Pulling a cart or wagon is bred in the bone for some breeds, but almost any dog can learn
By Kim Campbell Thornton
You've probably seen vintage photos of dogs pulling carts or wagons loaded with milk cans, large cheeses and other goods to market for farmers. Certain breeds specialized in this work, among them Bernese mountain dogs, bouviers des Flandres, great Pyrenees, greater Swiss mountain dogs, Leonbergers, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers and Saint Bernards. Dogs were less expensive to purchase and care for than horses and were sometimes referred to as "the poor farmer's horse."
Some modern dog owners, inspired by their breeds' heritage, are eager to teach their dogs to perform their traditional work. They've taken up drafting, also known as carting.
Laura Bullock of Charlotte, North Carolina, has had greater Swiss mountain dogs for nine years. "I really wanted to do all of the things that my breed is meant to do," she says. "It's something that is interesting and different and definitely challenging. It may look easy, but it's not."
Dogs who can pull a cart or wagon are popular for lots of reasons. They are crowd pleasers in parades, give rides to neighborhood kids, haul recycling bins out to the street, help bring home groceries and work as gardening assistants, pulling wagons loaded with potting soil, bark and trays of plants around the yard.
A framework of training and trust between dog and owner is necessary to be successful. Before a dog starts training for carting, he should know and respond readily to basic obedience commands, especially "stay" and "come."
Before a dog is ever put into a harness or attached to a cart, he becomes accustomed to having a cart brought behind him and learns how it feels to have the shafts of the cart touching his shoulders. Experiencing that sensation is important because as the cart turns, the shafts will touch the dog's body, so it's something he needs to be prepared for.
More advanced lessons involve learning to go in circles, back up, pull uphill, control the speed of a cart going downhill and walk across different surfaces. In a draft test, to earn a title, a dog may have to pull his cart over dirt, grass or gravel, as well as over a bridge or through a gate. He needs to learn how it feels and sounds to cross those surfaces and how to make his way through narrow spaces. As he learns, he is rewarded with toys, treats and praise.
Dogs can become accustomed to wearing a harness and being hitched to a cart at any age -- the earlier, the better -- but depending on the breed, they must be 18 months to 2 years old before they can enter a draft test to earn a title. That's to ensure that the dog's bones and joints are fully developed.
Drafting isn't limited to large breeds. Any dog of any size can learn to pull for fun, exercise or utility, although a smaller dog's loads are limited. Breeds and mixes that have learned to pull include papillons, cockapoos, Shetland sheepdogs and collies.
Before getting started, take your dog to the veterinarian. He shouldn't have any physical problems that could be made worse by the activity.
To learn more, contact a local Bernese mountain dog breed club. They often have drafting demonstrations and clinics at fun days or specialty shows so people can learn about the sport.
The benefits of carting go beyond earning titles or even doing work with it, says Kathe Vasquez, co-chair of the draft committee for the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Southern California.
"It forms a really special bond between you and your dog. When you have that partnership, that teamwork, it's really a beautiful thing."
Excess thirst, urine
signal health problems
Q: My cat seems to be drinking a lot more water than usual. She's even started having accidents outside the litter box. I think she can't get there in time. What could be causing this? -- via Facebook
A: In vet speak, what's going on is called polydipsia and polyuria -- excessive thirst and urination. The problem is that these signs can be symptomatic of any number of diseases. It can be really frustrating for veterinarians and owners to try to figure out the cause. Diseases that cause these signs include diabetes, kidney failure and hyperthyroidism, to name just a few.
The differential diagnosis -- a term you may know from medical detective shows such as "House M.D." -- involves a good history first. The veterinarian will want to know how long your cat has been drinking lots of water and whether you've noticed if she's urinating more frequently (pollakiuria) or going a normal number of times but producing greater amounts of urine (polyuria). Other questions may include what you feed your cat, whether you've noticed any changes in eating habits or unusual weight loss and whether you're giving her any medications or supplements.
A physical exam and lab tests are also part of the search for answers. A complete blood count, urinalysis and thyroid test are among the lab work your veterinarian may order. They can help to check such things as kidney and liver values, thyroid hormone levels, abnormal electrolyte levels and excess sugar in the urine. Again, there are many potential causes of these signs, so a veterinary visit is a must. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
for pet lovers
-- We've all heard of the Fortune 500 -- the 500 most profitable U.S. companies. Well, here's a more important ranking for pet lovers: the pet-friendly 12, a dozen companies that offer perks to pet-loving employees. They run the gamut: allowing owners to bring dogs to work and providing pet insurance, discounts for doggie daycare, pet supplies, financial assistance for pet adoptions and free pet health screening days. The "purr-ty" dozen are Genentech, Kimpton, Atlantic Health, VMWare, Salesforce, Mars, Google, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Autodesk, GoDaddy, Workday and Activision Blizzard.
-- Thanks to social media, we're seeing lots more photos and videos of cats getting baths or playing in water. You were probably under the impression that cats did a perfectly fine job of grooming themselves, but there are times when a bath can be beneficial. If someone in your family is allergic to cats, a weekly bath (for the cat) can help to keep dander levels low, reducing the person's reaction. Cats also need baths if they get into something sticky or that would be toxic for them to lick off themselves.
-- "Who rescued whom?" The popular bumper sticker is seen on numerous cars, but for Eric O'Grey, it's more than an expression. When his doctor told him he would be dead in five years if he didn't lose weight, he consulted a nutritionist and took her advice to adopt a shelter dog. He chose a middle-aged, overweight dog named Peety, and the two started walking. Within a year, O'Grey had lost 140 pounds and Peety 25. Their story was turned into a video, the kickoff for a contest called the Mutual Rescue initiative, in which people can share stories of how a shelter animal changed their lives. Contact the Humane Society of Silicon Valley for more information. Entry deadline is April 30. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.