Dog Carting With the Mighty Bernese

Dog Carting With the Mighty Bernese

By Jennifer Brightbill for Exceptional Canine

Dog Carting With the Mighty Bernese

Bernese Mountain Dogs were bred to be Swiss all-around farm dogs. One important use was to deliver milk by cart into town.

Since we donít send them to deliver milk anymore, some people train their dogs to pull a cart or wagon just for parades. Others enter them in pulling trials in a draft test, open to all registered dog breeds.

The Basics of Draft Tests
There are two levels in a draft test: the novice level and the open level. Novice-level dogs are leashed (open are unleashed), but both classes do the same exercises -- with a few exceptions.

In the first part of the draft test, all dogs perform what we call ďbasic control,Ē which is essentially walking while following directions. Then handlers do a recall, in which the dog is left in place while the handler walks to the other side of the ring and calls the dog over.

We also do a three-minute group stay. Novice dogs do this with their handler standing across the ring from them. For open-level dogs, the handlers go out of the ring and hide while the dog must stay in place.

Finally, the handler attaches a harness to the dog, hitches the harness to the cart, and directs the dog through a series of maneuvering exercises around obstacles in a 100-square-foot ring. The maneuvers are fun. The dogs do circles and turns, pick up a load and unload it, complete a slow maneuver, back up a required distance (1 foot for the novice level, 4 feet for the open level), and pass through a gate.

These competitions are really about the relationship between the dog and the handler, so participants are not allowed to yell at the dog or bark orders. Itís meant to be fun and enjoyable!

Getting Started
Any size dog can cart, so many people go to a draft clinic to see whether their dog likes to pull. We start these dogs off by pulling small loads, like milk jugs with rocks or water in them. Then we introduce the shafts before we try to hitch them to the cart.

In terms of equipment, all you really need is a cart and a harness, which you can find online. You can also contact your regional Bernese Mountain Club of America for advice and training tips. With smaller dogs, like French Bulldogs, youíll need to have everything made to fit. Poodles, Shelties and French Bulldogs have all competed.

Itís really fun to see the dogs working. They wag their tails and have a good time. They take pride in what they can do. And the tests are pass/fail, so everybody can win.


Exceptional Canine expert Jennifer Brightbill is a draft judge for The Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America and the chair of the organizationís Draft Work Committee. She has passed a draft test with her own dogs nearly 60 times in two countries.