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Dog Carting Facts: History, Breeds, & FAQ

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Bernese Mountain dog doing carting in the park

Dog carting, which is also known by the names dog drafting and even dry sledding, is a form of canine sport that has its roots in working dogs pulling laden carts. Such carts would contain items ranging from meat and livestock to virtually any other item and dogs were used where horses were not available or where smaller weights needed to be pulled.

The modern sport of dog carting can be enjoyed by dogs of any breed but is most commonly used by large breeds, with the Bernese Mountain Dog and St. Bernard breeds being especially popular for the sport. Although no formal training is required, participating dogs should have basic training and will need to get used to wearing a harness and pulling a cart. Groups and clubs can be found throughout the U.S. as well as in various other countries around the world and are typically open to new entrants.

Below, we cover some of the most important facts about dog carting and answer the most frequently asked questions so you can decide whether the sport is right for you and your dog.

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The 7 Dog Drawn Cart Facts

1. Drafting Dogs Were Used To Pull Small Field Guns During World War I

Dogs have long been used by militaries and armies, but historically they have been used as fighting dogs. During World War I, however, drafting dogs were used to pull carts that contained supplies as well as to pull small field guns across difficult terrain. The dogs not only had to be capable of pulling the weight and traversing challenging ground, but they also had to remain calm under fire as gunfire would have been firing all around them.

Bernese mountain dog towing a cart with 4 puppies in the cart
Image By: Lyntree, Shutterstock

2. Dog Carting Is Open To All Breeds

Although the sport is most often associated with large breeds like Bernese Mountain Dogs and St. Bernards, as well as Mastiff breeds, carting clubs are typically open to any breed. The size of the cart and the weight pulled in the cart will depend on the size of the dog, so as long as your pup enjoys physical exercise and has some basic commands down, you should be able to find a club to join.

3. Bernese Mountain Dogs Are the Breed Most Often Associated with Dog Carting

Bernese Mountain Dogs have historically been used for practical drafting purposes. They were once used to pull carts laden with milk and other dairy products from the farms where they were produced to markets and other locations. Their size, strength, and willingness made them the obvious choice, and it is this same combination that means they are one of the most popular carting dog breeds today.


4. Carting Is Often Used To Keep Sled Dogs In Shape During the Summer Months

Carting is also used as a means for sled dogs to stay fit and keep in shape during the summer months. Breeds like Huskies and Malamutes would normally pull sleds through snowy mountains, but in the summer when there is no snow, they need to retain their stamina and muscle. Dry sledding, as it is sometimes known, enables them to keep in shape and allows their handlers to train them.

5. Dogs Should Be Physically Mature Before They Start Pulling Carts

There are no age restrictions to carting, but you should always have your dog checked by a vet before taking part in the sport and wait until your dog has fully developed physically. In some dogs, this means waiting until they are 12 months old, but in large breeds like the Bernese Mountain Dog, it can mean waiting until they are 2 years old. If you do want to get into carting and your dog is not yet fully developed, take the time to get down basic commands. You can also fit a harness so that the dog has the opportunity to get used to wearing one.


6. The Most Common Harness Is Called a Siwash

Although there are cheaper band-type harnesses available, the harness that is most commonly used is called a Siwash. This has chest straps as well as adjustable brake loop straps, belly straps, and traces. The harness spreads the weight of the load, making it more comfortable for the dog and enabling it to be able to drag heavier weights.

7. An Alaskan Malamute Holds the World Record for Pulling 5,400 Pounds

The Alaskan Malamute is a popular carting breed because it is often used for sledding and is accustomed to wearing a harness and pulling weights. It is also a strong breed. One Alaskan Malamute, called Delbert, holds the world record for pulling the heaviest weight. Delbert pulled 5,400 pounds of weight to take the record.


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What Dog Breeds Can Take Part In Carting?

Any dog breed can theoretically take part in carting, although it is generally better suited to large breeds and it may be difficult to find harnesses and carts that are suitable for small breeds. Bernese Mountain Dogs, St. Bernards, Mastiffs, Huskies, and Malamutes are some of the most commonly used breeds. Some medium-sized but strong and agile breeds also do very well at carting, including the Collie.

How Old Does a Dog Need To Be Before Carting?

Generally, dogs shouldn’t pull any carting weight until they are fully physically developed, so usually between the age of 12 months and 2 years depending on the breed. However, you can prepare a younger dog by providing general training and taking part in agility classes. You can also get them used to wearing a harness so they will be ready for carting events when they are big enough.

Does a Dog Need To Be Trained Before Carting?

Strictly speaking, a dog doesn’t have to undergo any specific training before it takes part in carting. However, it is a good idea to ensure some basic training. Your dog will need to listen to commands while it is taking part, so you should ensure that it understands and responds to verbal commands including sit, stay, go, left, right, faster, and slower.

What Equipment Is Needed?

At the very least, you will need a collar and leash, harness, cart, and shafts and tracers that connect to the cart. Some clubs may have some equipment they can lend you, but having your own means that you can train and practice at home, too. You will also need weight to put in the cart. This can be anything from dumbbell weights to bags of sand.

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Final Thoughts

Carting is a form of canine sport but was once a functional means of using dogs to pull weights and carts from one location to another. It was especially common for dogs to pull milk, dairy, and other farm goods, and a number of breeds, including Bernese Mountain Dogs and Alaskan Malamutes, were used for this purpose. Although any breed can take part in modern drafting events, it is usually enjoyed by large and strong dog breeds.

Start training basic obedience when your puppy is young, and get them used to wearing a harness, before progressing to pulling carts loaded with weights when they have physically matured and reached their full adult size. Always check with your veterinarian before having your dog take part in this kind of physical event.

Featured Image Credit: Anke van Wyk, Shutterstock

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