Dog carting, either for pulling people or freight, is a natural mushing activity for most sled dogs or active breeds. Carting can take on any number of purposes, from a purely recreational activity, to competitive, to a means of vigorous exercise, to an easy way to transport items around the neighborhood. Dog carts of every purpose are readily commercially available in many styles. For urban mushers who wish to give their dogs an activity that will satisfy their most natural urges for working and pulling, dog carting is a no-brainer.
No matter the type of dog cart used, a carting dog will need a properly fitting harness. Some cart brands, such as Pulldog Carts, require a specialized harness, while for other brands any general pulling harness can be used. Typically, more equipment (i.e. reins) will be required when the dog is carting people for transportation than when carting cargo. Additionally if multiple dogs are harnessed to a cart, extra equipment is needed, such as gang lines. Unlike less popular or newly formed urban mushing activities, dog carting supplies are readily available from a number of manufacturers.
Most dogs are already pre-disposed to pulling. Training a dog to cart is generally simple, and involves teaching a dog to enjoy working through positive reinforcement. Special attention to verbal commands or rein cues is necessary before attempting to ride in a dog-pulled cart. The dog must also be properly conditioned. Although most dogs are capable of pulling 2 -3 times their body weight, the dog must slowly be strengthened over time in order to safely achieve this feat. Some trainers advocate first teaching a dog to pull by harnessing him or her to light objects, such as milk jugs, and slowly increasing the objects’ weight. Also be aware that a dog’s paws must be properly conditioned for pulling on asphalt.
Depending on the type of cart you purchase, carting can be performed on any type of terrain. For especially high-energy dogs, carting is a good way for a dog to expend extra energy during ordinary activities, such as walks or hikes. Wagon-type carts also exist, which are ideal for transporting cargo, such as Farmer’s Market finds. For people who choose to cart as a form of intense exercise or competition, two, three, and four-wheel options are available. Among these carts, options for carrying one – four people exist. Although sled dog breeds are natural choices for carting, any dog can pull a cart in some capacity. Carts weighing less than 16 lbs that even cats can pull are available.
A number of dog carting associations exist, especially ones that are breed or location specific. For a list of urban mushing associations across the country, visit http://www.sleddogcentral.com/clubs_usa.htm. There are many opportunities for competition in the dog carting community. The majority of competitions are races to see which mushing team can complete a course in the shortest amount of time. However, Trials competitions that are based on skill and the quality of dog/handler communication occur as well. Overall, sledding is a great activity for any high-energy dog that enjoys having a job to perform!