If you are familiar with the Newfoundland breed then you know that one of their abilities, and former jobs, is to pull heavy loads. They were developed to help fishermen pull fishing nets out of the sea, logs from the forest, and other heavy items in their carts. The Newfoundland Club of America offers registered dogs the ability to earn their Draft Dog title by completing a series of exercises that test the team's abilities including control, obedience, and endurance. All stemming from their natural working attitude and abilities! I jumped a the chance to photograph the NCNC fall draft test not only because I get to hang out with all my friends, but because I truly enjoy photographing this breed and watching it work! They truly enjoy this event and the teamwork between the dogs and the handlers are such a joy to watch!
The first set of exercises deals with obedience, all off leash. The team works through a series of turns and commands to test the ability of the dog to listen to the handler as they work through basic requests and commands efficiently and flawlessly. I think the hardest part is the long down, which is really only a minute, but to see a line of males all lying next to each other without any issues just confirms my love of this breed!
Next up is the harnessing, hitching, and equipment check which is tricky at times with one dog, but even harder with a team! But I love this moment because the dogs are so attentive to where their handler is and I can usually get in a bit closer for some nice facial expressions. But as one handler said "don't get too many butt shots!" which is what I try to avoid but it really is hard sometimes and that's not exactly the picture that you want to show!
After the harness check is approved by the judges then the maneuvering course begins. This is where the teamwork really shows through and you can see the trust and the eagerness in the dog's face and movements, and you can see all the hard work come together which is thrilling! The course is set up to test maneuvering around corners, through obstacles, 90 degree turns, and the ability to back up on command.
The final portion of the test is the haul route where the group carries a 25 lb weight in the back of the cart and has to go on a 1 mile route. Now one thing I learned during this test is that they can actually put the weight in the cart during the maneuvering course also to slow a dog down and balance the cart! Believe it or not some of these dogs actually do need to be slowed down because they are incredibly strong and if they are in shape then a 25 lb weight is not going to hold them back! The best part was that this test was held in the middle of a Christmas tree farm so it felt like our holidays were starting especially early this year!