Performance Dog & Working Dog
Remember these words at the beginning of our Standard….. Powerful, strong and muscular.
There are a growing number of Saint Bernard fanciers who enjoy keeping the working skills and heredity traits of our breed alive and strive to bring to life those words in our Standard. As time marches on, we don’t work our Saint Bernards as in the past, but we do love to work our dogs in Obedience Trials, Tracking Tests, Agility Trials, Draft Tests & Weight Pulling Tests.
The AKC has categorized all activities as “Dog Sports”.
This is broken down into:
- Conformation Dog SHows
- Companion Sports
- Title Recognition Program
- Performance Sports Sports for Juniors
- AKC Family Dog Program
For the purpose of this page, we will be addressing the last four bullet points.
Due to the amount of information contained on these subjects, most will be links that go back to the AKC website with variations for our breed handled below.
There is a separate Conformation page that can be found here:
Conformation Dog Shows
Effective Date: October 29, 2021
The SBCA Working Dog Committee has just completed amending the SBCA Draft Test Regulations.
They were amended in order to:
- Allow a dog to be entered in the Open Class without having a Novice Title.
- Allow mixed breed dogs to enter our Draft Tests if they have the AKC Canine Partners Listing.
- Allow other breeds to enter our Draft Tests.
The amended Draft Test Regulations may be obtained by clicking on the link below or from the Draft Work Secretary, Barry Roland at e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org
Barry Roland – SBCA WDC Draft Work Secretary
Phone: 404 291-3116
Note: The Draft Test Regulations is a large PDF file that may take time to download.
The Saint Bernard Club of America Weight Pull Trials are a series of events designed to develop and demonstrate the natural abilities of purebred Saint Bernard dogs in a capacity involving heavy-duty freight hauling that the breed displayed during the days of the Alaska Gold Rush.
Performances in such weight pull trials are intended to demonstrate skills
resulting both from natural ability and training that are applicable to realistic work situations. Efficiency in accomplishment of tasks is essential, evidenced by showing willingness and enjoyment of his work in a combination of controlled teamwork with his handler.
Download the Weight Pull Regulations here. Note that this is a large document and may take time to download.
Remember these words at the beginning of our Standard….. Powerful, strong and muscular.
There are a growing number of Saint Bernard fanciers who enjoy keeping the working skills and heredity traits of our breed alive and strive to bring to life those words in our Standard. As time marches on, we don’t work our Saint Bernards as in the past, but we do love to work our dogs in Obedience Trials, Tracking Tests, Agility Trials, Draft Tests & Weight Pulling Tests. These events are a joy to participate in and watching a well-trained Saint Bernard demonstrate its working breed abilities makes us all proud.
Some of these performance sports may not be your “cup of tea” but one can still learn a thing or two and support those that do. What a wonderful breed we have to be so versatile. Keep in mind, good conformation and temperament are very important factors that go into making an excellent performance dog. Our Standard is the outline for a WORKING Saint Bernard. Read it and take it with you when looking for your next Saint Bernard. May we all strive to put titles on both ends of our dog’s name. We should ALL celebrate, watch and support our Saint Bernards in action when we have the chance, be it a conformation or a performance venue.
To further your knowledge, check out the different “Worlds” to view the plethora of performance events and additional titles which may be earned. And please don’t hesitate to contact the Performance or Working Dog Chair listed in the Club Contacts.
In my 20 plus years with Saint Bernards, I’ve owned many dogs with different personalities. I’ve had some shy, reserved dogs, some that acted like kids in the “terrible twos” and some that were very strong-willed. The one thing I found in common with all those dogs is when they had a job to do their personalities all changed and were easier to work with.
Enjoying the work
My first experience with drafting was just watching a draft test. The test was held in a wooded park, and each dog pulled their cart through the park, making turns here and there as directed by their owner. Once all the individual dogs competed, the team competition was held and that is where I got hooked. I was not hooked because of the experienced handler directing the dogs, I was not hooked because my competitive nature said I could do that, I was hooked because I could see that these dogs really enjoyed doing the work.
Start young with a harness
It is best to get started training for drafting when your dog is very young. The first step is to buy an inexpensive harness or halter that can be put on and left on for some time while the dog is playing or just going about daily life. The key here is getting the dog used to having the harness on him or her, realizing that they can go about normal life with it, and having the experience of the owner putting the harness on and taking it off.
Your own attitude and demeanor
Second to the harnessing experience is the owner’s demeanor while trying to get the harness on the dog. It is very important to remain calm, but in control of the situation and to use vocal commands that the dog will learn over time and understand.
Tips for training
I’m not an expert trainer but I have learned from experience not to use food or treats, just lots of praise. You are working on a training relationship between you and the dog and it is about the fun in working. Food or treats aren’t allowed during actual tests anyway so it’s best to not let your Saint get used to that. I also realized it’s best to use different locations for each training session and mixing up the exercises so the dog and the handler don’t become “pattern trained”. I started at the local park where I would take them for their daily walks. We always stayed on the walkways so they could greet the other people in the park. Then when we started training the dogs wanted to stay on the walkways.
Good public relations too!
My best training experiences are on the weekends at the local soccer park, just when the games are ending. I take my dog and his cart with a container in the cart and we walk around the fields cleaning up after the people. Our park does not allow dogs near the fields, but since we are working, I’ve never had anything but a lot of thanks from the local authorities for helping out. You could try something like this with any sports event, or even a dog show. This would also be a very rewarding experience for you, your family and the dog too.
Making your own cart
Getting started in drafting can be expensive if you allow it but it doesn’t have to be that way. I built my first training cart from PVC pipe and bicycle training wheels. It was easy to put together and take apart for transporting and storing; and it was fairly light weight for the dog to pull. Back when I started, the harness was the most expensive piece of equipment that was required. The harness was a one piece unit that had to be properly measured to fit the size of each dog. Today you can find good quality harnesses that have multiple buckles that allow for size adjustments so you can continue to use it as your dog grows or be able to use it with multiple dogs. The harness is still an expensive piece of equipment, but it can last for years.
The dogs are smart!
It is always best to work with a friend when starting to train a new dog. Saints are smart dogs and will learn quickly. However they are also smart enough to know when they can get away or just make it very difficult for you so you don’t want to continue. I’ve run a few training classes with beginners where all they just had to care for the dog and I was responsible for the cart end. After fifteen minutes, each dog was comfortable enough with the cart that the owner was able to work the dog by himself and walk through a basic maneuvering course.
Your local Saint Bernard specialty club may have some members who can help you train for carting. They may also have some sanctioned events. There are also all-breed clubs or other working breed clubs such as the Bernese Mountain Dog, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Newfoundland or Rottweiler breeds who may sponsor classes and events for those interested in draft work. Their test regulations may be different than ours but the basic concepts are the same. I’ve worked closely with the local Bernese club in training and stewarding.
You will find the Saint Bernard Club of America’s official Draft test guidelines on this website and don’t hesitate to contact the Performance and Working Dog Chairs on the contact list for more information. Other links to go to for harnesses and cart info include www.dogworks.com, www.wilczekwoodworks.com, www.ikonoutfitters.com and www.allthingsbiothane.com Remember, this is about having fun, both you AND your Saint!
Tom Nuss, New Jersey
Saint Bernards and their families enjoy a myriad of activities including obedience, weight pulls, carting/drafting, and much, much more. In this section you will learn more about their working abilities which also includes serving as Therapy and Service Dogs.
See other tabs in this section for further information:
- Weight Pulling
- Draft and Carting
- A Job To Do
Agility is the ultimate game for you and your dog. It also one of the most exciting canine sports for spectators. In agility, a dog demonstrates is agile nature and versatility by following cues from the handler through a timed obstacle course. The course has jumps, tunnels, weave poles, and other obstacles. Agility strengthens the bond between dogs and handlers, it is extremely fun, and it provides vigorous exercise for both!
The AKC offers two types of agility classes. The first is the Standard Class which includes obstacles such as the dog walk, the A-frame, and seesaw. The second is Jumpers with Weaves. This class only has jumps, tunnels and weave poles. Both classes offer increasing levels of difficulty to earn Novice, Open, Excellent and Master titles.
After completing both an Excellent Standard title and Excellent Jumpers title, a dog and handler team can compete for the MACH (Master Agility Champion title) – faster than the speed of sound!
Agility began in England in 1978. The AKC held its first agility trial in 1994. Agility is now the fastest growing dog sport in the United States and is the fastest growing event at the AKC!
AKC agility is available to every registerable breed, from Yorkshire Terriers to Irish Wolfhounds. The dogs run the same course with adjustments in the expected time and jump height.
Safety of the dogs is a primary concern for AKC agility. The classes are divided by jump heights in order to make the competition equal between the different size of dogs.
The American Kennel Club’s definition of Obedience: “Obedience training is the foundation upon which all canine activities are based, whether conformation, agility, tracking, search & rescue, service dogs, fieldwork, etc.
In 1933, when AKC Obedience competition began, the concept behind obedience training was is to develop a very close working relationship between human beings and dogs, while demonstrating the usefulness and enthusiasm of dogs. This concept remains as important today as it was when the program was developed.
There are several levels of obedience, such as the long-standing classes of Novice (CD), Open (CDX) and Utility (UD). A higher level of competition was added in recent years, which includes Utility Excellent (UDX) and Obedience Trial Champion (OTCH). The newest title is to be awarded to the winning dog at the National Obedience Invitational. The dog that wins this AKC National Obedience Invitational becomes the National Obedience Champion (NOC) for the year. This is the only dog that can carry that distinction.
AKC Obedience Trials were developed to foster training, as well as, to demonstrate dogs’ willingness, capabilities and enjoyment of working with and very closely with humans.
The Sport of Obedience
Obedience Trials demonstrate the usefulness of the purebred dog as a human companion and showcase dogs that have been trained and conditioned to properly behave in the home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs.
Mrs. Helen Whitehouse Walker is credited as the founder of American obedience. To prove the intelligence of her Standard Poodles, Mrs. Walker created a series of obedience exercises based on tests patterned after those held in England under sponsorship of the Associated Sheep, Police Army Dog Society. The first obedience test for all breeds of dogs was held in October 1933 in Mount Kisco, New York.
The Obedience Trial:
In 1936, approximately 200 dogs were entered in 18 licensed tests. In 1997, there were over 2,200 trials, with more than 100,000 dogs competing. Over 10,000 titles were earned by dogs of nearly all breeds.
There are three levels of obedience training, each with their own prescribed sets of exercises:
This is the beginner level. For the Novice level, the dog must do the following:
- Heel on leash and complete a figure eight.
- Stand for examination.
- Heel free (off the leash).
- Recall: After staying on command while the handler walks away, the dog must come and sit facing the handler, then go to heel position.
- Long Sit: While a dog sits, the handler leaves the dog and walks to the other side of the ring to face the dog. The dog must then stay for one minute, until handler is back in heel position.
- Long Down: While the dog lies down, the handler leaves the dog and goes to the other side of the ring to face the dog. The dog must then stay for three minutes, until handler is back in heel position.
This is the intermediate level, where the dog must:
- Heel free and complete a figure eight. Drop On Recall: From the heel position, the handler commands the dog to stay, then leaves the dog and walks to the other side of the ring to face the dog. The handler calls the dog to come, then halfway to the handler, the dog must drop down on command. Finally, the handler recalls the dog, who sits and faces the handler as in the Novice Recall.
- Retrieve On Flat: On command the dog must retrieve a dumbbell and return to the handler.
- Retrieve Over High Jump: Dog must go over jump, retrieve dumbbell and return with it, again over the jump.
- Broad Jump: Dog must stay where left until signaled to jump over two to four hurdles (depending on the size of the dog), then dog must return to handler as in Novice Recall.
- Long Sit: Similar to above, except handler walks out of sight and the sit period is longer.
- Long Down: Similar to above, except handler walks out of sight and dog must remain down for more time.
This is the advanced level, where the dog must:
- Signal Exercise: Handler signals dog to Heel, Stand, Stay, Drop, Sit and Come.
- Scent Discrimination: Dog must select handler’s article from among other articles by scent alone, then promptly return the right article to the handler. The dog performs this exercise twice. Once with a metal article and again with a leather article.
- Directed Retrieve: The handler instructs the dog to stay until directed to retrieve, then the dog must go to the designated glove, and retrieve it promptly.
- Moving Stand And Examination: Dog must heel, stand, and stay on command andbe examined by the judge. The handler then calls the dog to heel position.
- Directed Jumping: Dog must go away in the direction indicated by the handler, stop, jump as directed, and return as in Recall.
- How to get started in Obedience
- The different AKC and SBCA titles and their abbreviations
- The AKC Obedience Regulations, Judge’s Guidelines & Stewards Handbook
- Articles in General about AKC Obedience
- Articles about AKC Novice Obedience
- Articles about AKC Open Obedience
- Articles about AKC Utility Obedience
- Articles about Judging AKC Obedience
- Articles about New Thoughts and Ideas
- AKC Obedience Regulations Quizzes
- Ask an obedience trainer a question
- Ask an AKC obedience judge a question
- Current Year Statistics
- Archive Database Obedience Records from 1936 (first year) to date
- Saint Bernard Club of America Obedience Trial Guidelines
The American Kennel Club’s definition of Tracking: “AKC tracking events are the competition form of canine search & rescue. These Tracking events provide training for dogs and their handlers to meet some human needs for tracking and finding lost humans or other animals, as well as, demonstrating the extremely high level of scent capability that dogs possess.
There are three levels of competition. The Tracking Dog (TD) test is the entry level test with a short, but challenging track ending with a glove for the dog to find 30 minutes to 2 hours after the track was laid.
The Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) test, which is substantially more difficult, requires the dog to follow scent over extensive terrain and through many obstacles, such as woods and plowed fields, while discriminating between tracks of other humans, while indicating 4 different articles left on the track 3-5 hours before.
The Variable Surface Tracking (VST) test is the newest tracking test and is directed towards urban search & rescue efforts. The test requires dogs to follow aged scent over several surfaces, such as asphalt, concrete, bricks, vegetation, etc., while indicating plastic, metal, leather and fabric articles left on the track 3-5 hours before. A dog acquiring all three tracking titles earns the coveted Champion Tracker title.”
- How to get started in Tracking
- The different AKC & SBCA titles and their abbreviations
- AKC Tracking Regulations
- Where to find harnesses
- Archive Database Tracking Records from 1936 (first year) to date
- Ask a tracking trainer a question
- Ask a tracking judge a question
- Current Year Statistics
- Upcoming Saint Bernard Performance Events
You have just gotten a Saint Bernard, you’ve heard of the ancient history of the working Saint in the Swiss valleys pulling carts filled with supplies for their family as well as up to the Monastery at the Hospice in the Alps. And now you’re wondering if maybe your Saint is up to “working”, can he follow in those big footsteps?
Well, you won’t know until you try. Some dogs just won’t do it but it can be quite fun for both the dog and your family once you all are safely and properly trained. Your local Saint club, or your breeder may be able to help you find a qualified teacher. There may also be some local Working Dog Clubs for other breeds such as Newfoundlands who hold classes and events in your area. They will also have equipment to lend you and they will help you fit your Saint with the proper harness. And of course you want to be well supervised with an experienced person helping you at first. They have the expertise to help you with your Saint, and will take into consideration the dog’s age, size and attitude.
Once equipped with the proper harness, one of the first steps is to try getting the dog to pull a long length of chain or a strong rope tied around an old tire, always on level ground. You may be tempted to use a sled or the cart on a hill, but don’t! Make sure there is plenty of room behind the dog so it doesn’t make contact with the hind legs. And you must absolutely try this only with a proper harness and not just a collar and lead. The dog should be trained to pull and to work only when in harness, NEVER use a collar and lead – you can risk serious injury to the dog’s neck and trachea.
A word of caution here- if the load on the cart or sled is not secured properly, it can get away and run into the back legs of your dog! This is one of the many reasons we recommend you going to a supervised event to try it out first. These trainers know what they are doing for the safety of the dogs and one of their goals too is to make this a totally enjoyable experience for both you and your Saint.
The first time your dog gets into a harness attached to some restraint, he might not pull it. That’s just natural and also another reason why we use a harness. You can bait the dog with food or toys but that’s just for training. You cannot have food, toys or treats in a real weight pull chute at sanctioned events. But using those tools during training will help develop a positive attitude for harness work.
If the dog gets scared with something tied behind him, then stop and try again later. Offer loads of praise and encouragement. Have the Saint on a lead and walk with him during training to reassure him he is doing okay. Know when it is time to stop the session. You want to help develop the bond between you and the dog; he has to know he can trust you.
Once your dog is used to this, slowly add weight and see if he will continue to pull. Limit this exercise to just around 15 minutes each time. If he doesn’t want to pull, try again later. If they don’t ever do it, well, there’s your answer. Some dogs do and some dogs don’t. And even if this activity is not for him, you still have a wonderful Saint to share your life with.
Pay Attention to Your Dog
I have seen several dogs who seem to know when the weight is too much…… they don’t pull! Period. So listen to your dog, watch his body language and never force him. Can a dog get hurt? YES! That is why it should be done under trained supervision. The SBCA has trained judges as does the International Weight Pull Association (www.IWPA.NET). There are many other “Working Dog” events like Tracking and Drafting to try. Information can be found elsewhere on this website.
Remember, the strong and powerful Saint Bernard was bred hundreds of years ago to do this, it’s in their genes. They are true working dogs.
Ken Cowen, Washington
The Saint Bernard Club of America’s definition of Weight Pulling: “The Saint Bernard Club of America Weight Pull Trials are a series of events designed to develop and demonstrate the natural abilities of purebred Saint Bernard dogs in a capacity involving heavy-duty freight hauling that the breed displayed during the days of the Alaska Gold Rush. Performances in such weight pull trials is intended to demonstrate skills resulting both from natural ability and training that are applicable to realistic work situations. Efficiency in accomplishment of tasks is essential; it is also desirable that the dog evidence willingness and enjoyment of his work in a combination of controlled teamwork with his handler.”
Weight Pulling Links
Saint Bernard Club of America Guidelines for Working Trials – Currently does not exist. Will update as soon as possible.
Where to find harnesses
The Saint Bernard Club of America’s definition of Draft Work: The SBCA Draft Test is a series of exercises designed to develop and demonstrate the natural abilities of purebred Saint Bernard dogs. While working in a land-work capacity involving hauling, the dog and handler must demonstrate teamwork skills. The Saint Bernard has historically functioned as a draft dog in various capacities, and the performance of these exercises is intended to demonstrate skills resulting both from natural ability and training that are applicable to realistic work situations.
Dogs must be willing to work with their handlers and the exercises must be accomplished efficiently. The goal of each handler is to maintain control while encouraging his dogs’ natural independence; together, they demonstrate teamwork. Since a dog can perform draft work only in cooperation with a person, each handler must demonstrate an understanding of draft work with the dog’s ability, training and equipment.
For more information, contact the Performance or Working Dog Chair listed in the club contact list.