|This cart showed up at a training session, and the owners had a problem. The judge at the previous test deemed this cart unbalanced. How could an empty cart be unbalanced? Upon further inspection, it was noted that the shafts on this cart were particularly heavy, and thus, it put a substantial amount of weight in the front of the cart (in front of the axle). To balance this cart, we added a counter weight. That might seem odd, but we added the counter weight BEHIND the axle, thus, balancing the cart on both sides of the axle.
The best way to do it would have been to measure the weight of the shafts, and then to add that exact weight to the back section of the cart. This was a quick way to solve the issue for now.
Is there a judge out there named Steve? Distance from rear legs to cart.
I recently received a comment on the blog from Steve (also a draft judge) inquiring about distance from the rear legs of the dog to the cart. He wrote that the guidelines online are vague about the distance so I wrote back to Steve. Unfortunately, I wrote back to the wrong Steve. Steve, if you’re out there, this blog post is for you.
My email to the incorrect Steve:
My trainer said that there should be enough space for the dog to extend their rear legs while in cart, but not hit the cart. As a quick guideline, it should be an 18 inch ARC (not the direct points when standing) from the foot to the back of the cart. I’d have to put Mouse in cart to measure the distance from point to point instead of the arc. The length might also be different for each dog, given the height of the dog and the dog’s hocks.
There’s nothing inherently unsafe about having the cart much further away from the rear of the dog as long as the traces are snug. The problems you get when the shafts are too long and the cart is too far away is that it is difficult to maneuver, and the turning radius is much wider. The shorter the shafts, the easier it is to turn. However, if the shafts are too short or the dog was placed too far back (move the brakes forward to fix), then the dog’s foot or hock would hit the bottom side of the cart.
I would not fail a team for having really long shafts as it isn’t unsafe. It is a mechanical disadvantage that the team will have to work with that may cause them to fail. That’s the handler’s responsibility and choice to have longer shafts. However, if the shafts are long and the traces are not tight, I may fail the team depending on how dangerous I perceived the rig. I judged one particular trial in which almost every single team had really loose traces, even after I warned them of how dangerous it was (it also changes the point of pull). Anyways, one dog was almost pulled down a big hill when the shafts slid out of the shaft loops. It nearly gave me a heart attack seeing that happen.
I would also fail a team the dog’s rear was too close to the cart, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in practice or at trials. Dogs are usually too far with loose traces.
Preparing for a Draft Test
I got returned from a draft trial just last night, and with the weekend fresh in my mind, we’re going to go over some draft trial tips and info before diving back into training posts. Here are some skills that I encourage my draft students to master before going to a draft trial.
Basic Control – both dog and handler will need to have a solid working relationship with several commands. For basic control, the dog that can qualify in rally obedience should have enough control for a draft test’s basic control. The dog needs to:
- sit on command
- stay in position for 3 minutes
- heel with the handler (not necessarily in heel position)
- turn left
- turn right
- halt (no sit needed)
- about turn
- recall (come when called)
Basic control is NOT scored like competitive obedience and the requirements are not as strict. The dog does NOT need to be in heel position at all time, and you may talk to your dog during the entire test (except the stays).
Harness and Hitching: You should be able to harness a dog correctly, and hitch a dog correctly. In my opinion, harnessing and hitching should not be a jerry-rigged last minute chore. It is first and foremost, the most crucial part of safety in dog drafting. Dog drafting is a sport that can be very dangerous to you and your dog if do not do it properly. Thusly, I am a stickler for safe harnessing and hitching. While I have not failed someone for minor issues with harnessing, I cannot pass a dog that is in an unsafe rig. Future posts on that.
Maneuvering course: My rule of thumb is if a dog can master the following exercises with only voice or hand commands and no treats, then they can pass any draft test. Yes, they are much more difficult than what is required, but I always try to train for tougher than the test.
- 360 clockwise pivoting on the inside wheel, but not moving it
- 360 counter-clockwise pivoting on the inside wheel, but not moving it
- Back up in cart 10 feet in a straight line
- Back up unhitched 10 feet in a straight line
- Pull through narrows that are two (yes, that’s two) inches wider than the cart for 15 feet
- Pull through high narrows that are two inches wider than the cart for 15 feet
- Parallel Park with no leash guidance
- Out of sight stay for 5 minutes
- Properly load and balance a cart
- Navigate a steep hill up and down
- Halt a dog
- Maintain control of a dog that likes to cart quickly