Carting with a Clicker: Ready to Hitch

The Rules

There are very few harnessing and hitching guidelines in the CKC Draft Test Rules and Regulations (2011). The rules are as follows:

  • Hitching and harnessing are the only times when the handler may touch the dog.
  • The dog must stand during harnessing/hitching/loading/unhitching.
  • During the harnessing and hitching, the handler’s skill and the dog’s willingness will be judged.

There is nothing written about HOW the dog must be hitched but the fact that the dog must be willing makes me think, lifting, dragging, poking and prodding won’t be allowed. Because I want Bear to be über comfortable with this process and understand his ‘job’, I am going to shape the behaviour with a clicker. I like to start shaping with a plan so I’ll outline my shaping plan below but you can find a printable handout on the Resources page.

Goal Behaviour

Your dog stands still comfortably between the shafts of the cart in his harness so that you can attach the shafts and the traces.

You have a few options where this is concerned:

  • You could hold the shafts up over the dog and teach him to line up beside you so you can lower them down over him.
  • You could teach your dog to step over the shafts resting on the ground and stand still between them.
  • You could teach your dog to back up in a straight line between the shafts.

I don’t think it matters which method you choose however you may want to take your dog’s temperament and previous training into consideration. I chose to go with method #2 because Bear was a little concerned about all that tubing over his head and because we have done some targeting work already with PVC boxes for Rally Working Levels which I think will help.

Training Plan

To begin with I’ll start in a smallish room with no distractions and ONLY the cart out on the floor in the middle of the room. I am planning to start standing in front of the cart beside the shafts so that when Bear is standing properly between the shafts he will essentially be in heel position.

  1. Click for looking at the cart
  2. Click for moving towards the cart
  3. Click for moving towards the cart shafts
  4. Click for front feet approaching shafts
  5. Click for raising a paw over shafts
  6. Click for placing a paw on the ground between the shafts
  7. Click for placing two paws between the shafts
  8. Click for placing three paws between the shafts
  9. Click for placing four paws between the shafts


After each click I am going to toss a cookie away from the cart to encourage Bear to move away so that he has to re-engage with the cart to get another click and another cookie.


To get you started, below is a video of one of our first training sessions so you can see how I am teaching this and so you can see a dog’s mind at work.

This video is a great illustration of why having a plan and knowing what you plan on reinforcing is important – sometimes your dog “gets it” a lot quicker than you’d imagine and you need to be ready to capitalise on their enthusiasm.

Problem solving

  • If your dog is worried about stepping over the raised shafts…try removing them from the cart and shaping your dog to line up between them on the ground. Then, very gradually, raise the shafts until they are the same heigh as they would be when attached to the cart
  • If your dog is spooked by the shafts touching her sides…try removing them from the cart and have a friend hold them further apart until she is more comfortable, then gradually, bring them closer. Alternatively, you could forget about lining up between the shafts for now and click and reward each and every time ANY part of her body touches the shafts.

Next Steps

To begin with I plan on teaching this exercise without Bear wearing the harness and once Bear is readily moving into position I will harness him and start all over again. Once he’s offering the behaviour consistently, I’ll add our cue “hitch up!”

4 thoughts on “Carting with a Clicker: Ready to Hitch

  1. Way to go Bear!!!! (and you too Ayoka). He did a great job. I’m wondering why your shafts are moving. . . . I have no idea whether or not it would make a difference for competition, but I know the shafts for Sonny’s cart are quite rigid once they are attached to the cart. They don’t move at all. Same with the other carts that we brought to Brandon.
    Your video makes me think we had better get going with our training!

    1. Jill, I need some washers to stabilize the shaft bolts…which should happen during cart rehab day over Christmas. I agree it wouldn’t be something I’d want to happen while he’s hitched and hauling 40lbs so we’ll wait for hitching until that’s fixed. I know nothing about the draft dog tests but I think that rigid shafts make hauling more efficient because the energy goes from dog to shaft to cart. If there were jiggly shafts I think a dog might have to work harder because some of that energy gets lost in the side-to-side movement of the shafts.

      1. Cart Rehab. Day – I love it! I’m planning to get our cart over to the dog club so we can practice over the Christmas break. I’ve heard Santa is getting me a camera for Christmas so with any luck I’ll be able to post our progress on the blog!
        Keep up the great work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: