there are 2 young Cattle Dogs who are just getting started in weight pulling. Poe and Tessa have been coming to practice and are learning the basics. Poe is a natural; he just hunkers down, leans into the harness and pulls. He has already shown that he’s capable of pulling over 18 times his own weight. We are looking forward to seeing these two in competition next season.

Cito also went to the International Weight Pulling Championships that year in Greeley, Colorado. He pulled a personal best of 1255 lbs and came in 8th out of eight dogs on wheels. Then the next day, he pulled 250 lbs on snow and earned the Bbronze Medal. I was way proud of my boy!
If you think you might be interested in trying weight pulling with your dog, the easiest way is to attend a fun pull. Loaner harnesses will be available and there will be experienced people there to help you walk your dog through. The most important piece of equipment needed for weight pulling (other than a healthy, well conditioned dog) is the harness. It needs to be properly fit to the dog and it must have a spreader bar at the back end so that there won’t be any restriction of the dog’s movement when it’s pulling.

Safety of the dog is of paramount concern and since IWPA's organization in 1984, no dogs have been hurt in competition. To continue this trend, it is highly recommended that newcomers to the sport wait until their dog is at least one year old and has had the hips and elbows certified free of dysplasia. Make sure that your dog is healthy and in good physical condition. To find out more about the sport of weight pulling you can visit the following home pages on the Internet:

Author Teressa Keenan lives in Missoula, Montana with three wonderful dogs: a German Shepherd Dog/Golden Retriever cross who got her started in dog sports and made her want to get a purebred dog so she could do more; a 5 yr old German Shepherd Dog, and a 2 yr old German Shepherd Dog. Says Teressa, "I still feel like I'm a beginner to dog training and have tons to learn, but I am enjoying playing around with schutzhund, obedience, tracking, agility, weight pulling and therapy stuff with my dogs." Teressa has been a member of IWPA since 1996 and just this year was approved as a Chief Judge and, as Teressa says, "I get to see the sport from a new angle now."

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