The Bernese Mountain Dog is a working breed originally developed in the region of Bern, Switzerland. Berners (as they are commonly known) were originally used as farm dogs --guarding and driving cattle, and pulling milk and cheese carts to and from market. Their Swiss name, Berner Sennenhund, underscores the breed's working traditions. A "Senn" or "Senner" is the stockman who takes the cattle to the Alps in the summer and stays with them, milking them, caring for them, and making cheese. The Sennenhund is the dog accompanying the Senner on his Alpine journeys, from farm, to field, and to town.
In addition to Bernese, many breeds have been used throughout history in a similar capacity. Such breeds as Newfoundland, Greater Swiss and other breeds have traditionally been used as draft dogs. Many of the northern and arctic breeds were bred specifically for pulling sleds over the frozen tundra. Today, these jobs have mostly all been replaced by more modern means of transportation.
But the natural instinct and ability lies waiting in each of our dogs, ready to be awakened with the command to pull. Our working dogs are happiest when doing anything with his master. Carting and sledding are perfect activities to accomplish this and have fun at the same time. Besides the obvious benefits to heart and lungs for both you and your dogs, draft work can be both fun and useful. Your child can use the dog and cart to help on his newspaper route. You can have him pull the groceries home. In the country, he can haul firewood back to the house, or in the suburbs he can help out in the yard or haul the garbage out to the curb. What better publicity for your breed of dog than seeing a well trained team in a parade or at a special event? For those interested in Therapy Work, a dog pulling a cart or wagon full of toys through a children's hospital will result in many happy smiles. Sled dog teams can be registered with local police departments to help transport people and supplies. What better reasons could you have for training your dog for draft work in today's world?
- BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
- Until obedience trained and ready, do not harness your dog to any apparatus. Some pups can be harnessed and instinctively know how to pull without being frightened, however, this is rare. Most must be introduced to the harness and then slowly introduced to any apparatus. Common sense must be the byword for this very special endeavor. Don't assume that your dog will leap at the chance to do draft work. The chances are that he will more than likely "leap" desperately in the opposite direction to start. By introducing your dog in small, fun stages, you will develop a happy working dog.
- OBEDIENCE TRAINING AND BASIC CONTROL:
- Your dog should be able to complete the AKC Companion Dog (CD) routine plus a few extra commands. To enter a BMD sanctioned Draft Test, you will have to pass a Basic Control portion at the start of the test, proving that your dog is obedience trained. Your dog must be able to heel through a course, change speeds, stop, sit, stay, and come on recall. Your dog must also not react to distractions such as other animals, noises, or people. You must have total voice control. And since you are a team, your dog must be confident that the commands you give will guide him safely through.
- WORK WITH A MATURE DOG:
- An immature dog who has not finished growing can injure bones, joints and other body structures. The BMDCA has determined that dogs less than two years old cannot compete in draft tests. While you can and should start training your puppy when young, don't force the immature dog to pull a load or work too long. You can start by putting a lightweight harness on your dog first, then slowly introducing him to traces, drags, and shafts. Only you can make the decision when your dog is mature enough and you must keep his health and well being in mind throughout every step of the training process.
- HEALTH AND CONDITIONING:
- Carting, sledding and draft work is a sport, and as such, place very physical demands on your dog. Your dog must be in top physical condition. Toe nails must be short. His diet must be of high quality and well balanced. The stresses placed on the dog mentally as well as physically may require a higher intake than normal. This doesn't mean over feed your dog. Obesity is the worst enemy of the working dog. As with any training, you need to progress slowly, building both strength and endurance. Don't put your dog in front of a cart for the first time and then expect him to pull it in a parade for two hours the following weekend. While he might be willing to do it to please you, the next time the harness comes out he won't be so eager. A healthy and well conditioned dog will happily take on any new challenge, be it a steep hill or a heavy load.
- TEAMWORK AND SAFETY:
- You are about to team up with your dog to do something that is potentially hazardous. A dog that is harnessed to an apparatus that becomes frightened or out of control can be injured or killed. Again, there is no such thing as too much obedience training. As the leader of the team all your training instincts must be in use while working with your dog. You must be aware of your surroundings and alert to any distractions or dangers. You must be alert to your dog's posture and his attitude. When you have him in harness, and he is trying hard but unable to accomplish what you have asked him to do, STOP. Is the load too heavy? Is the weather too warm? Is the harness chafing or cutting into him? You must determine the problem and solve it in such a way that he still has confidence in his own abilities. Remember, if you want to be part of a good draft team, MAKE IT FUN!
- ANATOMY AND DRAFT WORK:
- The structure of your dog is very important in doing draft work. Your dog should be in good health, checked for congenital hip, elbow and shoulder problems, and be properly conditioned. Since harnesses typically provide drive to the cart as the dog pushes against a strap across his chest, the drive from his rear legs must travel the length of his body. A solid topline is most important for this transfer. You will also want to analyze your dogs skeletal and muscular structure before deciding on the type of apparatus and carting that would be right for him. Berners are particularly well suited for slower, plodding draft work. Rottweilers move more quickly and have a slightly different angulation, making them better at carting at a fast pace. By understanding what type of work is best for your dog's structure, you will make it easier for him to learn and feel confident in his abilities.