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Dog weight-pulling competition comes to LI

Merrilee D'Antonio's 5-year old Samoyed Philo competes in

Merrilee D'Antonio's 5-year old Samoyed Philo competes in a weight-pull contest on Oct. 7, 2014. Credit: Merrilee D'Antonio

You know that your dog can shake hands, roll over and maybe even jump through a hoop. But can it pull a heavy wheeled cart for 60 seconds across 16 feet of carpet?

One way to find out if your dog might be a hairy Hercules: enter it in Long Island's first dog Weight Pull Seminar & Competition, to be held Saturday and Sunday at Doggie U K9 Academy in Bay Shore.


Dog weight-pulling is both physical and mental exercise, says Merrilee Dantonio of Massapequa, whose five-year-old male Samoyed, Philo, is a national champion who pulls as much as 3,500 pounds.

How can that be?

"Every dog has his thing," says Dantonio. "Some like to chew, some like to bark, he likes to weight-pull."

If it sounds like punishment, Toni Yoakam of the World Wide Weight Pull Organization, says it's helpful to remember that dogs -- particularly "working" breeds -- are innately drawn to duties ranging from hauling to herding. The sport of weight-pulling is safe when the training starts dogs with a very low weight and gradually adds pounds.

"When they first start learning, the cart is empty," says Doggie U owner Rolissa Nash of Islip Terrace, whose bull mastiff also competes nationally. "You can't get a dog to pull if it doesn't like it."


Weight-pulling events featuring breeds as small as pugs are popular in other states but hard to find on Long Island, says Dantonio, who up until now has had to travel to Maryland, western Pennsylvania or Wisconsin to compete. Adding Long Island to the dog-pulling universe is "like not having baseball and suddenly they open Yankee Stadium," she says.

On the first day, dogs of all sizes and breeds -- along with their owners -- can attend a seminar to learn the history, techniques and rules of weight pulling from Yoakam, whose organization sanctions the competition. Dogs of any size can compete.

"I have seen everything from a 3½ pound Chihuahua or a mini poodle to a 200-plus pound English mastiff pull." However, she says, dogs over 12 years old need a veterinarian's clearance to participate.

At the seminar, dogs will be weighed, measured and fitted with padded harnesses. Their owners will get tips on how to put them in the harness and attach it to the weight-pulling cart.


The next day, in what is said to be a first for Long Island, as many as 60 dogs will be entered in two official weight-pulling competition trials. The dogs will be hitched to the carts and, as their owners call them from the end of the track, pull carts to the finish line. Owners who physically abuse or attempt to otherwise coerce their dogs into performing are sent home by judges. "If there is any sign of physical abuse, we send them packing," Yoakam says.

Judges will award ribbons, points and titles in seven different classes based on the animal's weight. Dogs will be awarded 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place for the most weight pulled in their class.

And at the end of their pull, every dog gets applause for their effort. Says Yoakam, "You always want to finish on a positive note, and give them a hand."


Weight Pull Seminar & Competition

WHEN | WHERE  Oct. 18 (seminar), 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 19 (competition) 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Doggie U K9 Academy, 1515 5th Industrial Court, Bay Shore

INFO 631-968-7972,

ADMISSION $75 seminar ($40 without dog); $25 competition. Spectators free on Sunday.

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