Canine Weight Pulling Contests

Posted by  on June 15, 2010

Looking for a sport for your dog that doesn’t require your dog to be a purebred or to obey your every command?  Canine weight pulling rewards your dog for improving his physical fitness.

Weight Classes

Terriers, Poodles, and even Retrievers join in the sport alongside the more muscular dogs you’d expect to see like Mastiffs and Bulldogs.  How can these varied sizes compete at the same event?  Each event is divided into weight classes so that small dogs compete against small dogs while big dogs are in a separate class.

There is also an award for “most weight pulled” which rewards the dog for the biggest number of pounds pulled per pound of dog. For example, a 10-pound dog who pulls 30 pounds would receive a score of 3, while a 150-pound dog who pulled 300 pounds would receive a score of 2.  Therefore, the small dog would have defeated the large dog, even though the larger dog pulled more raw weight.

Pulling Surfaces

Depending on the terrain where the event is held, the dog may pull on snow, rails, carpet or bare ground.  Dogs should never pull on concrete or asphalt as this can cause nail damage.

How do I get my dog started?

To compete in dog pulling, your dog must know the basic obedience commands that any dog should know.  This will keep your dog safe at the event, as well as at home.  A dog who runs away or won’t come back when called is in danger, especially in a large group of dogs.  Make sure he has mastered “sit”, “stay”, and “come” before you try to get him to obey you in the crowd and confusion of a competition.

Your dog should also be crate-trained before attending a weight pull.  Although many competitions don’t require that your dog be in a crate, your dog may feel more secure if he has a familiar environment in which to relax between events.  Alternatively, you may choose to keep your dog leashed and at your side during the entire event.

The only equipment you will need is a harness designed for weight pulling.  Starter harnesses are adjustable to accommodate your dog as he grows, but are usually not as well made as more advanced harness and are therefore cheaper.  Competition harnesses are generally of higher quality than starters and will last through years of competition.  Champion harnesses are even a step above competition harnesses, having been made for high-end intense competitors. carries a list of manufacturers for each type of harness.

Be sure to specify that you want a harness designed for weight pulling.  Recreational harnesses do not distribute the weight properly on the dog to prevent injury.  In addition, a weight pull harness has a tension bar that goes under the dog’s tail and a padded v-neck to keep the harness from interfering with the dog’s breathing.

The final thing you will need when you are ready to get started is to learn the rules of the organization under whose auspices you plan to compete.  United Kennel Club, American Weight Pulling Alliance, International Weight Pulling Association, and Iron Dog are just a few of the organizations that sponsor dog pulls.  Other organizations are breed-specific, such as the Alaskan Malamute Club, the Saint Bernard Club of America, and the Volunteer State Bulldoggers.  Each of these organizations have their own rules including which dogs may be admitted to the competition, whether or not the dog must be spayed/neutered, and what type of paperwork must be presented when the dog is registered.

Training for weight pulls

The best way to train your dog to pull is simply to have him pull weights.  After hitching your dog into a properly-fitted harness, simply add some weights to the back of the harness and take your dog for a walk.  Start with just the harness, then once your dog becomes used to it, add some very light weights, building the load as the dog’s muscles are built up.  For weights, you can use a heavy chain, slowly increasing the length of the chain, or you can use a cart and add weights as your dog progresses.  Other weight choices include a tire with rocks in it or a tow chain with window weights attached to it.

Start out by walking for half of a mile, then slowly build up the distance to two miles as you gradually add weight.  You might do one day at a ½-mile with just the harness, then a few days of ½-mile with a 5-pound weight, then a few days of 1 mile with a 5-pound weight, then a few days of a mile with a 7-pound weight.  Let your dog tell you when it is time to increase the weight and / or distance.  Just as when you begin weight-training for yourself, the dog may develop sore muscles and need to rest between training sessions.

More detailed training information can be found in a great article by Mark Landers, who has trained three International Weight Pulling Medalists.

What to expect at a weight pull

After registering, your dog will be weighed on an official scale before competing to place the dog in the proper weight class.  For small dogs, the weight span for the various classes is usually small, including for example only dogs who weigh between 7 and 10 pounds, or dogs who weigh from 12 – 15 pounds.  In the larger weight classes, the weight span may be larger, including dogs who weigh from 125 – 145 pounds, for example.  This is done to keep the competition fair to all dogs without creating a separate class for each and every size of dog.

Generally, dogs from one class compete at one time, while dogs from another class compete at another time.  This can be thought of as the heats of a track meet.  However, there are times when dogs from different classes compete at the same time, but they are each judged against dogs from their own class.  For example, a Miniature Poodle may compete at the same time as a Bull Mastiff.  Obviously, the Poodle will pull far less weight than the Mastiff but the Poodle will win his class if he pulls more weight than the other 15-pound dogs in the competition.

The first pull is generally done with an empty cart for novice competitors or with a somewhat lightened cart for experienced dogs.  The idea is to not stress the dog’s muscles on the first pull.  This builds the dog’s confidence and prevents stress injuries.  The dog must be able to pull the weight for the specified distance, which in some pulls is as much as 16 feet.  Although you may reach a load that your dog cannot pull, it is important to the dog’s self-esteem that he think he completed the pull.  Even though he will not get credit for the pull, some handlers push from behind while the dog pulls so the dog thinks he has succeeded.

When the dog does complete a pull, he is awarded points toward a weight pulling title.  Different organizations have different standards, but points are generally calculated by taking into account the dog’s weight and the surface on which the pull took place.  For example, the Working Weight Pulling Dog Excellent title requires that a dog competing on snow must pull 14 times his body weight.  On man-made surfaces, a dog under 80 pounds must pull 23 times his body weight while a dog over 100 pounds must pull 19 times his weight.  In addition, the dog must finish in the top third of his weight class, although if 75% of the dogs in the class also pull the same weight, the weight doesn’t count.

How do you get the dog to pull?

A properly trained weight pull dog will generally be excited to compete and the only question is how to get him to wait his turn.  Training generally consists of having the dog pull a weight, then rewarding him with food, praise, and affection.  Although the trainer cannot typically bring the rewards onto the pull track, the dog will know he will be rewarded for his performance when he goes back to his crate if he has been trained with positive methods.

Doesn’t this hurt the dog?

A properly conditioned and trained dog will not be hurt by weight pulling.  Think about the first time you took your dog for a walk.  Did the dog pull against the leash, trying hard to drag you down the street?  Maybe he even still does this!  Your dog will enjoy interacting with you in training and in competition.  As long as the dog is properly conditioned, wears a well-fitted harness designed for weight pulling, and is not asked to pull excessive weight, he will enjoy the experience and will be in better shape than he would otherwise be.

There have been suggestions that weight pulling increases the chances of hip dysplasia, but the opposite is actually true.  Strength training will actually improve your dog’s joint health, and may keep him around longer because he will be in top physical condition as long as he is in training.