The question of what is the earliest age that a dog can safely haul a vehicle such as a cart, wagon, sled or toboggan with or without a load, keeps coming up on internet discussion groups for carting and draft work. Everyone seems to have an opinion and those with the least experience and factual knowledge push their opinions the hardest.
Some advocate starting limited forms of hauling before 12 months of age and this scares me to death. Even the suggestion of getting a dog use to harness at this age is a big no-no. First of all the dog is too immature to be measured for a harness before 11 months; thus a proper fitting harness before that age is a waste of money. However it is not the waste of money that gets me upset, it is the temptation that such a device provides that is terrifying. I have witnessed people starting that way, then rationalizing that pulling an empty cart (or wagon or sled) wouldn’t hurt. Well one small child won’t make any difference – next thing you know, half the neighbourhood kids are piled on a toboggan being pulled by a six month old Newfie. He may be 100 pounds but he sure isn’t ready to be hauling.
Based on practical experience of carters like myself who have been doing this for decades, light hauling as early as 12 months of age, seems to be a safe age to start. Light hauling includes wheeled vehicles on hard surfaces and sleds or toboggans on hard packed snow with total weight (vehicle plus load) no more than the dog’s weight.
Using a scientific approach would suggest 15 months for letting your dog pull anything. Growth plates in the long bones are normally all closed by 14 months of age. Add one month to allow for individual variations and you have a safe time for attaching your dog to a vehicle.
The ultra conservatives suggest two years of age based on the earliest maturation age of large and giant breed dogs. While this is probably the safest age, it not only delays a fun activity with your dog but should your dog need to be muscled to compensate for bad joints such as hip dysplasia, then this just prolongs his agony.
Scientific information that has come to public attention in the last year or so adds another wrinkle. Dogs, especially the large and giant breed canines, neutered before puberty, have the closing of the growth plates delayed. Larger dogs, for this reason, should not be neutered before 14 months of age but if they are for any reason, then pulling activities should be delayed further, probably until 18 months of age.Peter Maniate is a Newfoundland dog breeder and a professional trainer specializing in dog carting. Since 1979 he has been writing a bi-monthly column in the Newf News entitled Carting Corner. The preceding column originally appeared in the November/December, 2006 issue. Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.