In my 20 plus years with Saint Bernards, I’ve owned many dogs with different personalities. I’ve had some shy, reserved dogs, some that acted like kids in the “terrible twos” and some that were very strong-willed. The one thing I found in common with all those dogs is when they had a job to do their personalities all changed and were easier to work with.
Enjoying the work
My first experience with drafting was just watching a draft test. The test was held in a wooded park, and each dog pulled their cart through the park, making turns here and there as directed by their owner. Once all the individual dogs competed, the team competition was held and that is where I got hooked. I was not hooked because of the experienced handler directing the dogs, I was not hooked because my competitive nature said I could do that, I was hooked because I could see that these dogs really enjoyed doing the work.
Start young with a harness
It is best to get started training for drafting when your dog is very young. The first step is to buy an inexpensive harness or halter that can be put on and left on for some time while the dog is playing or just going about daily life. The key here is getting the dog used to having the harness on him or her, realizing that they can go about normal life with it, and having the experience of the owner putting the harness on and taking it off.
Your own attitude and demeanor
Second to the harnessing experience is the owner’s demeanor while trying to get the harness on the dog. It is very important to remain calm, but in control of the situation and to use vocal commands that the dog will learn over time and understand.
Tips for training
I’m not an expert trainer but I have learned from experience not to use food or treats, just lots of praise. You are working on a training relationship between you and the dog and it is about the fun in working. Food or treats aren’t allowed during actual tests anyway so it’s best to not let your Saint get used to that. I also realized it’s best to use different locations for each training session and mixing up the exercises so the dog and the handler don’t become “pattern trained”. I started at the local park where I would take them for their daily walks. We always stayed on the walkways so they could greet the other people in the park. Then when we started training the dogs wanted to stay on the walkways.
Good public relations too!
My best training experiences are on the weekends at the local soccer park, just when the games are ending. I take my dog and his cart with a container in the cart and we walk around the fields cleaning up after the people. Our park does not allow dogs near the fields, but since we are working, I’ve never had anything but a lot of thanks from the local authorities for helping out. You could try something like this with any sports event, or even a dog show. This would also be a very rewarding experience for you, your family and the dog too.
Making your own cart
Getting started in drafting can be expensive if you allow it but it doesn’t have to be that way. I built my first training cart from PVC pipe and bicycle training wheels. It was easy to put together and take apart for transporting and storing; and it was fairly light weight for the dog to pull. Back when I started, the harness was the most expensive piece of equipment that was required. The harness was a one piece unit that had to be properly measured to fit the size of each dog. Today you can find good quality harnesses that have multiple buckles that allow for size adjustments so you can continue to use it as your dog grows or be able to use it with multiple dogs. The harness is still an expensive piece of equipment, but it can last for years.
The dogs are smart!
It is always best to work with a friend when starting to train a new dog. Saints are smart dogs and will learn quickly. However they are also smart enough to know when they can get away or just make it very difficult for you so you don’t want to continue. I’ve run a few training classes with beginners where all they just had to care for the dog and I was responsible for the cart end. After fifteen minutes, each dog was comfortable enough with the cart that the owner was able to work the dog by himself and walk through a basic maneuvering course.
Your local Saint Bernard specialty club may have some members who can help you train for carting. They may also have some sanctioned events. There are also all-breed clubs or other working breed clubs such as the Bernese Mountain Dog, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Newfoundland or Rottweiler breeds who may sponsor classes and events for those interested in draft work. Their test regulations may be different than ours but the basic concepts are the same. I’ve worked closely with the local Bernese club in training and stewarding.
You will find the Saint Bernard Club of America’s official Draft test guidelines on this website and don’t hesitate to contact the Performance and Working Dog Chairs on the contact list for more information. Other links to go to for harnesses and cart info include www.dogworks.com, www.wilczekwoodworks.com, www.ikonoutfitters.com and www.allthingsbiothane.com Remember, this is about having fun, both you AND your Saint!
Tom Nuss, New Jersey