A. Sorry this took me a minute to get back to you, and I am absolutely thrilled that you asked me this... Seriously, because I would much rather see people seeking education on the subject before passing judgements on something they know nothing about. Here is my general feeling on the weight pull thing, and forgive me in advance, I have gotten pretty heated during some of these discussions in the last two weeks, and it's very unlike me, but the whole weight pull debate really touches something in the core of me that parallels the whole pit bull debate in general.
I TOTALLY support the sport of weight pull, in the same way I support the sport of dockdogs & agility. Just like anything, including agility, obedience, protection sports, fill in the blank, people can use abusive techniques to teach it. That does not mean it is a "cruel sport" & "abusive" and all these other negative adjectives that people have used to describe it, based solely on a picture of a dog (in a regulation safety harness, no less) pulling a heavy load.
The people that scream "ABUSE! ABUSE!!" over a photo of a dog with it's eyes closed pulling, I guarantee you have never been around the sport, never seen anyone train it, never gone to a competition and couldn't tell you a single thing about it, with regard to rules, training techniques, competitions or physiology.
I do not pretend to be an expert in the sport of weight pull. I absolutely am not. I am, however, personally offended by the people who judge the book by its cover and get all up-in-arms about a photograph and make all these judgements without educating themselves... That makes the "advocates" just as bad as the haters, and in some cases, worse.
As far as the harshness of the sport, I wouldn't even describe it in those terms. Pit bulls like to pull (I'm generalizing there, obviously)... Show me the pit bull who doesn't enjoy pulling (and I'm laughing here because I legit can't think of a single one), and they obviously have a lot of energy and drive, generally speaking. There is a huge difference between the person who chains a tire to their dog and indiscriminately lets it loose in the yard with it and the people who train & condition for the sport. The dogs that compete in the sport have to be in extremely good physical shape, well-conditioned, safely equipped and have an understanding of what they are doing. Handlers are not allowed to touch their dogs or bait their dogs with food or toys in order to get them to pull during competition. The dogs pull on command, just like the dogs jump on command in the sport of dockdogs. (I DO compete in dockdogs, and nor in that sport can you physically touch your dog to get it to jump... That will get you kicked off the dock.)
Also, from a training standpoint, it is extremely difficult to get a dog to perform in that sport (same as dockdogs) that doesn't want to. The dogs that compete in weight pull (again, same as dockdogs) perform because they want to, and have that drive & that confidence. I acknowledge that I only have rudimentary knowledge of weight pull but it is still a LOT more than the hundreds of people who jumped on the bandwagons in the last few weeks who take one look at a picture and call all of the participants & supporters of the sports animal abusers. In weight pull, the judge will "call it" if the dog is done, whether it is a motivational or safety issue.
I have heard the argument in the last few weeks "you can train a dog to work without risk of injury." Really?? I tend to disagree... There is ALWAYS risk of injury when you are into physical activities with your dog, and there aren't too many dogs out there that aren't into physical activity. I am not going to keep my dog in the house in a padded room because there is the possibility of him hurting himself. Weight pull does take a lot of training, physically, I mean, kind of like working out, and therein lies (possibly) a greater risk of injury. That is probably just a fact, and that does not make the people who participate in the sport abusive because of that. I hike in the woods with my dogs off leash most every week, and we hit some pretty hard trails.. Is there the chance they could get cut or twist an ankle? YEP. Me, too. Does that mean I'm abusive? Absolutely not. And nor does it mean I am going to discontinue that activity because of risk of injury.
If you have ever seen anyone responsibly training for the sport, or been to a competition, you would see how happy & EXCITED the dogs are to participate, again, just like in dockdogs. The two sports are really very similar in many regards and this is what I mean by that: the sports are both very physical, and so is the training for it. (A lot of people don't realize that most of the training for dockdogs competitors takes place on land, hence speed, impact, physically catching objects, and then you've got hitting the water, flying through the air, risk of hitting the water wrong, things like that, once you're working on a dock.) People see dockdogs in action and think it's this wonderful, fun spectator sport that the dogs love (which it is), but they look at weight pull, and call "abuse." All the elements are the same. In neither sport, again, can you physically touch your dog to get them to perform, and a lot of the training elements are similar; i.e. you need a dog with drive, confidence (natural or built) and physical stamina and in good health.
The dogs that compete in weight pull love it (and again, I am generalizing here... It is impossible to make a statement like that and not be generalizing). By that I mean, ANY time someone is training for ANY sport (doesn't even have to be a sport, we could go as far as to say ANY time someone has INTERACTION with a dog) there is the potential for abuse. Does that mean that every person who participates in weight pull (or dockdogs, or agility, or obedience, or even the protection sports) is abusive?? Absolutely not, and I take personal offense to that. THAT mindset is EXACTLY the same as that of people who say things like "all pit bulls are killers; all their owners are criminal degenerates; you can't trust any pit bull," etc. etc.
What I am saying is that I think the sport of weight pull is wonderful in that it is a productive, awesome outlet for physical energy, as well as a proper expression of that natural drive that a lot of these dogs have. The sport itself is NOT abusive, nor would I even personally use the word "harsh." If you are the owner of a high drive dog, (like me & many other bully breed owners) and you want a well-behaved kid, they need to have a proper outlet for that physical energy. If they don't have that, they generally express it in inappropriate ways, which, at best may mean your couch gets eaten, and at worst, leads to frustration that can lead to aggression.
After all of the recent hubbub about the sport of weight pull in general, I plan to get into it with my own dogs. Sure, it may go a long way in proving my above points in that I'm pretty sure everyone who knows me knows I am not an abusive dog owner (psssh!), but more importantly, I am always looking for something else fun (in training) for us to try. I have four dogs now.. There is usually one well-suited to a given sport. My dogs are all pit bull dogs (American bully, American Staffordshire terrier, American pit bull terrier, and a pit bull dog mix), who are in great shape and full of energy! Weight pull is such a great outlet for their drive.
I think weight pull scares people a little because it is such a strong visual expression of that drive... (People don't realize that drive is what makes a good dockdog as well, not a love of the water.) Just because people don't like to look at, or educate themselves on, or acknowledge how high drive these kids are (because it is exactly what gets them into trouble when not properly channeled), does not mean that it doesn't exist. Owners and nay-sayers alike would be a lot better off if they acknowledged that some of these dogs have a "scary" amount of drive, and allowed for that to be channeled into something productive, as opposed to "my sweet little fluffy puppy wuppy pibble furbaby would NEVER do anything aggressive" and condemning any visual image of a dog in high drive participating in a sport.
So, in answer to your very, very good question (and I am seriously - and I'm not being sarcastic - super thankful that you asked me about it), I love weight pull in the same way that I LOVE dockdogs, LOVE competitive obedience, and LOVE P.S.A. I love pretty much any sport that is fun for the dog and gets people involved in the amazing world of dog training, because it just opens up a whole other level of communication, understand, love and respect, as well as gives the dogs a positive outlet for their physical energy. That's why I'm a trainer! :)
I am super sorry I went on for this long, but as you can see, you hit a hot button... I wish people would do what you did, and try to educate themselves on the subject so you can draw your own conclusions, and not just jump on the "Weight Pull Is Abusive" bandwagon with no knowledge of the sport or the participants. The people that do that are just as bad, maybe worse, as the "I Hate Pit Bulls Because They're Vicious" crowd.
Thank you so much for asking me this, truly, and if you ever want to go check out a training session or a competition, I would love to go with you, and we can get educated together!