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Urban Mushing: Weight Pulling

Not all urban mushing activities involve the pulling of people as a means of transport. A second class of urban mushing can be described as weight pulling, which replicates the traditional use of working dog breeds for freighting. Here, dogs are divided into weight classes and harnessed to a weighted sled or cart, to see which dog can pull the most weight over the course of 16 feet. Weight pulling is overseen by a number of organizations, most notably the International Weight Pull Association.

Dogs use a specialized harness for pulling weight during practice and competition that is modified from a typical sled harness. With a spreader bar positioned behind the dog, the pulled weight is distributed evenly to minimize chance of injury.

Although pulling comes naturally for most dogs, weight pullers must be properly trained and conditioned in order to compete. A number of guides are available online, and weight pulling enthusiasts are happy to answer any questions a beginner may have. It is important to teach a dog the distinction that weight pulling for practice or competition is different than other times he is tethered, such as to a tie-out in the yard. Practice implements can range from old tires to specialized carts or sleds. Weight pulling can be performed anywhere, from trails and gravel roads to open fields or carpeted surfaces. Never train on asphalt or concrete, which can cause injuries to a dog’s paws.

When proper training and safe practices are implemented, weight pulling is among the safest urban mushing options for a dog. Since 1984, no dogs have been injured in competitions overseen by the International Weight Pulling Association. To avoid injury in practice, always use a harness specifically designed for pulling weight.

Among urban mushing activities, weight pulling has the most opportunity for competition. The competitive season runs from September through March and the International Weight Pulling Association sanctions approximately one hundred events throughout Canada and the United States. Among all weight classes, which range from 0 – 10 lbs up to 151+ lbs, roughly 500 dogs compete annually. Besides Siberian Huskies, dogs of any purebred or mixed status are eligible.

During competition, the handler harnesses his or her dog to a weight, and then quickly moves to the finish line, where he or she can coach the dog across the course, but may not use treats or food as a coercion tool. Weight pulling associations take the willingness of the dog to pull very seriously. The winning dog is the one who has pulled the most weight, and in the case of a tie, first place is awarded to the dog that traversed the course in the shortest amount of time. In competition, dogs in the heavyweight class routinely pull over 1,500 lbs, or 10 – 15x their body weight. Although dogs of all breeds routinely compete in weight pulling competitions, it should be noted that three of four dogs recently inducted into the International Hall of Fame were sled dog breeds.

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