It was a cold Saturday morning at New Quarter Park. While bikers and hikers trickled in, there was a group of furrier athletes working out.
Twelve dogs and their owners had gathered for the first draft test hosted by the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Hampton Roads.
Drafting, or carting, is a sport where a dog pulls a cart filled with items or weights while following instructions from its handler.
Margaret Ann Martin, a member of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Hampton Roads, said Bernese Mountain Dogs were historically draft and farm dogs. They would pull milk carts from the farms in Switzerland down to the village cheeseries.
Today, the tradition continues with draft tests held around the country. Natalie Brock, a director of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Hampton Roads, said all tests are sponsored by the Bernese Moutain Dog Club of America
“Usually when the weather is fair for the Bernes, which is cool for humans, there’s at least one (draft test) every weekend somewhere in the United States,” Brock said.
She said dogs are still taught how to draft because while it's not practical to have your dog help cart things in the yard, it helps keep the tradition alive.
Draft tests are split into three components: practical draft work, group stay and freight haul.
For practical work, Martin said dogs go through an obstacle course where they must demonstrate their ability to turn, back up, keep pace and walk through narrow spaces all on command and without knocking their cart against anything.
In the group stay, dogs must remain in a down stay — lying down — for three minutes with their owners out of site.
“Some dogs have a hard time on the down stay,” said Kimberly Perry, who drove up from North Carolina with her dog, Josie. “If you have a very tight bond your dog and you're very connected, when you get out of sight it makes them a little antsy.”
The final test is the freight haul, where dogs must pull their carts along a half-mile path without having the cart bump into anything or turn over. Martin said novice class dogs only need to pull 20 pounds, whereas open class dogs need to be able to pull their own weight.
Brock said dogs must pass all three parts of the test in order to become draft certified. While it’s a pass/fail test, Martin said people generally participate with their dogs for fun.
“We’re really just here to socialize and celebrate the dogs,” Martin said.
“Bernese mountain dog is wonderfully loyal, gentle, loving dog, but they love to work,” Perry said. “So whether it be drafting or obedience or agility or herding …. they like having a job and having a job with their owner or trainer makes for a stronger bond.”
Want to learn more?
To learn more about Burnese Mountain Dogs, drafting and how to get involved, visit bmdchr.com.
Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.