Put those discounted post-Halloween pumpkins to good use by making homemade pumpkin puree and following these simple recipes for delicious dog treats!
With their large, powerful frame and enduring strength, the Bouvier is a dog that is made to work. Their power and stamina make them ideal for a long day of work as a multipurpose farm dog. As with many large breeds of dog, early Bouviers were utilized for draft work around the farm. During both World Wars, Bouviers were used to pull ambulance and supply carts. Their willingness and capability to perform draft work is deeply ingrained, which makes draft work easy to pick up for most Bouviers. Today, many of these dogs still work pulling carts around the home and farm. The American Bouvier des Flandres Club offers draft tests in order to keep this important heritage activity alive. While most will find that Bouviers take easily to carting, it is important to get a good start in the activity so that you and your dog can learn to cart together as a safe and happy team.
Health and Conditioning
Before you begin any new training routine or new activity, you should be sure that your dog is healthy and structurally capable of doing the job that you’re asking. If your dog has any pre-existing conditions, such as structural issues, joint problems, or other health issues, you should consult a veterinarian before you begin training. A dog that is overweight or lacking muscle development will need to be eased into exercise more slowly than one that is already physically fit. When a dog pulls a cart, they push off the ground with the plantar and palmar surfaces of their hind and forelimbs. The force from this is transferred through their limbs, the muscles, skeleton, and connective tissues, and through the harness to the points of pull. The force of the forequarters is transferred directly into the harness, while the force of the rear quarters is transferred through the vertebral column toward the chest and neck of the dog. A weak topline, arthritic joints, and other conformation issues can put a dog at risk for injury as they work to compensate for these areas of weakness. It is important for the hander to work with their veterinarian to honestly evaluate the structure and condition of their dog before beginning serious training that includes added weight. Perfect structure and conformation may not exist in every dog, and a veterinary consultation will help a handler understand the limits of their dog, what to watch out for, and how to prevent injury.
You’ve just purchased your first cart, and you’re already planning all the ways your dog can start helping around the house or farm. It’s great to be excited, but it’s important to get a solid, positive start on your new adventure. Think of it this way: You might have a pretty good idea of what the cart is and how it works, but to your dog it’s an unfamiliar, rattling cage of wood and metal that will be chasing him. This unfamiliarity will pass quickly, but it’s important to get off to a good start so that they never have a reason to fear the cart.
Before beginning with carting it is important that your dog has a grasp of basic obedience. If your dog doesn’t know how to stand, sit, and heel without a cart on, it’s highly unlikely they’ll learn it while they’re still getting accustomed to being hitched to a cart. Our goal is to have the dog walking calmly at our side. When your dog can walk with you on a loose leash and will follow basic obedience commands, you’re ready to take your first steps toward draft work.
As with most activities, there are a variety of traditional commands that you can use, or just pick a word that you’re most comfortable with. The word doesn’t matter as long as it’s a consistent request for the desired movement and it is not confusing.
Heel, With Me, Here: The dog stays at your side or desired position when walking forward.
Left, Haw, Out: The dog turns left.
Right, Gee, In: The dog turns right.
Back, Hup: The dog walks backward.
Slow, Easy: The dog changes pace to a slow.
Fast, Hurry, Let’s Go: The dog changes to a fast pace.
Woah, Halt, Stop: The dog stops.
Stay, Wait: The dog stays and waits for further commands.
Stand: The dog stands.
The harness and draft apparatus are the two major pieces of equipment needed to begin draft work. The harness is what is used to transfer the force of the dog to the cart. The harness typically goes over the dog’s neck, across the chest, and provides some distribution of pressure so that the dog can push forward comfortably. There are different types of harnesses available, but the most common are parade or buckle harnesses and Siwash harnesses.
The parade harness generally consists of a padded chest strap, front and rear girth straps, shaft loops, and D-rings to attach the traces. The chest strap runs across the front chest of the dog and across the shoulders. As with any harness, it is important to ensure a proper fit. If the chest strap is too high, the dog might choke as it pulls weight. If too low, the strap will inhibit forward motion in the forequarters. While these harnesses are typically suitable for competition, they are considered more decorative than functional and should not be used when the dog is pulling an excessive amount of weight.
The Siwash harness is a common draft harness that is designed to distribute weight evenly and not compromise front-end movement. These harnesses have the same major components as the parade harness, with the major difference being the padded yoke or collar. While the parade harness covers the front of the shoulders and chest, potentially restricting movement, the Siwash harness slips over the head and the padded sides of the yoke run along the neck just on top of the round of the shoulder and down to the chest. This design distributes the force of the pull evenly through the front end and down to the V-shaped straps on either side that contain the D-rings at the point of pull. As these harnesses are designed to distribute force evenly, they must be fit properly. A yoke that is too small could choke the dog, and a yoke that is too large can result in interference with forelimb movement. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s directions for sizing very closely. In most models, the front and rear girth straps are removable and most novices will benefit from detaching these straps and learning to put the harness on in sections. Once you’re familiar with how the harness works, it is much easier to put on.
Regardless of the harness type you’re using, you will need a set of adjustable length straps to connect the harness to the cart. These straps are referred to as traces, and are typically included with the harness but can also be purchased separately. The traces run from the D-rings on either side of the harness down to the tree or cart base on the draft apparatus.
Just as there are different types of harnesses, there are multiple types of draft rigs to choose from. Most commonly used are carts and wagons. A cart is a two wheeled apparatus that is typically smaller and easier to maneuver than a four-wheeled wagon. In draft competitions, there will always be a section for maneuvering and the two-wheeled carts tend to perform better in these areas because they are easier to turn and back up in a straight line. However, because they are two-wheeled, when weight is added it must be balanced properly over the wheels to avoid causing upward or downward pressure on the dog. Four-wheeled wagons take more finesse to maneuver, but are still able to be used for draft competitions. Their stability makes it easier to properly balance the load, but they are more difficult to back up straight. In the end, your draft rig choice will depend on your portability needs, the size of your dog, and the conditions of your carting area. If you live in an area with heavy snowfall, sled rails can be swapped in for wheels on most carts.
Draft Rig Anatomy
If you’re a first-time cart owner, the mechanics of the cart can be difficult to understand if you’ve never seen one work in person. It’s important to understand that the harness and traces are responsible for pulling the cart forward, and that the shafts and brakes are responsible for backing up. The traces connect the dog and harness to the draft rig, and the shafts run along either side of the dog. When you slide the cart in behind the dog, you will put the shafts through the loops on both sides of the dog’s harness. The loops should stop before the brakes on the shaft, and should be fit so that they cannot slip over the brake. When your dog stops, the brakes will push forward into the loops to stop the cart.
First Day(s) of School
My dog is healthy. He eats obedience for breakfast. We’re ready to strap on a cart and get to work! Right? Well, not quite.
Our goal is to make the cart and harness something the dog absolutely loves. You could toss on a harness, hitch up your dog, and work out kinks along the way, but in doing that you run the risk of having a fearful incident that potentially ruins their relationship with the cart. Patience is key in the first days of school.
Take some time shaping a positive response to the harness so that the experience is fun for the dog. Show your dog the harness and offer treats for interest in it. Try to start with your dog sitting so that you can shape a calm interest in it. This will be helpful if you plan to compete as your dog will need to be calm and cooperative during this portion of the test. If the dog is shying away from the harness do not try to put it on them. Build a positive relationship with the harness and then proceed to trying it on. Some dogs do not like things placed over their heads or can be skittish when you reach for their collar. It is up to you to know your dog well enough to determine how to best shape putting their head through the harness. Once your dog is comfortable wearing the harness around their neck you can move on to acclimating them to the rest of the harness.
If you picked up a Siwash harness, you might need to dedicate a full day to figuring out how exactly it works. The harness slips over the head and has V-shaped “wings” on either side that go under each leg. It’s best to start by removing any of the straps that aren’t directly attached to the harness.
Once the harness is over the head and under each leg, you can snap in the front girth strap. For most Siwash harnesses, this strap will clip directly into the harness just behind the shoulders. The front girth strap is required as it holds the loops for the shafts. In most cases a rear girth strap is not required.
On a Bouvier, the D-rings should fall about in the dip of the loin area, and not too far into the thigh to avoid hair pulling. You might need to adjust your harness sides to achieve this.
Bit by Bit
Once your dog is comfortable with the harness, you can start to acclimate them to the draft rig. To do this safely, it is best to start slowly and introduce one piece at a time.
First, we'll begin with the traces. To start, just attach the traces to the D-rings on both sides of your harness. At this point it can be helpful to have a partner help you, as you'll want to begin with the traces held above the dog. Slowly lower them to the sides of the dog and when they notice it, encourage them and offer treats as a distraction. Keep the walk fun and slowly add more contact from the traces. When your dog is comfortable with the traces at his side, let them drag on the ground. If the dog startles, stop and let the dog settle then try again immediately with even more praise, treats, and encouragement. When your dog is comfortable with the traces, you can add a bit of drag. This can be achieved by allowing the dog to drag around the tree to your cart, or you can attach the traces to a piece of board instead. While you're taking these introductory walks, be sure to use the carting commands you have chosen. This is a great time to practice stops, turns, and standing.
You're ready to move on once your dog is comfortable with the traces. The next part to introduce is the cart shafts. You can start this by encouraging your dog to step between the shafts. Once your dog is comfortable standing between them, raise them and let them touch his sides. Offer lots of treats and praise. You can use shafts disconnected from the cart for this portion or set of faux shafts made from PVC. Working with a partner, lower the shafts to the side of the dog. If they show no signs of discomfort, begin to walk with your partner holding the shafts near at the dog's sides. If the dog shows any concern or discomfort, your partner will be able to pull the shafts away quickly so that you can settle him. Keep this up until your dog is comfortable with each of these pieces of the draft rig.
Introducing the Draft Rig
Now that we've introduced the dog to the individual pieces of the draft rig, it's time to start putting everything together. Harness your dog and show them the draft rig. Let them sniff it and get a sense of what it is. Reward and praise for interest in the cart. Encourage the dog to step between the shafts and then move them up and down so that the dog can feel them at his side. When they're comfortable with this, have your partner pull the cart along with the dog. Be sure to leash the dog and to not attach the traces or put the shafts through the loops on the harness. You want to be able to quickly remove the cart if the dog panics. This will be your dog's first real experience of the noise and bumping shafts of the cart, so distract, treat, and praise as you walk back and forth in straight lines. Once everyone is comfortable with this, slip the shafts into the harness loops and let the dog acclimate to this additional pressure. Don't attach the traces yet. You'll need a partner to push the cart along with your dog as you gauge his reaction to this step. Be enthusiastic, persistent, and make the experience as fun as possible!
If everything goes extremely well, you're ready to connect the traces. Your dog will now be moving the cart on their own! Keep them leashed and close to you, and ask for a few steps forward. Once they're pulling willingly, you can start walking in straight lines or introducing very broad curves. After a few repetitions it's time to stop for the day. Release your dog from the traces and shaft loops and have them step away from the cart. Be sure to let the dog know how excited you are for their success! Lots of treats, praise, and enthusiasm as you finish Carting 101 on a high note.
Now that you're drafting safely and comfortably, you can begin taking short walks and building confidence! Keep introducing your carting commands, reward consistently, and keep your dog on a leash. If something unexpected occurs and your dog startles, the last thing you want is them running off with a cart attached.
Next up, Carting 102: Preparing for a Draft Test
You might have noticed...
We're big on Bouviers doing work! You can help support the important heritage activities of our breed by sponsoring a Herding or Carting trophy at the 2017 National Specialty.
There are few things as special as a dog and handler working together as a team. In modern times, carting and herding have fallen out of necessity. Few of us are sheep farmers, and mechanical vehicles have largely removed the need for horse or dog-powered carts. Competing in these activities represent years of hard work and dedication to preserving the activities that early Bouviers were bred to perform.
Even if you aren't planning to join us at the 2017 National Specialty, you can show your support by sponsoring a trophy for our Herding and Carting events. Your generosity can help make this event memorable, and ensure that these important activities are not lost to time.
Donations for Herding and Carting range from $25 to $50. If you're interested in sponsoring an award, please send us a message and I'll get you in touch with our National Trophy Chairperson.
If you're an ABdFC member or already know what you'd like to sponsor, you can visit the Trophy Information page by clicking below. Members can make a donation right from the member section. Please be sure to specify which event you're sponsoring an award for.
Not a member? No problem! Any Bouvier lover can make a donation. Just hit the [CONTACT US] button above and we'll put you in touch with the right people.
Plans for the 2017 ABdFC National Specialty are underway. Be sure to keep up on all the specialty news!
Time flies when you're having fun, and it apparently flies even faster when you're planning for a big event! The 2017 ABdFC National Specialty is September 23-30, 2017 in Ventura California. The Special-3 will include three specialties in one week, in addition to Agility, Rally & Obedience, Herding, and Carting and a slew of social events!
I'm honored to be organizing the Carting Trial at the National and am happy to answer whatever carting-related questions I can. Entries for the Carting Trial close Wednesday, September 6.
This month marks the one year anniversary of handling Mal as a registered therapy dog. In twelve short months we made a total of 107 visits to schools, speech therapy practices, hospitals, and senior living facilities. Along the way we have experienced children making amazing advancements in their speech and social skills and have brought companionship, smiles, and joy to some wonderful people. When we started out I had never imagined we would be making an average of two visits per week! It has been an incredibly fulfilling experience, and I am so grateful to the facilities that have opened their doors to us.
I first became interested in therapy work after hearing about a Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D) program in another state. This program involves working with children to improve their reading and communication skills by providing an attentive, non-judgmental, and cuddly reading partner. Dogs make great listeners! They have a relaxing presence and create an inviting and motivational environment for readers of any ability level. Our work in classrooms and libraries has proven how valuable a therapy animal reading partner can be. Shy children who are afraid of making mistakes seem to open up to Mal and begin to truly enjoy their reading experience.
Trained therapy animals are becoming increasingly common in educational settings. Empirical evidence supports the claims that animals and animal-assisted therapy can help moderate stress, and regular, animal-assisted therapy focused on reading has shown to improve reading comprehension and reading motivation.
In March of 2016 I reached out to the wonderful people at [WORDPLAY SPEECH THERAPY] to see if they would be interested in having Mal visit. After our first visit it was clear that Mal could do excellent work there, and in a year of regular visits he has certainly made an impact. The fantastic work that the Speech Therapists at Wordplay do, coupled with a bit fuzzy support, has produced some amazing results. I went in to this expecting to see some progress in reading skills, and have been blown away by the tremendous improvements I've seen in social skills, communication, and even body awareness and motor control.
All of our friends at Wordplay have different interactions with Mal. His tasks have run the gamut from helping practice words and OT skills to helping calm, motivate, or reward excellent work. At each visit I am impressed by the talented Speech Therapists at Wordplay and the deeply meaningful work that they do, and am so grateful that they have allowed us to be a small part of it.