Dogs pulling stuff for their human companions has been a common occurrence for centuries, whether for fun or for work. One well-known example is the Siberian Husky sled dog Balto, who, with some help from his other sled dog friends, pulled life-saving medicine to the sick village of Nome, Alaska, in 1925. Without Balto and the other sled dogs, thousands of people would have died. There’s no doubt this was good for the humans involved, but what about the dogs?
Weight pulling for dogs? Is it safe? As long as the dog is fully healthy and trained properly, weight pulling is perfectly safe for dogs. Certain breeds are better suited than others, however.
Even though we don’t really have a life-saving need for sled dogs to deliver our goods anymore, some people still like to train their dogs to do weight pulling competitively. The Iditarod is the most famous, happening every March and running the very same trail that brave Balto and his pals ran so long ago. There’s much more that needs to be said about this sport, however. So, keep reading to learn more.
What is weight pulling for dogs?
According to the official channels, weight pulling for dogs is a competitive sport for canines and owners to test their mettle. In these events, owners strap their dogs to a special harness that’s attached to a vehicle full of increasingly heavier things. The dog has to pull this vehicle about 16 feet within 60 seconds or faster.
Scores are determined by the amount of weight pulled per body pound of the dog. They also score based on the amount of time required to complete the pull. The dog that pulls the cart the fastest gets the most points. The weight that each dog pulls varies depending on their size, skill level, and some other factors.
The type of weighted vehicle that the dog pulls can vary from carts, trailers, sleds, and more. It’s up to the contest organizers to decide, but they must follow strict safety guidelines, too.
While the individual tests of strength are popular, there are also sled pulling competitions in certain places where dogs team up to pull a sled and human companion—a musher—across the snow. Sometimes it’s less of a competition and more recreational, where families can ride on a sled lead by professionally trained dogs for fun.
The bottom line is that any healthy dog can be taught to pull. The main issue is dog size to sled weight ratio.
Is weight pulling harmful to dogs?
No, weight pulling is not harmful to dogs, but let’s look a bit deeper into this to see why.
For someone new who hasn’t seen more than a couple of pictures or videos of dogs in weight pulling competitions, it may look scary and unhealthy for the dogs. It may even seem borderline abusive to put them through all of that. It’s not uncommon to see people up in arms over these competitions, while those who participate in the sport have their opinions, too.
Media has always been split on whether weight pulling for dogs is too strenuous on the dogs, or that they actually enjoy the challenge. While I can’t claim to have all the answers about this subject, I can offer facts from reliable sources as well as offering opinions on both sides.
Points Against Weight Pulling for Dogs
Let’s start with the naysayers of this sport. Some people claim that repetitive and excessive weight training can be tiring to dogs. They say that it might even cause painful health issues later in the dog’s life. Looking at human athletes and their myriad health issues later in life, this view holds some merit at first glance.
Yet, there are safeguards in place to prevent this. If you’re working the dog to the bone, forcing them to pull more than they safely should, and shouting at them to do better, then the official competitions will disqualify you in a heartbeat. There is no room in official competition for canine endangerment and abusive behavior.
So, dogs at the competition are safe. However, we don’t know how the owner is training their dog at home. They could be really working their poor dog at home, but pretending to be on their best behavior at the competition. By hosting these events, we may be enabling bad owners to mistreat their dogs because they’re blinded by winning.
Not knowing how the dogs are treated off the course and in private makes the “against” side compelling. While the official events may have rules and regulations that you have to follow in order to stay in, there’s nothing stopping people from making unofficial events that can be hazardous.
Points for Weight Pulling for Dogs
Those who participate in or support this sport have plenty to say, too. For dogs with excessive energy, weight pulling can help to entertain the dog and burn off that energy productively and safely.
It’s also a great way to build a healthy relationship with their owner. Most dogs love to please their owners, and they get a lot of enjoyment out of it themselves. If you’re happy, your pup is happy. Everybody wins!
All of the competitions that are hosted by officially endorsed places, such as the AKC, take the health of every dog very seriously. You can’t even enter before you take your dog the vet to get a clean bill of health.
As mentioned above, if at any point during the event an owner is seen mistreating their dog, they are immediately disqualified. Some places will even investigate whether they are capable of properly taking care of their dog at home or not.
While weight pulling does take a lot of strength and may cause the dogs to become tired, as long as the dog is healthy, it shouldn’t cause a problem. Playing fetch and wrestling with their owners makes them tired, too, after all.
If you’re seriously considering to jump into weight pulling with your canine this is a high quality, extremely durable weight pulling harness available on Amazon.
How much weight can a dog pull?
This is like asking how much a human male can lift. It really depends!
This largely depends on the size, skill, breed, and age of the dog. Part of the competitive nature of weight pulling for dogs is seeing how much and how quickly a particular dog can pull.
Pitting a chihuahua against a Great Dane, for example, would be completely unfair. This is why official weight pulling competitions have weight classes and safety considerations in place.
Each class of dogs will have a safety weight limit set by the judges and competition organizers. Generally, however, the safety weight limits will be based on the dog’s body weight and the surface they are pulling on. For example, the UKC Dog Pulling guidelines state: “Wheels on natural and artificial surfaces. Eight times the dog’s body weight on the day of the event.”
There is great variation in this, however. Be sure to check the rules of your local chapter. Also, be sure to ask your vet, too.
What dog breed is best at weight pulling?
While it’s true that many different breeds, weights, and ages of dogs can participate in weight pulling, which breed of dog reigns supreme?
As much as I’d like to say it’s more based on skill than anything, there are breeds of dogs that were bred for pulling things around, and these are the breeds that are hands (or paws) down better than the rest at pulling.
In no particular order, we have:
- Alaskan Malamute
Large, fluffy, and super strong, this kind of dog was bred to work hard in harsh, cold environments.
- Olde English Bulldogge
No, that’s not a typo. This type of dog was bred to be the healthier, work dog version of the English Bulldog.
- American Bulldog
Stocky and muscular, these dogs are great for pulling.
- American Bully
(not the same as a bulldog, but related). While they’re typically friendly and playful, their wide shoulders and strong legs make them excellent pulling dogs, too.
- American Pit Bull Terrier
This breed has a powerful body, which makes them good for weight pulling.
- Siberian Husky
Much like the Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Huskies were bred to pull sleds in harsh snowy weather. This is Balto’s breed.
All of these dog breeds have been bred to be strong, working-class dogs. But which of these is the best at weight pulling overall? It’s hard to say. All of these breeds excel at weight pulling, and each individual dog is going to be able to pull different weights, so there isn’t one clear winner after all.
Hopefully, this article has helped to shed some light on the topic of weight pulling for dogs and if it’s safe or not. The bottom line is that as long as your dog is healthy, happy, and well-trained, weight pulling can be a fun and healthy exercise.