Weight Pulling ...
An Interview with Greg & Julie Hibler
Q. How did you get interested in weight pull competitions?
A. We went and watched a local dog pull and decided it looked like a lot of fun and we thought Levi might be good at it.
Q. How long have you been competing?
A. Three years, taking a break due to Levi, Nemi, and Kala retiring.
Q. How are dogs scored at competitions?
A. It's not actually a scoring, It comes down to who pulls the most weight. If there is a tie for most weight pulled, the winner will be decided on the time from the previous round.
Q. What types of surfaces are the competitions performed on?
A. Natural surfaces are preferred and what we see the most, e.g., a sled on snow or a wheeled cart on dirt. Sometimes a wheeled cart will also be used on carpet.
Q. Describe what happens when you compete. What does a pulling setup look like? Do you pull a wheeled cart, a sled, or a sledge?
A. The first thing you do when you get to a pull is fill out your paperwork, pay your entry fee and then weight your dog or dogs in. Each dog is then assigned by his weight to the appropriate weight class. Starting weights and weight increments are then voted on by the entrants in each class. The entrants of each class then compete with each other through rounds of increasing weight increments until there is a winner (dog left pulling the most weight).
A sled or wheeled cart is pulled by each dog (they are made to exact measurements).
Q. How is starting weight determined?
A. Each weight class votes for their class (owners of dogs pulling only), taking into account the condition of the track they will be pulling on. Most of the time the starting weight used is the weight of the cart. Weight increments are also voted on at that time, e.g., 100#.
Q. How many heats or tries does each dog get?
A. In each round (try or heat) a dog gets one attempt to pull the weight within the time allowed of 60 seconds. However, they do get two chances for infractions of the rules, e.g., tangles or false starts.
Q. How do you condition a dog for pulling?
A. The long and short of it is lots and lots of training. The training is quite involved. The secret of winning or losing is the training. One of the most important things to remember is never go too fast in putting weight on a new dog and never teach a dog he can't do it or you will break his spirit (call for more details).
Q. How do you start a beginning dog pulling program? At what age do you begin training and at what age do they retire.
A. Never start your dog too young (for mastiffs, 18 months for light training, two years for sanctioned pulling). A discussion of training is not practical in this format. We would be happy to discuss training in depth by phone.
Q. What are your techniques to attract and encourage a dog to pull?
A. Fundamental and most important is teaching your dog to come no matter what. Also, always, always keep it fun. Second most important is that your dog must trust that you will never let him down by asking too much of him. We recommend not using bait, the only encouragement should be that he loves pulling and wants to come to you. Lots of praise!
Q. Can you touch your dog during a pull?
A. In fun pulls (training pulls -- like a fun match), yes. In sanctioned pulls, no. They must wait until you are beyond the 16 ft line to pull. If you touch them before the cart crosses the line, it is a disqualification.
Levi Showing His Winning Form!
Q. What happens if a dog cannot move the weight?
A. We never let a dog think he cannot pull the weight. If, in 60 seconds, the dog cannot pull the weight or the owner thinks his dog has made a good attempt and cannot pull the weight, the puller asks the people handling the cart to help the dog the next time he attempts to move the weight. In the beginning we used to let our dogs try the full 60 seconds, but it didn't take long to learn that all the good handlers didn't leave their dogs trying the full 60 seconds.
Q. Do the dogs enjoy pulling?
A. Dogs that pull love it, it's up to each dog. The way we look at it dogs who like pulling do it well and with their tails wagging. Dogs who don't enjoy it simply will not pull.
Q. Do you feel that pulling hurts a dog or that the exercise has any noticeable effects?
A. No, in fact the exercise is therapeutic. It makes the muscles strong and the mind confident. Dogs that suffered from problems (depending on the problem, severity and how training was done) may even improve (such as hip dysplasia).
Q. Must a dog be sound and problem free to pull?
A. Not necessarily. Two of our dogs have dysplasia, and with careful training and conditioning they did well, and one even improved. The reason is that it has been proven that strengthening the muscles around the defective joint prevents excess movement. Arthritis has also shown improvement from exercise. But, if pulling or anything else causes stiffness or soreness, you should stop.
Q. What ages are the dogs that you compete with?
A. One year to twelve years.
Q. How well have your dogs done? Are mastiffs competitive and can they win big?
A. Let me put it this way, our walls are covered with ribbons, medals and trophies. We have two males at our house -- one was an International Gold Medalist and the other a Silver Medalist. In every region where a mastiff pulls, they usually place in the medals. The real magic and thrill is not winning, but when you are standing sixteen feet away and look into your dog's eyes and can see he's going to pull that weight because he wants to and loves you.
Q. Have you seen injuries from pulling? What type of injuries?
A. No, not at pulls, but I don't know if it happens at homes -- not ours anyway.
Q. What time of year do you compete?
A. All year long. The season is from September to May and fun pulls are available all year.
Q. What types of recognition, such as titles, is there? Is there a yearly point system to rank competitors?
A. For each weight class there is a first, second and third place at every pull and each dog earns points toward winning a medal at the end of the year. For first place the dog receives three points; in addition, one point for every dog he beats. Second place receives two points; in addition, one point for every dog he beats. Third place receives one point; in addition, one point for every dog he beats. At the end of the year they add the points from the best three pulls for medal placement for each weight class -- Gold, Silver, Bronze.
Greg & Julie Hibler (along with Levi, Nemi and Kala) reside in Bellvue, Colorado. They would be happy to discuss weight pulling with anyone interested in more information. Contact them at: 3624 County Rd. 25E, Bellvue, CO 80512-5909; (303) 221-4547.