July 25th, 2017
Today, Bailey became an official working dog. She hauled her own water bottles and bug spray in a specially-designed backpack for Newfoundland dogs. When Bailey attended the beginner carting course offered by the South Eastern Ontario Regional Newfoundland Dog Club in June 2016, we placed an order for a customized harness to be made by Allan Maniate. He is also belongs to our club, instructs most of the club’s courses while running a dog equipment business on the side. The harness would allow Bailey to safely and comfortably participate in draft activities. Should she grow, the harness can be adjusted within a certain range. Oh, how I wish that my own clothes offered this option. Anyway, the harness is made of sheepskin and leather to withstand the strain of a hardworking Newf. The harness allows Bailey to pull sleds, wagons or carts tailored to the size of a Newf. Our original intent was to train Bailey to use a sled. After all, Labrador is under snow 7 months of the year. However, we decided to purchase a backpack for her that would attach to the modified harness. Bailey and I hike frequently. I was getting tired of being the one to carry everything. Bailey needed to embrace her drafting heritage.
The night before the Rally-O seminar, the reason for travelling down to Peterborough, Bailey received her final fitting. My husband and I were shown by Allan on how to place it on her and fasten the buckles up. I learned that it is not as easy as my husband made it seem at last year’s carting course. Allan explained the technique of keeping one hand behind the strap to keep Bailey’s long guard hairs from becoming tangled up. The other hand had to pull the other strap under the belly of our black beastie. You need really good arm muscles as I found out. Eventually, I managed to get the straps done up. Whew! Then, Allan informed me that I should tighten the strap up one more notch. Draft animals including dogs have a habit of puffing out their chests to keep the strap loose. I tugged until I had added another hole on the strap. Bailey was now cinched in. We received a refresher course on carting and I sustained a few bruises from the cart’s poles hitting the sides of my knees. Bailey was not the only one requiring more practice. At the close of this learning session, we inquired about getting a backpack. Fortunately, Allan had one on hand. He was willing to make the customized leather strap needed to tether the backpack to the harness before the next day’s course. Sure enough, the backpack was waiting for me.
Since arriving back in Labrador West, I have slowly re-introduced Bailey to the harness. She and I practiced getting it on her. Once that part was mastered, I led her around the property to get her comfortable with wearing the harness. Next, we moved to having her carry an empty backpack. Bailey had to realize that she was wider than without the packs. At first, she hit the door frame to the garage or me as she tried to perform our tight heel position. Bailey seemed confused with the fact that her clearance parameters had shrunk. I remained persistent and patient. Bailey waddled around the yard with the empty backpacks. She made progress very quickly that I began increasing her weight load. First, she carried empty water bottles followed by half full ones. Things were going so well that I thought today was a good day to try carrying a full load.
Bailey wagged her tail as I brought the harness out. That is a good sign, I thought to myself. I fumbled a bit with the straps but, got them done up. The backpack was attached to her harness followed by loading an identical, full water bottle on each side. The bug spray went in next as did my camera. She owed me one for all those months of carrying drool rags, poop bags and treats. I felt free for the first time in a very long time. It was the same feeling that I had when the boys were big enough to carry their own stuff. I was liberated from being a pack mule. The day had come for Bailey to venture off the property in working mode. The two of us and our friends headed down to Jean Lake to hike around it. The morning was cool enough and the black flies seemed less bothersome. The trees offered some shade from the heat of the sun. At first, she wanted to play with her husky/lab friend, Cas. I reminded her that she was working and all thoughts of play disappeared. Bailey strutted like a pro. We took water breaks along the way. Sometimes, they involved wading into the lake for a quick drink and paw cooling. I decided to remove the backpack when Bailey wanted to enter into the lake. Other times, she happily drank the bottled water which magically lessened her load. Her working attire attracted some attention but, not enough for Bailey to lose focus of the task at hand. Our working gal earned a well-deserved afternoon siesta and a couple of high valued treats at the conclusion of the hike.