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This section overviews a number of sports that are related to what is loosely termed “protection work”. These all involve multiple components of obedience, tracking, and patrol work, however, not just “protection” training. And as a matter of fact, the different sports described below focus on different elements. AWT rarely emphasize bitework, while Schutzhund has a heavy emphasis on it even though the two sports both have the three components of obedience, tracking and patrol dog work.
Some pointers to online information:
- American Working Trials, kept by Mark and Kim Donnell, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- French Ring Homepage, kept by Neal Wallis, email@example.com.
- Schutzhund Homepage, kept by Linda, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Schutzhund Homepage, kept by Ed Frawley, email@example.com.
Contents & Quick Navigation
- Search and Rescue Dogs
- Sled Dogs
- All commands are spoken in a firm, calm, not too loud voice.
- Herding Dogs
- Narcotics and Evidence Dogs
- Patrol Dogs
- Water Rescue Dogs
- This information was kindly supplied by Carol Norton-Miller and/or Darlene Stever .
- Drafting Dogs
Schutzhund dogs are generally considered working dogs, as many of them are subsequently used as patrol dogs and guard dogs. However, there are many people who participate in Schutzhund as a sport, enjoying the training and titling in of itself.
Schutzhund is a German word meaning “protection dog”. It refers to a sport that focuses on developing and evaluating those traits in dogs that make them more useful and happier companions to their owners. In Germany, a Schutzhund degree is required before breeding a German Shepherd Dog.
A dog that is unreliable around people will have a difficult time passing a Schutzhund test. In order to enter for a Schutzhund I title, the dog must have passed a the Begleithund test, which is a combination of a CD and Canine Good Citizen test.
Schutzhund is a dog training and breeding regimen developed originally in the 20’s by the Deutsches Shaeferhund Verein (German Shepherd Dog Club), or SV, in order to maintain the working ability of the breed. While the term Schutzhund means literally “protection dog”, the training involves work equally in tracking, obedience, and protection. In order to get a Schutzhund degree a dog must pass all three phases of the work. Also, a working title (at least a SchH I) is required for breed survey purposes, and in order to register an approved litter.
The first Schutzhund trial was held in Germany in 1901 to emphasize the correct working temperament and ability in the German Shepherd breed. SV, the parent club of the breed, developed the Schutzhund test as a way of maintaining reliable dogs with traits suitable for breeding.
Many countries and working dog organizations have also adopted Schutzhund as a sport and test of working performance. International rules have been established by the Verein fuer Deutsche Hundesport (VDH). The first SchH trial in the U.S. was held in California in 1970. In 1987 the U.S.A. alone sanctioned nearly 300 trials with a total entry of 1,800 dog/handler teams.
Many breeds now participate in addition to GSDs. While there may be individual dogs of a particular breed that may be suitable for the work, the following are most consistently able to perform: GSDs, Belgian Malinois, Doberman Pinscher, Bouvier des Flandres, Rottweiler, Tervuren, Boxer, Giant Schnauzer, etc. Generally, these are larger working breeds with strong prey and defense drives, and temperaments suitable for the tasks of the training.
A Note about Protection Work
The results of this type of training depend heavily on the temperament of the dog and the quality of the trainer. There are enough bad trainers out there that you have to be very careful who you choose. The best avenues for finding a good trainer are through a responsible and dedicated club.
Most of these tests include temperament tests as any good protection dog is stable and trustworthy around people. The common image of a ferocious, barely controlled dog has no place in these events and tests.
Protection work in itself does not make a dog mean. In order to do protection work, you must have a temperamentally stable dog. An inappropriately aggressive dog is actually not a good candidate for this work. You need a dog with confidence and good nerves. A nervous or shy dog is a poor candidate because it can’t take the stress of the training.
A protection dog needs both prey and defensive drives. An unbalanced dog is very difficult to train because protection work is the blending of both these drives to produce a calm, reliable dog that understands the work.
A dog must be brought along slowly to build confidence and understanding. A dog should not be hurt or frightened in order to elicit aggression. If neither prey work or defensive postures elicits a response, the dog either doesn’t have the proper drives or it is not mature enough to handle the work.
Some owners inappropriately encourage aggression in their dogs outside of protection training. This is wrong. They sometimes do not keep the control over the dog, often delighting in the macho behavior of their dog.
Protection training will not change the dog’s basic temperament. It does give you a good view of the dog’s total temperament under stress. An edgy dog will always be edgy. A stable dog will always be stable.
There are three major degrees awarded – SchH I, SchH II, and SchH III — in order of increasing difficulty. SchH I (IPO I) is the apprentice test. A SchH III dog must demonstrate a high level of performance, ability, and courage.
The traits that make for a good Schutzhund candidate mostly are innate characteristics that must be bred for. Even among dogs bred out of Schutzhund bitches and dogs, a minority have the ability to reach even SchH I, and a small percentage will have the necessary drive, intelligence and hardness to achieve a Sch III title.
In addition to breeding, early development is important. The young pup should not be subjected to strong corrections or experience being dominated by another dog, and all training and play should end on a positive note, with the pup “winning.”
The IPO (International Pruefungsordnung) rules, under the auspices of the FCI (Federation Internationale Cynologique), are similar to the Schutzhund rules and the trials are run in the same manner, with the exception that no evaluation of the fighting instincts, courage or hardness of an IPO entrant is performed during the protection phase of the trial.
A summary of the available degrees:
Degree Min Age B Begleithunde 12 months (Companion Dog) FH Faehrtenhundpruefung 16 months (Advanced Tracking Dog Test) AD Ausdauerpruefung 16 months (Endurance Test) SchH A Schutzhund Examination A 18 months SchH I Schutzhund Examination I 18 months SchH II Schutzhund Examination II 19 months SchH III Schutzhund Examination III 20 months
Schutzhund: Theory and Training Methods by Susan Barwig and Stewart Hilliard. 1991 Howell Books ISBN 0-87605-731-8
Training the Competitive Working Dog by Tom Rose and Gary Patterson 1985 Giblaut Publishing Company 3333 S. Bannock, Suite 950, Englewood,CO 80110
The Rose book is getting obsolete, particularly the obedience section (Tom now uses much more motivational techniques) but here is still a lot of good theory and practical exercises.
Schutzhund Obedience: Training in Drive with Gottfried Dildei by Shiela Booth. 1992, Podium Publications.
Highly recommended by many.
Search and Rescue Dogs
SAR comprises a large variety of abilities, some of which are covered separately below. SAR varies by locale and purpose: searching for victims in rubble (avalanches or collapsed buildings) is different from searching wilderness/forest areas for a missing person. SAR is often linked with local law enforcement, as SAR dogs can trail escaped convicts or suspects from a crime scene.
Where to get started
It is best to affiliate with a reputable SAR organization. You may even wish to join the reserves unit with your local law enforcement — this entitles you to insurance protection, for example. Be picky about finding a professional organization to join: there are many wannabe clubs out there that would really just get in the way of an actual SAR effort, and there is variability even with law-enforcement groups.
There are some national groups and many states have their own organizations (e.g., California’s CARDA — California Rescue Dog Association, WOOF — Wilderness Finders, Inc., SSD — Sierra Search Dogs). An additional benefit is being able to learn from people who’ve been at this for a long time: no book or self-training will ever give you the valuable insights you can gain this way. These types of organization will have their own certification and testing processes. For example, WOOF requires dogs and handlers to be dual certified — wilderness AND disaster SAR.
A professional organization should have law enforcement liaisons (or even be part of the police force) as any search, even for a missing person, has the potential for turning into a hunt for a felon. Some organizations are put together from law enforcement reserve officers, sometimes active duty officers. Others simply work closely with local law enforcement. Some states have statewide SAR organizations, others operate on a per county basis. However SAR is set up in a state, cooperation for the protection of everyone is essential.
Any dog can detect a scent. Some are individually better at it than others. Some breeds (especially the hounds) have been bred so that as a class, they contain many more talented individuals. A dog’s conformation, structure, and temperament will all affect its talent at tracking or trailing.
But the breed doesn’t really matter, except for serious and professional tracking. You can have fun with tracking on your own. All you have to do is train your dog to follow its nose. Some extremely practical information, whether or not you’re serious about SAR, to get started with can be found in:
Button, Lue. Practical Scent Dog Training. Alpine Publications, Inc. 214 19th St. SE, Loveland, CO 80537. 1990. ISBN: 0-931866-47-2.
A step-by-step practical training guide for air scent, evidence search, disaster search and the AKC tracking test. Starts with young puppies. Well illustrated and methods extensively tested at Los Alamos’ Mountain Canine Corps.
Tracking and Trailing
There are two major ways to follow the trail of a person, although they’re really on two ends of a continuum. Tracking is the process where the dog follows the person’s exact path. Trailing is the process where the dog follows the person’s scent, which may or may not approximate the path the person took because of factors affecting the dispersal of scents such as wind and temperature.
Contrary to popular opinion, water does not disrupt a tracking or trailing dog, the dog will simply cast around for your trail on the other side if the water has carried surface scent away (if the water is still, the scent remains on the surface of the water).
In addition, trained dogs can locate corpses in the water, so the theory that water does not hold scent does not, well, hold water. Dogs can even trail people in cars, from the scent that blows out of the window or through the vents of the car.
Some common terminology: A Track Solid dog follows a track, and usually the newest. A Track Sure dog will follow the track associated with the scent he started with, and will not follow a track laid by a different person as long as the second track was laid at a different time.
A Track Clean Dog will follow the correct trail even if it crosses other trails laid at the same time. For example, for disaster work (e.g., finding victims in rubble), dogs lead their handlers towards any human scent from the rubble; this is “tracking solid.” A Bloodhound, given a scent article, will “track clean,” finding that same individual regardless of whatever crosses the track.
To start trailing a specific individual, the dog needs an uncontaminated scent article. Best items are underwear, T-shirts, or something that the person has directly handled. The scent article is just as much evidence as the “smoking gun” is, unfortunately, many people (including law enforcement folks) are still unaware of how to use scent as evidence and often handle, and thus contaminate, potential scent articles.
Dogs can still get around this by doing the “missing member” search: the dog takes note of which scent on the article is not immediately present and searches for that person.
Traditionally, people think of SAR dogs hunting through forest or wilderness for lost hikers or children. While this is still quite true, SAR dogs also find escaped prisoners, lost [mentally impaired] patients, lost children in the city or the suburbs, suspects fleeing a crime scene. As a result, urban SAR is rapidly growing.
Bloodhounds are by far the best for performing difficult and long trails. They are large (100-120 lbs), capable of covering great distance, and their facial structure (loose skin) allows them to cup and catch even the faintest scent. Their stubborn and patient temperament allows them to stick with trails that are miles long.
Bloodhounds were originally bred for large prey, and have been used to track people since about the 16th century. For smaller game, other hounds were developed, with shorter legs and smaller size. These type of hounds cannot cover trails as old or as long as the Bloodhound.
Labradors and German Shepherds are often used in tracking. They do not do as well with older or longer trails but are more than capable of following trails within their limitations. Also because they can work off leash better than the Bloodhound can, they can work more rapidly if there is a need for haste.
Quite often no scent article is available. Dogs trained in area search can be employed instead. These dogs air scent (that is, test the air rather than follow a specific scent) and search for any human scent. This is most often used in wilderness search for missing hikers or campers.
Patrol dogs will also use the technique to find anyone hiding in a building or other confined area. Disaster search dogs (below) also employ air scenting in their work.
Some SAR dogs are trained to search through the rubble for people. In this scenario, the dog is not finding a specific person, as is the case with tracking and trailing. The dog is looking for any human scent. Avalanches, collapsed buildings, airplane and train crashes are all examples of sites where these kinds of dogs are employed.
Most often, German Shepherds, Labradors, Belgian Sheepdogs, Malinois, and similar sized breeds are used for this kind of work: these dogs work well off leash (which Bloodhounds do not) and are suitably agile for scrambling around in the debris (which Bloodhounds are not).
Dogs can be trained to find cadavers, new or old. Some dogs are employed on archeological digs to help locate old graves. Other dogs are used by law enforcement to find recently dead people, or to collect all the bones found in an area. Others find drowning victims. This is a rapidly expanding field, with new methods of training currently being developed.
Many SAR organizations will put together mock disaster sites and evaluate dogs sent over the sites. There are no standards or anything like that except within a particular organization.
For tracking and trailing, AKC and ABC (American Bloodhound Club) have a series of titles in tracking (TD, TDX) and trailing (MT, MTX). ABC is negotiating with the AKC to add the trailing titles to its standard set.
American Rescue Dog Association. Search and Rescue Dogs. Howell Book House, 1991. ISBN 0-87605-733-4.
ARDA outlines their philosophy and methods for SAR. This book is excellent for an understanding of the depths of committment and work to be a SAR volunteer. It is a compilation of notes made over a thirty year period; consequently, some of the information is out of date.
There are two main deficiencies in this book. The first is a bias toward the German Shepherd Dog, such that they actually refuse to use any other breed; the second is a seemingly cavalier disregard for the consequences of deliberately searching for cadavers with SAR dogs, when such dogs should always search for live scent (particularly for disaster work).
Bryson, Sandy. Search Dog Training. Third printing. Boxwood Press, 183 Ocean View Blvd., Pacific Grove, CA 93950. 1991 (c 1984). ISBN: 0-910286-94-9.
A well organized, comprehensive discussion of search dog training. Includes practical tips, discussion of search and rescue and the law and many other topics.
Davis, L. Wilson. Go Find! Training Your Dog to Track. Ninth printing, 1984. Howell Book House, Inc., New York. c1974. ISBN: 0-87605-550-1 (hardcover).
Blurb: “Major L. Wilson Davis is America’s recognized authority on Tracking — named in September 1973 to the Obedience Advisory Committee of the AKC as its official consultant on Tracking and scent training for dogs. This official status follows upon decades of recognized achievement in these phases of Obedience training.
Following distinguished service with the K-9 Corps during WWII, he has been active in the Government’s program of using trained tracking dogs for the recovery of detonated missile parts in missile experimentation. Major Davis was an AKC licensed judge for all classes of Obedience. He is presently training director of the famous Oriole Dog Training Club of Baltimore.
He organized and headed the Baltimor City K-9 Corps, one of the finest in the country, and is often asked to lecture and advise police departments on the use of tracking dogs in law enforcement. Major Davis is a recipient of the Quaker Oats Distinguished Service Award for his dedicated contributions to dog training.”
Pearsall, Milo D. and Hugo Verbruggen, MD. Scent: Training to Track, Search, and Rescue. Alpine Publications, Inc., Colorado. 1982. ISBN: 0-931-866-11-1.
Blurb: “The authors first look at the scientific qualities of scent — what and how dogs smell and how environmental factors affect the track. Then they use this background as a basis for training. Topics include the science of scent, kindergarten puppy tracking, tracking equipment, tracking tests, training to search, search and track, search and find, search and rescue, trail companion, scent, and the law enforcement agency, first aid on the trail and much more.”
Tolhurst, William D. with Lena F. Reed. Manhunters! Hounds of the Big T. Hound Dog Press, 10705 Woodland Avenue, Puyallup, WA 98373. 1984. ISBN: 0-9617723-0-1 (hardcover).
Tolhurst is a Search and Rescue volunteer in upstate New York. This book recounts his experiences using Bloodhounds in trailing. Many fascinating stories. Tolhurst includes a section on training a dog to locate dead bodies.
My thanks to Stephen Lee for this section.
Prior to the formation of sled dog racing as a formal sport, sled dogs were bred and used by native peoples of the polar regions of the world in their everyday lives for survival in harsh climates. Two dogs commonly employed in sledding are Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies. These two breeds had quite different origins and uses. Alaskan Malamutes originated with a group of Eskimo people known as the Mahlemiut.
The dogs of that time were very large freighting dogs, capable of pulling heavy weight. The Mahlemiut people inhabited the region in the upper part of the Anvik River in Alaska, and were spread out over a large area. The Mahlemiut people used these dogs for hauling food back to the villages. The gold rush in 1896 created a high demand for these dogs. On the other hand, Siberian Huskies originated with the Chuckchi people of northeastern Siberia.
These people had a Stone Age culture and used their dogs for a variety of things, like herding reindeer and pulling loads. These dogs were smaller and faster than their Mahlemiut counterparts. These dogs were exported to Alaska at around the time of the gold rush. Thus the gold rush played a very important role in the development of our modern day sled dog breeds.
Sled dog racing began as a formal sport with the first All-Alaska Sweepstakes race in 1908. Prior to this, Alaska’s mushers had little opportunity for recreation and they used their teams primarily for work and transportation. Rules for the races were established, and they provided a good diversion to the difficult living conditions.
In the 1920’s, airplanes were gradually replacing sled dog teams for transportation, freight hauling, and mail delivery. In 1925, sled dogs proved that they were invaluable during the “Great Race of Mercy to Nome.” In Nome, an outbreak of diphtheria threatened to become a fatal epidemic. A 20lb package of antitoxin serum needed to be relayed from Nenana to Nome.
Twenty drivers and more than 100 dogs were recruited for the run. Planes were ruled out due to extreme cold (40 below and colder) and if the plane crashed, the serum would be lost. Serum was transported from Anchorage to Nenana by train. The drive was a success, the serum was delivered and lives were saved.
The drive covered some 674 miles in less than five and a half days. This, along with the simple commemoration of the uses of the Iditarod trail, is the origin of the Iditarod sled dog race.
Types of sled dogs
Naturally, most northern breeds were used as sled dogs. Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Eskimo Dogs, Greenlands, Samoyeds, Norrbottenspets, and Hokkaidokens are all sled dogs. However, lots of different breeds of dogs have been and are used to drive sleds and carts.
People use Irish Setters, Dalmatians, Golden Retrievers, etc., to enjoy mushing sports. In fact, most modern day speed and endurance mushers use mixed breeds (often Siberian crossed with Greyhound). So, if you do not have a “sled dog,” but still want to enjoy the sport, fear not, for most any type of dog can be used. Mushing is fun, both to take part in and simply to watch.
Contrary to common belief, the word “mush” is not used to drive sled dogs. Mush comes from the French word “marche” which is from the verb “marcher” which means to walk. Undoubtedly, the French used this during gold rush days. The word “mush” is felt to be too “soft” a sound to be used as a command. Below is a short list of common commands and terms associated with dog driving sports.
Hike : Get the dogs moving Gee : Turn right Haw : Turn left Easy : Slow down Musher : One that drives sled dogs Mushing : The act of driving sled dogs Lead dog : Dog that steers the sled dog team and regulates speed Wheel dog : Dogs closest to the sled Sled : Wooden rig the dogs pull in the snow and on which you stand Snowless rigs : Also called training carts. Take the place of the sled when there is no snow.
There are many other terms common to dog driving sports. One book that has a very good glossary in it is Dog Driver, by Miki and Julie Collins. See the references section for a complete citation.
The types of mushing equipment alone could cover many pages: only the main points are covered here. The references listed at the end of this section provide additional information.
There are two main types of sleds — basket sleds and toboggan sleds. Basket sleds (also called stanchion sleds) are popular among sprint racers and recreational mushers. They are fast on glare ice and hard pack trails and are also good in high wind conditions. They are lightweight, and the basket is set high off the runners, which can keep gear dry.
Toboggan sleds are more durable and stable than the basket sleds, and they are capable of carrying bigger loads. They are more rigid and generally less maneuverable than basket sleds. The bed of the toboggan rides two inches above the snow. These sleds handle soft snow better than their basket counterparts.
Both types of sleds are equipped with a break, which is a vital item. The brake is very simple, consisting of a spring-loaded wood plank attached to the sled bed at one end and a metal hook at the other. When riding the sled, standing on the runners, one simply pushes down on the brake, driving the hook into the snow. It is an effective method of slowing and stopping the sled.
So, which sled? It depends on what you want to do. Basket sleds are lighter and more suitable for racing. Racing trails are groomed and hard packed for speed. They can be used for longer trips and camping. However, to carry more gear and run in softer snow conditions, a toboggan sled would be better. For the novice and/or once-in-a-while musher, the basket sled is the best choice. They are generally cheaper and easier to learn on.
In order to have your dog pull the sled, it must have a proper harness. There are many, but two main types of harnesses are the x-back and the freighting, or weight pulling harness. For speed or recreational mushing, the x-back harness is the harness of choice.
The harness is extremely important as it properly distributes the weight of the load across the dog’s muscular-skeleto system. Of all the components of mushing, the harness is the most important. The x-back harness is sometimes referred to as a racing harness, but it is NOT strictly used for racing.
As long as the load is not too heavy, the x-back is used for a wide variety of dog driving activities. The harness should be padded around the front and fit the dog very well. Unfortunately, a picture is not possible, and without that, it is a little difficult to visualize. See the references for additional details.
The weight pulling harness is used to haul heavier loads. Therefore, one would expect to see freighting harnesses used in conjunction with toboggan sleds. They are also used in competitive weight pulling. They are similar to the x-back harness, except that they are constructed to give the dog different freedom of movement and different distribution of the load.
The freighting harness has one very important feature that the x-back harness does not. At the rear of the harness, there is a “spacer”, usually, a wooden rod that is about as long as the dog is wide. While pulling heavy loads, the rod is well away from the back of the dogs rear legs.
For recreational mushers, this wooden rod can be somewhat irritating for the dog as it will hit the back of the dog’s legs when not loaded. Consider what you are going to do with the dog(s) before purchasing or making a harness.
The line that runs from the sled to the dogs is called a gang line. They are simple to construct yourself once you understand their function and geometry. The gang line consists of three components. The first is the tow line, which is typically 3/8 inch polyethelene rope.
It connects to the sled and runs up between the dogs which are hitched side by side on either side of the towline. To this, the tug lines are attached. These lines are typically 1/4 inch poly rope and are “braided” into the tow line. The tug lines attach to the harnesses (which are on the dogs!). The final component is the neckline. The neckline is also 1/4 inch poly rope and is braided into the tow line. The end of the neckline attaches to the dog’s collar. The dog does NOT pull from this under ANY circumstances.
The function of the neckline is to keep the dogs close to the tow line, thereby maximizing their pull strength. When out on the trail, you always want to have a spare gang line, as the dogs may break theirs, or a tangle may become so severe that the line must be cut to free the dogs!
The next component of mushing equipment is the snow hook. The snow hook is essentially an “emergency brake” for the sled. When you stop the sled, and must get off to untangle dogs or rest or something, you can set the snow hook in the snow and it will hold the dogs (and therefore the sled) in place.
They are remarkably effective. They are simple: a large, heavy, metal hook, weighing a couple of pounds and about 12 inches in length. These can be purchased from a variety of places. It is very important to attach the hook to the rear of the gangline, not the sled. A strong team of dogs can very easily tear a sled to pieces if the sled is between the hook and the dogs.
The last pieces of equipment to mention are the sled bag and dog booties. The sled bag can be used to carry an injured dog or gear. In an ISDRA sanctioned sled dog race, sled bags are a required piece of equipment. They can be made or purchased. Dog booties are used to protect the dog’s feet from injury, particularly on long journeys.
They are typically used when mushing on rough ice, when mushing along roadways where chemicals from de-icing can be present, or when driving the dogs on a snowless rig on a hard surface. Booties can be made or purchased.
How about the cost? Well, it varies, of course. The numbers below are typical.
Sled : $300.00 - 500.00 Harness : $15.00 - 18.00 Ganglines : $10.00 Sled Bags : $25.00 Snow Hook : $10.00 Booties : $1.00 (per paw)
The references section includes the names, addresses, and phone numbers of some outfitters that sell this type of equipment.
Skijoring really only requires six simple components. A skier (you!), a dog (or dogs!), an x-back harness, a tow line, padded belt, and cross country skis. You MUST know how to cross country ski VERY well to do this. The harness has been discussed previously, there is no need to discuss the skis, and the tow line is just that — a line that connects you to the dog(s). This leaves the padded belt. These can be purchased or made.
The idea is that you put the belt on, attach the tow line to it, attach the dogs to it, and go! Some people prefer to use a handle to hang on to rather than attach the dogs to them. The handle can then be dropped if the dogs pull you into trouble! Others feel that it is best to use a belt and execute a controlled fall in case of trouble rather than risk having the dogs injure themselves in a tangle when a handle is dropped.
Carol Kaynor adds that the use of a shock cord (aka bungee cord) is recommended in the skijoring line. It is an important enhancement over a regular towline and is easier on both the dog’s back and the skier’s back. Also recommended is a quick-release system of some sort between the belt and the line, for safety’s sake. In Fairbanks, a “quick point of detachment” is actually written into the race rules for skijoring.
Weight pulling equipment
The name of the game here is truly the harness. As discussed above, the weight pulling harness is completely different from the x-back harness, and THEY ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE! The weight pulling harness has side lines that connect to a spreader bar at the hock, instead of continuing up to the hips. This is important, because a single dog weighing 60 lbs may pull 2000 lbs!
Many mushers have a wheeled cart for training in the fall prior to snow fall. In areas with insufficient snow, these carts are used in competition. These can be purchased or made by a good welder. Carts are a lot of fun, but are difficult to come by, they can be difficult to control, and they go veryfast with enthusiastic dogs.
Some people use pulks in the snow and carts in the summer to work their dogs. Carts are small “wagons” that are used to haul small loads or children. Pulks are carts for the snow (they are like small sleds). They are used to carry equipment. Carts and pulks can be made or bought.
Training the musher
Dog driving is not merely riding on the back of the sled issuing commands to steer the dogs. It is work! If you start doing it in earnest, you will pull muscles, fall off the sled and have to pull yourself back on the runners with one hand, run yourself ragged chasing after the team (because you fell off of the sled), run into trees, and so on. In addition to these things, a musher must “peddle” the sled. This too can be tiring since it is repetitive. Peddling is pushing the sled forward with one foot while riding the sled.
This is helpful to the dogs, particularly when tired. You may also frequently get off to run alongside when the dogs are tired. Therefore, to successfully drive sled dogs, the musher must train his or her body as well. Conditioning of the musher is to a small extent a function of the type of mushing to be done.
The key is endurance and flexibility over muscle bulk. Running, biking, cross country skiing and downhill skiing are all good ways to build strength. You must remember that at all times, you are alpha. If you are tired, hesitant, and uncertain, your team will pick this up and become confused and unresponsive. This can be particularly dangerous on longer journeys into the wilderness.
It should be clear from this that dogs in a sled dog team must be very well bonded to the driver. Not only does it make training much easier, but well socialized, well-bonded dogs make a very good sled dog team. The dogs are looking to you as their undisputed leader, and you and they work together as a team.
If you are careful to bond to each of your dogs as individuals, and socialize them very well with each other, other dogs, and other humans, your dogs will be willing to do virtually anything for you.
Training dogs to pull
There are many aspects to training dogs to pull. Probably the most fundamental is start young. Get a puppy used to its harness, just as you would a collar and leash. Also let the puppy get used to pulling things. Start out with a small 2×4 (6 inches long) and let it drag the 2×4 around behind its harness for a while.
The emphasis is NOT on weight, just on having fun dragging a VERY LIGHT weight behind it. It is important to realize that one can injure a puppy’s bones, structure, and spirit by doing too much!
To train adult dogs, or continue the puppy training as an adult, is relatively simple. Some dogs are natural pullers, others are not. Some dogs take right to the harness the first time, and other dogs, even ones from reputable breeders, may take extensive training. You just never know.
It is vital to get the dog to lean out and keep the line between it and you taut. Some dogs have a real problem with this, others do not. For problem dogs, the cause usually is due to the dog not liking you to be behind it. If you do have trouble, there are a variety of methods you can use.
As long as you make training a fun game, and you make the dog understand what you want it to do, training will progress quickly, even for stubborn dogs, like Siberians. Fortunately, they LIKE to pull, so their stubbornness is not a problem here. Sometimes getting them to STOP pulling is!
Some mushers feel that it is best to train dogs to pull lots of weight, then speed comes naturally in a race without the weight. Others feel that speed and endurance training is best. Still others feel that a combination works best, similar to the combination training for the musher. Training for speed and endurance by mushing shorter distances (under 10 miles, sometimes even 3 or 4 miles) at top speed and up hills is beneficial.
Loping along at 3 or 4 miles an hour for 15 or 20 miles is also beneficial. Both of these build strength and endurance. Pulling heavy weight for short distances is also quite good, particularly for wheel dogs (the ones hitched closest to the sled). For this, try a plastic tub to which you can add plastic weights (the ones from barbell sets will have the weights printed on them).
Whichever method you use, remember to take it easy with your dogs and not push them to hard, and never, NEVER, lose your temper with your dogs. Remember that this is supposed to be fun for both you and the dogs.
George Attla, a famous musher once said, “If the dogs make a mistake while out on the trail remember that it is not the dogs that have made the mistake. It is you.” For additional training information (with much more detail than is practical to provide here), see the references.
Training lead dogs
To successfully mush, one must have a good lead dog (or dogs). This dog will take your commands for regulating speed and direction for the entire team. Naturally, if you are driving only one dog, that will be your lead dog.
Training lead dogs is too complex to really do it justice here. The basics are you want the dog to learn to turn right, left, speed up, and slow down on voice command. You also want the dog to bypass interesting detours and distractions. In addition to the basic commands already introduced (see section 3), the dog must also be taught the commands below:
kissing sound : Speed up (or other appropriate sound) on-by : Go by a fork in the trail, other dogs, or other distractions without detour
All commands are spoken in a firm, calm, not too loud voice.
During training, you must be certain to use varied turns and trails to be sure that the dog is really executing the commands rather than following a well-worn path. You must also anticipate the turn and issue the command at the correct time from the dog’s perspective. Finally, some people get confused when issuing the right/left commands, particularly in the excitement of a race. Some mushers tape the commands on the front of their sleds, on the right and left sides. You may want to do this while beginning on the sled.
To train a dog to execute these commands with regularity is not too difficult. To train a dog to do this during the excitement of a race with lots of distractions is more difficult. One possible way to approach training is to start out on foot when the dog is a puppy. Keep the lessons varied, quick, and fun.
Be certain to do the lessons in a variety of environments, with and without distractions. When the dog is old enough to pull weight (about one year to 18 months, get advice from your veterinarian), you may wish to graduate to cross country skiis. The dog will learn to execute commands in snowy conditions, and at higher speeds.
Once you have your lead dog well trained and pulling your sled, you will find that other untrained, young, dogs can be very easily added to your team as your lead dog will “correct” the new dog’s mistakes, usually faster and better than you can.
This is one way in which lead dogs can be trained. Consult the references and experienced mushers (if you can find any) for additional information.
Training for weight pulling
Here emphasis is on strength and pulling straight no matter how difficult. Most of the mushing books in the references discuss weight pulling training.
Training for skijoring
Skijoring is you on cross country skis and the dogs pulling you. YOU MUST BE A VERY GOOD CROSS COUNTRY SKIER. This is a must. Before attaching dogs, cross country ski all over the place, on a wide variety of terrain. Learn to fall in a controlled way.
You will eventually need to do this when skijoring. You will need to learn to turn quickly and ski in control at high speeds. Skiing downhill in cross country skis is a good way to simulate skijoring speeds.
The dog(s) must be well trained as well. Train all of them as lead dogs. They need to know and obey all of the commands very well (especially whoa!). The references all include information about this fast growing sport.
Health, diet, and care — Sled Dog Specifics (briefly)
Sled dogs are athletes. They are also remarkably healthy. It is important to realize that because sled dogs are athletes, they require special attention in at least two specific areas.
Probably one of the most important aspects for caring for sled dogs is the foot. You should inspect your dog’s feet regularly. The skin of the pad should feel tough, but pliable, be resistant to abrasions and lacerations and be free from cracks, dryness, or scarring. Also inspect the nails of the foot carefully.
Nails can help the dog grip ice, but if too long, they can cause serious foot injury. According to Miki Collins in Dog Driver, if the nails are long enough to force the toes upward when the dog is standing on a hard, level surface, clip them. Nails that are too long can get caught and ripped out on the trail, or they can cause toes to break. Both of these injuries can be quite serious, and they are certainly painful.
The subject of diet should also be touched on here. Most mushers feed high stress, high energy diet during mushing season, and switch to a “maintenance” diet during the “off” season. For example, one experienced musher mixes Science Diet Performance dry with canned during mushing season. This is high fat, high protein food. Some mushers even mix food in with lots of water hours before a race to encourage drinking. Dogs must be very well hydrated.
During the offseason, the musher in this example feeds Science Diet Maintenance canned mixed with either Science Diet Maintenance dry or Eukanuba dry. During the mushing season, the dogs are using all components of the food that is fed. During the off-season, there is no need for such high energy food, and in fact, high protein foods can cause kidney trouble later in life when not fed in moderation.
Hopefully, this brief summary has been helpful to you. Even if you do not want to get involved in mushing yourself, try and find mushing events in your area. It is wonderful to see the handsome dogs enjoying doing what they were bred for.
Recommended books for mushing, weight pulling, and skijoring:
Levorsen, Bella, ed. Mush! A Beginner’s Manual of Sled Dog Training. Sierra Nevada Dog Drivers, Inc. Arner Publications, 1976. ISBN 0-914124-06-4.
Collins, Miki and Julie. Dog Driver. A Guide for the Serious Musher. Alpine Publications, 1991. ISBN 0-931866-48-0.
Flanders, Noel K. The Joy of Running Sled Dogs. Alpine Publications, 1989. ISBN 0-931866-39-1.
Fishback, Lee and Mel. Novice Sled Dog Training. 13th printing, Raymond Thomson Company, 1989.
Kaynor, Carol, and Mari Hoe-Raitto. Skijoring: An Introduction to the Sport. Kaynor & Hoe-Raitto, 1988. Available by writing to P.O. Box 82516, Fairbanks, AK 99708 (does not have ISBN).
Hoe-Raitto, Mari, and Carol Kaynor. Skijor With Your Dog. OK Publishing, 1991. ISBN 0-9630854-0-9.
Recommended breed books:
Demidoff, Lorna B. and Michael Jennings. The Complete Siberian Husky. Howell Book House, 1978. ISBN 0-87605-314-2.
Riddle, Maxwell and Beth J. Harris. The New Complete Alaskan Malamute. Howell Book House, 1990. ISBN 0-87605-008-9.
Recommended racing and history:
Sherwonit, Bill. Iditarod, The Great Race to Nome. Alaska Northwest Books, 1991. ISBN 0-88240-411-3. Steger, Will and Jon Bowermaster. Crossing Antarctica. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1991. ISBN 0-394-58714-6.
Recommended places to order equipment:
Black Ice, Konari Outfitters, Tun-Dra Outfitters and Ikon Outfitters: all addresses are in Catalogue section of the Annotated References FAQ.
Herding, along with hunting, is probably one of the oldest professions for dogs. There are many breeds bred specifically for herding. There are many forms of herding, as well: boundary, fetching/gathering.
There are different styles, as well. Some breeds use what is called “eye”, the tendency to stare down sheep. Dogs may be strong-eyed, medium eyed, or loose-eyed. Border Collies are an example of a strong-eyed breed, while the English Shepherd tends to have a loose eye. An Old English Sheepdog, in contrast, does not have many eyes.
Dogs may use nipping or barking to move the sheep. Corgies are well known for their ability to dart in and nip the heels of cattle, for example. Other dogs were drovers; that is, they physically butt up against the stock to move them. Rottweilers and Bouviers both were used for this type of work.
Several different organizations offer herding trials and tests, including the Australian Shepherd Club of America, the AKC, the American Stockdog Club. For more specifics, see the Stockdog Server.
A short description, as provided by Dianne Schoenberg:
The European herding breeds can be roughly divided into two factions: the British herding dogs (Border Collies, Bearded Collies, Old English Sheepdog, Rough & Smooth Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs) and the continental breeds (German Shepherd Dogs, Briards, Bouviers, Belgian Sheepdogs). There are significant differences between temperament and working style between the two groups.
In comparison to continental Europe, Britain is an isolated island with a significant lack of natural predators. British sheep-ranching operations, most particularly in Scotland, involved flocks of rather shy, flighty sheep that often lived for generations spread thinly out over the same, rather inhospitable hillside, only rarely being gathered for shearing and such.
The Border Collie is the breed most superbly adapted to working in these conditions. The BC runs very wide in order to gather large groups at one time, stays far out from the stock and creeps up slowly in order not to spook the sheep and make them run (which is undesirable).
The BC is superbly responsive to command (Scottish shepherds typically work with whistle commands, as the sound carries well-enough to be heard and obeyed when the dog is as far as a mile off(!)) and the BC has few if any protective instincts (not necessary because of the lack of predators and the sparse population of the districts where sheep were raised). The style in which BCs work is generally referred to as “fetching” or “gathering” because their primary function as herders is to “fetch” the sheep to the shepherd.
The situation in continental Europe was far different. Rather than the far-flung flocks that reigned in Britain, most sheep were raised in small farm operations. In comparison to flighty British sheep, most continental sheep are quite tame (“heavy” in herding parlance) and are readily trained to follow a shepherd about.
The sheep were typically kept in a barn at night and taken out to unfenced fields to graze by day. Since the fields used for sheep pasture were often side-by-side with those used for growing crops, the shepherd needed a dog that would patrol the “boundary” of the area, serving as a sort of living fence. Furthermore, predators (both animal and human) were always a threat, so all the continental herding breeds have strongly-developed protective instincts (which is why they are the breeds most often chosen for police and protection work).
The German sheepdog trials (HGH, pronounced “haw-gee-haw”) are a demonstration of this style of herding (variously referred to as boundary, tending or continental). Typically using a large number of sheep (something on the order of 100) that are conditioned to follow a handler around, the dog demonstrates its ability and desire to patrol the “boundaries” of the flock as the handler leads the flock around. A courage test, in the dog, must protect his handler and flock from a stranger wielding a stick, is an important part of every HGH trial.[Australia has a lot of herding dogs; what about them?]
Narcotics and Evidence Dogs
This is commonly considered a subset of SAR. Dogs can be trained to alert (by barking, pointing, or pawing) on controlled substances such as drugs, agricultural products (e.g., in customs or at borders), and nearly anything else (for example, gunpowder (to detect guns), bomb materials, arson materials). Narcotic dogs are trained to search through buildings, cars, and luggage for their scent.
They can be trained to alert on more than one kind of drug, and can do so despite ingenious efforts on the smuggler’s part: dogs have been known to locate drugs concealed in gasoline, rotting food, skunk oil, and many other efforts. They can be trained to discriminate between large and small amounts: in fact some dogs are trained to whiff passing vehicles; if it alerts on one, that vehicle can be stopped later and searched without directly involving the dog and its handler.
Evidence dogs are trained to search for items bearing human scent, sometimes specific human scent. They are utilized in crime scenes to find evidence thrown away by a suspect. Such evidence can be later used (if handled properly) by a Bloodhound to link the scent on it to a suspect: several such cases have been deemed admissible evidence in court.
Dogs that are trained to alert on contraband items are almost always owned by law enforcement personnel, as these individuals can most easily legally obtain small quantities of contraband to train their dog with. In other words, average citizens do not train narcotic dogs because of legal difficulties.
The dog’s training record must record legal acquisition of contraband material used in training: if no such record exists, or the dog does not have a training record, then its evidence will not be accepted in court. (In other words, don’t try this at home. Similar problems exist for the cadaver dog: dead human parts must be legally obtained.)
This is a very general term. Technically, any dog working for a police or sheriff department is a “police” or “patrol” dog, this can include narcotic, evidence, tracking, trailing, and attack dogs. SAR and narcotic and evidence search have already been covered. The popular notion of the term “police dog” refers to “attack” dogs kept by law enforcement departments. Dogs can do more than one job; there is no reason that a dog couldn’t trail/track people, sniff out narcotics, and locate arson material.
But attack dogs are usually used only for chasing suspects and bringing them down. Of interest in our litigious society is the current trend of going to bark and hold, which means that the dog barks at the subject to hold him, and only attacks if the suspect continues to flee or if the suspect attempts to attack the dog or a bystander.
Other departments maintain that it is safer for the dog and handler if the dog attacks directly. In either case, the handler should be able to call the dog off an ordered attack should the suspect surrender.
Schutzhund training shows that attack training does not exclude other abilities, but for whatever reasons, this is not often done (Schutzhund training itself is difficult; the Schutzhund section describes the difficulty of finding suitable candidates for the training). There are often liability concerns; an “attack” dog will be viewed unfavorably by most judges and juries if it attacked someone, even justifiably, while doing something else.
There are no national or even state-wide standards for these dogs. However, the National Association of Protection Dogs has been formed to try and establish a national standard for protection work, and to educate the general public about them. They may be reached at NAPDSecty@aol.com.
Many patrol dogs are Schutzhund trained. Some are well trained, others are not. German Shepherd Dogs are commonly used, but any large breed with energy and drive can be used: Bouvier des Flandres, Doberman Pinschers, Malinois, Rottweilers, and others have also been used as patrol dogs.
The use of patrol dogs, in an organized fashion, began in the US in 1907 with South Orange, New Jersey, and New York Police Departments. These were followed by departments in Glen Ridge, NJ (1910), Detroit (1917), Berkeley, CA (1930), Pennsylvania State Police (1931), Royal Canadian Mounted Police K-9 Section (1937), and the Connecticut State Police (1944). Many other departments have since created programs of their own to utilize dogs. This is the reason for the lack of uniform standards across the country, as each department makes its own.
For a detailed reference, including history, try:
Chapman, Samuel G. Police Dogs in America. Bureau of Government Research, 1979.
For information on training dogs for different types of police work (but not attack or protection), see:
Tolhurst, Bill. The Police Textbook for Dog Handlers. Sharp Printing, 3477 Lockport Road, Sanborn, NY 14132. 1991. (Paperback, 89 pages.)
This book is only available from the author. $14 plus $2 shipping and handling. Write to Bill Tolhurst, 383 Willow Street, Lockport, NY 14094. The most comprehensive training book available. Contains information not available from any other source. Contains updated information covered by the original National Police Bloodhound Training Manual (1977). Plus: how to train a land-cadaver dog, a water-cadaver dog, an article-search dog, an accelerant (arson) dog. Information on the Scent Transfer Machine, about radio-controlled dogs, on crime scene dog development, on the use of a scent sleeve. Discusses seminars, Bloodhound misconceptions, testifying in court, commands, puppy profiles (how to select a puppy) and more.
Eden, Bob. K9 Officer’s Manual, Dog Training for Law Enforcement . Available from Direct Book Publishing at 1-800-776-2665.
Water Rescue Dogs
This information was kindly supplied by Carol Norton-Miller and/or Darlene Stever .
The Newfoundland Club of America offers tests for two water titles. The junior title is for Water Dog, while the senior title is for Water Rescue Dog. Both tests consist of six exercises, with two judges in attendance. The dog must pass all six exercises by both judges to obtain the title.
In the junior test, the first exercise is Basic Control. This is held in a fenced area, similar to an obedience class. All exercises are done off lead, but the handler may talk to the dog and give hand signals all they want, as long as they don’t touch the dog. The exercises are heel, which includes fast, slow, turn and stop; recall, in which the dog must start to move on the first command, after which the handler may call and encourage all they want, “finish” is optional; and a three minute long down as a group exercise, with the handler in the ring. If the dog has a CD title, they may elect to skip this exercise.
The second junior exercise is a “single retrieve.” The handler must throw a boat bumper a minimum of 30 feet. The dog must retrieve the bumper and deliver to hand. The handler may not step into the water at any time. If the dog drops the bumper, the handler may command him to pick the bumper back up.
The next exercise is a “drop retrieve.” A steward rows through the test area at 50 feet from shore. The steward drops an article, either a boat cushion or a life vest (usually selected by the judges in a random drawing), on the blind side of the boat (the side away from the shore). Once the boat clears the test area, the handler sends the dog to retrieve the article, and deliver it to hand. Again, the handler may not enter the water.
The next junior exercise is the “take a line.” A steward introduces himself to the dog, then goes into the water to 50 feet from shore. The handler hands the dog a boat bumper with a 75 foot line attached. The dog must swim out to the steward, who is calling the dog by name, and must swim close enough to the steward so that he is able to grab the line.
The exercise is completed once the steward has the line in hand. The dog is usually taught to swim around the handler to make it easier to grab the line. The next exercise is “tow a boat.” The dog and handler enter the water to wading depth. The dog is handed a boat bumper which is attached to a 14-foot rowboat, with no one in it.
The dog must tow the boat for a distance of 50 feet parallel to the shore. If the dog “grounds” the boat, he must tow it back out to wading depth, with the handler using voice commands only. If the dog drops the boat bumper, the handler may give voice commands only to get him to pick it back up.
The last exercise is “swim with the handler.” The dog and handler enter the water together and must start swimming within thirty feet of shore. They swim together for 20 feet, and the dog must not interfere with the handler in any way. At 20 feet, the judge will blow a whistle, at which point the dog and handler turn towards shore, again with the dog usually swimming around the handler.
The handler then takes hold of the dog, usually to the rear feathering or hair on the dog’s sides or back, and the dog must tow the handler to wading depth. The handler’s feet must be out of the water to show that they are indeed being towed.
In the senior exercises, the major difference is that the stewards may not call the dog by name, only by calling “dog,” “help,” etc. The first senior exercise is a “directed retrieve.” A steward rows through the test area at 50 feet from shore.
At a designated spot, he drops one article, either a boat cushion or a life vest, and at a second designated spot he drops the other article. The judge will direct the handler to send the dog for one article, which the dog must deliver to hand. Then the handler will send the dog for the second article. This is similar to the “directed retrieve” in AKC Utility Obedience, except you are using only two articles, and the dog must be sent out for both articles.
The next exercise is a “drop retrieve.” The dog and handler are placed on a platform on the back of a row boat, which is rowed out 75 feet from shore. The handler will toss an oar into the water, and direct the dog to jump from the boat and retrieve the oar. The dog must deliver the oar back to the boat, at which point the handler may either help the dog back into the boat, or may enter the water and swim to shore with the dog.
The next senior exercise is an “underwater retrieve.” The dog and handler enter the water to chest deep on the dog. A non-floating object is dropped into the water 3 feet in front of the dog. The dog may either go underwater to retrieve the object at that point or may “paw” the object closer to shore and then retrieve it.
Again, the dog must deliver the article to hand. The next exercise is “directed rescue.” Three stewards enter the water and swim out to 75 feet from shore. The judge will determine which steward is the “drowner.” The handler gives the dog a line with a life ring attached.
The dog must swim out to the designated “drowner,” close enough so the steward can grab the life ring (again we usually teach the dog to swim around the steward). The dog must then tow the steward back to wading depth, with the steward’s feet out of the water to show that they are being towed.
Next is the “take a line, tow a boat” exercise. A steward and the rower are in the rowboat 75 feet from shore. The steward calls the dog, again not using the dog’s name. The handler gives the dog a boat bumper with a rope attached. The dog must swim out close enough to the boat so the steward can grap the rope. The dog must then tow the boat back to shore, close enough to ground the boat.
The last exercise is the “rescue off boat.” The handler and dog are again placed on a platform on the back of the rowboat, which is then rowed out 75 feet from shore. The handler “falls” into the water, then calls the dog to “rescue” him. The dog must jump off the boat, swim to the handler, then tow the handler to wading depth.
Dogs have long been used as drafting and carting dogs. There are many variations of this activity, which is also in some cases a sport (such as weight pulling). I’ve outlined a few below [This could use expansion/description of other activities appropriate for this section.]
Newfoundland Club of America “Draft Dog”
This information was kindly supplied by Carol Norton-Miller and/or Darlene Stever . Again, the Newfoundland Club of America has a test to award the title “Draft Dog” to Newfoundlands. All exercises are done off the lead, but the handler may give verbal commands, encouragement, or hand signals all they want, as long as they don’t touch the dog. All exercises are judged by two judges, and the dog must pass all exercises by both judges to be awarded a Draft Dog title.
The first part of the test is “Basic Control,” which consists of heel off lead (including fast, slow, turns and stop), a recall (the dog must start to move on the first command, after which the handler may call and encourage the dog all they want), and a three minute long down, with the handler in the ring.
The second exercise is “Harnessing and Hitching.” In a designated area, the handler leaves the dog on a stay command, walks at least 20 feet to pick up his harness (usually being held by a steward), returns to the dog, and using only voice commands or hand signals, places the harness on the dog. This is the only time during the test when the handler may touch the dog, and then only to the extent necessary to safely put the harness on the dog.
Then, using voice commands and hand signals only, the handler takes to dog to an area near where his “vehicle” is waiting. He must command the dog to back up, at least four feet, preferably backing the dog into the traces of the vehicle (although this is not necessary to pass). The handler then hitches the dog to the vehicle and moves the dog forward a few steps. At this point the judges will inspect the harness and vehicle for safety. The next exercise is “Basic Control.”
At the judge’s command, the handler will move the dog forward, slow, and halt. The next exercise is an obstacle course, which must include 90 degree turns, 360 degree turns, a “fixed narrows” (the judges measure all vehicles being used in the test, and this obstacle is 1 foot wider than the widest vehicle), a “movable narrows” (the judges measure each vehicle, and the narrows are reset to 1 foot wider than the vehicle being tested), a back up of at least three feet, and a movable obstacle, where the handler must put the dog on a stay, move the obstacle, move the dog past the obstacle, put the dog on a stay, and replace the obstacle.
At this point, the dogs and handlers are usually given a short break while the judges check equipment and weight for the 1-mile cross country freight haul! The weight pulled depends on the type of vehicle, with a travois pulling 5-15 pounds, a two-wheeled vehicle pulling 25-75 pounds, etc.
Most competitors use a two-wheeled vehicle and usually use 25-pound weight. The judges must watch the handler load the weight into the vehicle, and the weight must be secured for safety, as the cross country course includes uphill and downhill maneuvers. The final test is the 1-mile cross country freight haul. Again, the dog is off the lead, using only voice commands and/or hand signals for control.
The course includes uphill areas, downhill areas, and various footing, usually including dirt, grass, blacktop, gravel, sand, etc. At the conclusion of the 1-mile freight haul, the judges must observe each handler unhitching the dog, in a safe manner.
One other “exercise” that is included in the test is an “intriguing distraction.” This may occur anywhere during either the obstacle course or the cross country freight haul. It may be almost anything, within certain safety restrictions. This has included such things as kids and other dogs playing, a rabbit on a leash, and even a radio-controlled car!
The Draft Dog title and the Water Rescue Dog title are included in the requirements for an NCA Versatility Newf title. The dog must also obtain an AKC Championship and a minimum of an AKC CD title. At this point, they are awarded an NCA Versatility Newf title.