Hercules is prepped and ready. With a trailer loaded with concrete blocks behind him, a quick scratch on his hind leg and he’s off. Shouts of “Good boy!” echo around him.
The five-year-old American Bulldog pulled a gold-medal worthy load of 2,150 pounds (975 kilograms) in a canine weight pull competition in Calgary last year.
Hercules’s owner Kayla Bell has been part of the canine weight pulling scene in Alberta for the last six years.
“He competes with me because I enjoy the sport,” said Bell. “He’d be just as happy to pull out in my yard and get cookies. He doesn’t care about the competition.”
Bell runs the Edmonton Weight Pull Club, a group that both teaches and competes in the dog sport.
“Essentially, dogs like to pull on leashes,” Bell told CBC’s Radio Active. “Dogs like to pull while they’re out walking. 90 per cent of people out there try and correct this behaviour and stop the pulling. We instead give it an outlet.”
The dogs are equipped with special harnesses and once they get used to the feel of them, they slowly introduce the weight.
“A lot of dogs really enjoy it,” said Bell. “It’s a great bonding experience between the dogs and the owners just because it is kind of a natural thing for the dogs to do.”
The training can be for competition, to help keep their dogs in condition for other sports, like agility, or just to give their pets a mental job.
The sport isn’t just for power breeds.
“I’ve had dogs in my weight club, everything from papillons and Boston terriers … all the way up to really big mastiffs and St. Bernard’s.”
In competition, the dogs have one minute to pull the weight a distance of 16 feet (almost five metres), either on a cart on wheels or on a track.
“It’s just a matter of if the dog enjoys it, we can turn that into something bigger.”