Dog carting should be fun. If at any point you are not feeling that your dog can handle this type of exercise physically, intellectually or emotionally, you should stop and reassess the situation. Sometimes moving backward in the process and allowing our dog to master the step before the one we are currently engaged in, will allow the dog to move forward later. It is important to pay close attention to what your dog is saying to you during this process. Remember this is not a one way conversation. Take your time, be patient and again, have fun.
Step 1- Mushing Commands
Before the cart, before the harness, before all the other trappings of carting there has to be a way to communicate direction.
“Ho,ho,ho” and “Hold!” – Slow down and Stop
Start by walking your dog at heal and just before coming to a stop say the command “Ho, Ho, Ho” as you stop say “Hold.” Repeat this until your dog is able to anticipate stopping. This is the command for stopping forward motion. It is separate from the “Stay” command. “Stay” implies “you stay here, I’m going there, but you stay here.” However, “Hold” is something we are all doing now. By the way The “Ho, Ho, Ho” may sound familiar as something from The Night Before Christmas. In it, the sound is attributed to Santa’s laugh, but if you remember he had a team of reindeer in front of him and was probably telling them to slow down. Indeed all of the commands I use are also used with a variety of other drafting animals, even magic reindeer;)
“Gee” and “Haw” – Right and Left
Ever heard a cowboy crying out “Yee-Haaw!” That sound comes from the rodeo tradition. Riders atop wild horses would be tossed right and left, hence they were “Gee” and “Haw”ing all over the place. To teach your dog how to listen and respond to this command start by saying “Gee” every time you turn right and “Haw” when going left. The sound of the command should have a tonality to it, so as to communicate that this is different from your normal speaking voice and needs to be listened to now. Practice short turns around garbage cans or outdoor furniture. Make it a gauntlet of fun to turn quickly right and left through the obstacles. Occasionally try the “Hold” command. If you have a hard time remembering which is which, write the word Gee on your right hand and Haw on your left. (see the picture above) As you go through your day, when turning one way or another say the corresponding command under your breath. You’ll have it by the end of the day.
“Up” and “Hike” – Go and Run
I mentioned stop before go for a very good reason. It’s safer to have a stop command than it is essential to have a go command. From here on out though every time you want the dog to move any where in a forward motion, use the command “Up” even if the dog is being told to get down out of a car or down a flight of stairs. We use “Up” in these scenarios because it inspires them to move forward regardless of their elevation relative to their desired destination. Once you are going forward and you want to pour on the speed use the word “Hike!” and begin to run. This can sometimes get a little wild and dogs may try to bite the leash or nip at you. That’s ok just firmly but calmly reassert your control of the leash and start over. “Hike” is a lot of fun for high drive dogs so this behavior should be expected and corrected but not to the degree that you are chastising the dog. After all this should be fun right? Short spurts are a good way to go at first with this command as dogs younger than the age of two should not be made to run long distances.
“Back, Back, Back” – Back up
This is probably the hardest command of the bunch and should be regularly polished in order to maintain the dogs ability to back up on command. This is also an absolutely essential command for a carting dog to get, as it is very difficult to get a dog in carting traces and bars, without having them walk backwards for at least a little bit. Furthermore, while carting, it’s not unusual for a dog to get in to a difficult spot that requires the dog to back up in order to maneuver out. So getting the dog to takes a few steps backwards needs to be learned.
First it will be important to find a wall or fence that is long and has no obstructions on the ground. Walk the dog parallel to the wall, use the “hold” command, stopping the dog at some point along the wall. The dog should be between you and the wall or fence at this point. now with a treat, bait the dogs nose back over their shoulder in order for them to step backwards. If they step back, immediately repeat the words “back, back, back” and give the treat. If this is working repeat the exercise until you can give the command and then see the behavior. If you need to use the leash in order to guide the dog backwards you can do this at first but try to get to the point where no leash pressure is required. Something that may confuse the dog and be an obstacle to achieving this move is in the mechanics of the trick. Often when dogs are taught to sit, raising the treat hand over the shoulders will be part of creating a physical posture of the sit. This however can be an obstacle in this scenario as sitting is not the desired response. If this becomes an issue try wrapping an additional leash under your dogs belly and when they attempt to sit, hold it steady. Don’t lift, just hold steady and bait the dogs nose back while repeating the “Back” command.
Things to look out for and other useful commands
If your dog completely hates one or all of these exercises, you may not have a dog that can do this kind of work, and that’s okay. Remember this is supposed to be fun and if at anytime you are not having fun, guess what, your dog probably isn’t either, so don’t continue doing this kind of work. There could be any number of reasons why your pooch is resistant to this stuff. They could be too young, they may have other talents, or you’re not the right teacher for this type of exercise, and all of that is okay.
Some other things that need to be taught in order to keep you and your dog safe are:
- Redirecting their attention back to the task at hand or “leave it!”
- Get ready to listen or “3, 2, 1”
- Not resist the harness or playing with the leash
- Peeing or pooping on command… yup that’s possible.
In the next dog carting post I will be discussing some of the first steps to equipping you dog with the proper gear, how and when to start doing so, and what the best options are for your dogs physique.
If you have any questions or suggestions please leave them for me in the comments section. I look forward to hearing from you.