Weight Pulling

Weightpulling is a quite historic activity in the sled dog world, its roots being traced back to the Alaskan Goldrush and references to the activity famously appearing in Jack London's "Call of The Wild". For the agricultural amongst us it is much like a tractor pull!

 

Dogs are divided into weight classes and are required to pull a set weight on either a wheeled trolley or sled (depending on surface) over a 16ft distance within a 60 second time frame. They use a special type of harness that utilises a spreader bar at the back to evenly distribute the weight the dog is pulling and to minimise any risk of injury. The handler is permitted to stand and drive from behind but a majority choose to stand in front of the dog, unable to cross a set distance and approach the dog once the pull has started. No baiting with treats or toys is allowed, only vocal commands, and so this isn’t just a sport of brute strength but one of technique and the dogs desire to pull.

Lucie in the chute. Photo credit: Kirsty Marie Mountstephens

The sport is particularly popular in North America with the IWPA (International Weight Pulling Association) and ISDRA (International Sled Dog Racing Association) – along with many other non-profit organisations – organising competitions across the continent. These attract a variety of breeds, but the sport is very popular with the Malamute fraternity, as their original freighting function of pulling heavy weights at a steady speed makes them physically and mentally suited to the challenge. The skill and working aptitude required of a dog to succeed in this has been recognised by the AMCA (Alaskan Malamute Club of America) who have incorporated titles into their Working Title programme.

 

In the UK, the activity is growing in popularity with the original competitive event - the Allerton Park Championship - now complimented by a Southern Championship organised by The AMCUK (Alaskan Malamute Club of UK), both of which run from October to April each year. Created originally to give the opportunity for UK dogs to gain their AMCA WWPD / WWPDA / WWPDX titles, there are now there are now a growing number of dogs taking part, many just for the fun day out!

Maya shows how much fun can be had in the chute (even if not pulling). Photo Credit: Sammy Taylor (Samnooshka Designs)

I enjoy the sport because it really brings out the dogs personality, each having their own style and attitude to the pull, and the fact you cannot make a dog pull if it doesnt want to (regardless of whether it is capable) means the dog sets its own limits . A dog that is trying really hard but cannot make the pull can be assisted by the chute handler and pushed through to make sure they always end on a good note (even if that pull then doesnt count towards a top weight) and the satisfaction is clear on most dogs faces and makes it difficult for them not to have a good day out.

Lucie enjoys a warm up scrub pre-pull! Photo Credit: Joan Sheehan

I have 5 levels of pullers in my current pack.

 

Stan has never made it out of novice - a non-competitve, training class where bait, approaching the dog and even the us of a lead is permitted. He simply doesn't get the need to pull without a treat in front of him (indeed, sometimes refuses even with a treat directly under his nose) – but every now and then he comes along for a social day out and just to do something different.

A rare shot of Stan pulling. Photo credit: Joan Sheehan.

Maya is retired from the weightpull chute, and like Stan she certainly never would have made a title holder, but up till the age of 9 or so she enjoyed pulling on her own terms and never failed to  make it very clear when she'd had enough by completely ignoring my calling her and walking straight out the chute. But when she was in the mood she enjoyed getting her head down and showing off to the crowd.

Maya on the move. Photo Credit: Joan Sheehan

Lucie is my first competitive girl who took very well to weightpull, needing little encouragement to get her head down and pull.
In her first competitive season in the 2012/13 Allerton Championship she has comfortably earned her WWPD title, getting the four required legs in four consecutive pulls ranging, her top weight pulled consistently ranging between 19–21 times her own body weight (to put into context a dog needs to pull a minimum of 12x their own body weight to earn a leg on this surface) and earned the Stormwinds trophy for 3rd in the 61-80lb class for that year. 

Lucie posing with her trophy. Photo Credit: Sammy Taylor (Samnooshka Designs)

She even managed to pull 24 x her bodyweight in the last pull of the 2011/12 season to earn her first WWPDA / WWPDX leg. She repeated this performance four more times in the 2012/13 season, fulfilling the requirements for her WWPDA / WWPDX title and earning her the Cedarcreek Trophy For 2nd in the 61-80lb class in the overall Championship.

Lucie gets her head down and puts her shoulders into it! Photo credit: Craig Richards (UntiedShoes Web Design)

Despite missing a pull at the start of the 2013/14 season, she still managed to place 4th in the 61-80lb Class in the overall Championship against 30+ qualifying dogs, and even pulled a new Personal Best of over 28x her bodyweight.
Similarly, despite missing several pulls during the 2014/15 season, she managed two competition wins of highest percentage of bodyweight pulled, placed 8th out of 27 qualifying dogs in the overall championship, and pulled a new personal best of over 29x her bodyweight.

Lucie pulling 1700lb. Photo credit: Marina Page

The 2015/16 season was equally challenging but saw her come away with another 3rd in the 61-80lb class. 
The 2016/17 seasons has seen her drop into the 41-60lb class, and so far has seen a mix of performances, but she currently hold the highest percentage pull of the season at over 26x her bodyweight.

Harry was a tad over-enthusiastic so we started off slowly, concentrating on learning the techniques involved in this and seemed to very much enjoy it, and by the last two Novice Classes of the 2013/14 season he pulled the maximum weight of 1000lb as if he were in Competition with no issues.

Photo Credit: Marina Page

He had his first competition in October 2014, and I am pleased to report that from his first 4 competitions he not only earned his WWPD title in back to back pulls, but on his third and fourth attempts pulled over 23x his bodyweight to earn one WWPDX leg and two WWPDA legs.  The efforts of his work this season meant he went on to come 2nd in the Overall Allerton Park Championship 61-80lb class, and ended the season with a pull of 24x his bodyweight to earn a 2nd WWPDX / 3rd WWPDA leg and a new Personal Best of 1800lb.

Harry with his trophy for 2nd in the 61-80lb class.

The 15/16 season was a chalenging one for Harry, seeing him move up and down between weight classes, however he certainly continues to show enthusiasm for his days in the chute.
As we enter the 16/17 season, we have found concentration rather than strength his downfall in the very competitive 81-100lb class, and so we continue to work on him using his energy to go forward rather than bounce.

Dylan is a new challenge in the chute, showing clear strength and aptitidue for the sport, but wanting to do everything at 100MPH and demonstrating that signature cheeky, stubborn streak when things don't go his way. For now he is in novice class, till he learns to take things more steadily, but I am certainly looking forward to his competitive future.