How to Teach a Dog to Pull a Cart

by Cindy Quarters
From ancient times until the 20th century, cart-pulling was an important job for some dogs.

From ancient times until the 20th century, cart-pulling was an important job for some dogs.

jumeaux image by Clément Billet from Fotolia.com

Training your dog to pull a cart is not just fun, it can also be practical. A dog cart works well for moving firewood, carrying groceries and entertaining children. Some dogs, such as Bernese mountain dogs, Newfoundlands and Rottweilers, earn drafting titles through their breed associations by passing carting tests. Whether or not you want to earn titles or compete in drafting competitions, teaching your dog to pull a cart is good exercise for both you and your dog. A dog-pulled cart can be a show-stopper in local parades and other events, too.

Step 1

Teach your dog the “stand-stay” command. This makes cart work much easier and facilitates putting the harness on and off of your dog. Have your dog on leash and standing. Tell him "stand, stay." Hold a treat directly in front of his nose to keep his attention. If he sits, move the treat slightly away from him, keeping it about eye level, so he will stand to follow it. Reward him for standing. Repeat "stand, stay." Touch his back and sides while he stands so that he will learn to stand still even when something is going on around him. If he moves, remind him to "stand, stay," and return him to his original position. Give him a treat only when he is standing still, to reinforce that behavior. Continue this training until your dog will stand without moving until you release him by saying "OK," or whatever your chosen release word is.

Step 2

Put the harness on your dog, and let him get accustomed to how it feels. You want the harness to signify fun to your pet, so keep the experience light and stress-free. Play with him while he is wearing the harness, and give him some treats. Let him wear the harness for short periods until he accepts it without bother. Some dogs get to this point in a single session, while others might take days. Be patient.

Step 3

Poke two holes in the front corners of a cardboard box, near the bottom. Run the string through the holes, and bring the loose ends up to the dog. Attach the leash to his collar, and tie a string end to each side of the harness. Give your dog the command, “let’s go” as you begin to walk. The cardboard box will slide easily behind him. If you start him on grass, the box will be nearly silent, and it won’t bother him to pull the negligible weight, although he may look back at it a few times. If the box bounces too much, drop your jacket or a sweatshirt into it to add some weight. Be very encouraging, and your dog will likely forget the box. Continue working with the box until your dog is pulling it without concern. While you are walking with him on leash, use the draft terms "gee" when you turn right; "haw" when you turn left, and “whoa,” or “stop,” when you stop. Once he has learned these traditional draft commands, you'll be able to verbally guide him when he’s ready to work off-lead.

Step 4

Nail two 5-foot strips of molding to either end of a 15-inch 2-by-4 board. Drill three 1/4-inch holes in the unattached ends of each molding strip. Make the first hole 4 inches from the end, the next one 4 inches from that, and the final one 4 inches from the second one. This training rig will help your dog get accustomed to cart shafts without having to get accustomed to a cart at the same time.

Step 5

Tie the molding strips to the dog’s harness by putting a piece of string through the hole closest to the end of each strip. This will give your dog the feeling of cart shafts, but the wood is well back from his shoulders at this stage and shouldn’t bother him. When he seems comfortable with this arrangement, tie the shafts to his harness by putting string through the middle holes. This will put the training shafts alongside more of his body, and it may take him awhile to adjust. When he does, you can tie the training shafts by the third hole, so that about a foot of the shaft is in front of the rings on the harness. Spend lots of time walking with your dog with the training shafts tied on. Make plenty of turns to let him get accustomed to the feeling of having something alongside his body as he moves. When he has adapted to this, and not before, he is ready to graduate to a cart.

Step 6

Connect the cart to your dog’s harness, and walk him while he pulls it. Start with an empty cart, and gradually add weight to it.

Items You Will Need

  • Harness with padding
  • Cardboard box, 18 inches by 24 inches
  • 1 String, 10 to 12 feet long
  • Scissors
  • Leash
  • 2 Molding strips, 5 feet long
  • 1 Board, 2-by-4, 15 inches long
  • Nails
  • Hammer
  • Drill
  • Drill bit, 1/4 inch
  • String

Tip

  • Use a padded harness designed for hauling for best results. This type of harness is different than those used for sled dogs. It has rings on either side for connecting to the shafts of the cart. The padding provides for the dog’s comfort, and the construction ensures the dog won’t be run over by the cart when he stops.

Warning

  • Don’t overload the cart, especially at first. Your dog needs a chance to get used to pulling and to develop the muscles he needs to do it well. Overloading a cart can injure him, and at the very least it will make him reluctant to pull a cart the next time.

Photo Credits