Novice Draft Dog


Below are the requirements for earning the Novice Draft Dog title through the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America. Once a dog passes all of the exercises they are able to add the “NDD” suffix to their name.

An Advanced Novice Draft Dog title requires a dog to pass five similar tests to earn their “ANDD”, and a pair of dogs can work in tandem to earn the Novice Brace Draft Dog or “NBDD” title.



Prior to the start of the test, teams check in and line up their carts for the official inspection and approval of draft rigs, equipment and weights (used in the freight haul portion of the test). The variety of colors, sizes and styles makes for a fun display!


1-Basic Control Exercise

With their cart waiting nearby, the dog and handler perform a basic on-leash heeling pattern followed by a recall to demonstrate that the dog is a cooperative and willing worker. This exercise is not judged as strictly as in regular obedience, and the dog is allowed to work on either side, front or behind the handler-as long as he is under control,  within an arm’s length of the handler and doesn’t interfere with their movement. The handler is able to talk to the dog and encourage him throughout the performance, but the leash must remain slack and no physical guidance is allowed.










At the completion of the heeling pattern, the team comes to a halt, the leash is removed and put into the waiting cart. After a single command and/or signal (both can be used simultaneously) the dog waits as the handler walks towards the cart (30-40 feet away) and then calls the dog. The dog must come on a single command and/or signal, but once they are moving towards their handler, further encouragement is allowed.





2-Harness and Hitch


For this exercise, the dog demonstrates its willingness to be harnessed and hitched to the cart. Immediately following the Recall, the dog remains off-leash and is brought over to the cart to be harnessed. (The handler can gently guide the dog if needed) The judge places the leash in the team’s draft rig, and the handler then begins to harness and hitch the dog. The dog is judged on its cooperation during this process–as well as the handlers capability to properly harness and hitch their dog. When ready, the handler places the leash back on the dog, signifying they are ready to for the inspection. The Novice Draft Test is done entirely on leash (with the exception of the Group Stay).

(Note: If the draft rig is a sled, toboggan or travois not designed for backing, the “Backing Exercise” is performed prior to hitching-with the handler backing the dog into position to be hitched.)



  3-Practical Draft Work

This series of exercises demonstrates the team’s ability to work together as they encounter situations and distractions they might experience under everyday conditions. The handler is able to work beside, behind, or in front of the dog (or any combination of these) as they demonstrate a variety of skills, including negotiating various turns, stops, starts, etc. Teamwork is the most important element of this part of the test and the dog must show a willing, enthusiastic attitude while he capably and smoothly executes the course according to his handler’s direction.

Gabe demonstrates some of the various tasks required for the Practical Draft Work portion of his Novice Draft Dog Test in the following photos:



Slow Pace:

The dog must maintain a slow, controlled pace for at least 10 feet.






Backing Up:

Novice dogs must back the draft rig a distance of at least one foot. The judge places the measuring stick on the ground next to the cart and then gives the command “Back your dog.”  The team has one minute to back their cart the required distance in a reasonably straight manner.



Control with Distractions:

While the team completes the maneuvering portion of the test, they are met with two distractions–one primarily auditory and one primarily visual, a few feet away. The dog may stop what it is doing and/or watch but must continue working.

For this test, Gabe encountered a person pouring kibble from one coffee can to another (audio distraction) while he was navigating his first corner. A little further along the course, two men lifted a clothesline with sheets that flapped in the breeze (visual distraction) while he approached another corner.

Loading and Unloading:

The team comes to a halt beside the waiting steward. As the dog patiently waits (in whatever position the handler chooses to leave him), the steward approaches, greets the handler, gives her a lightweight load (e.g. a blanket), and then walks off. Throughout the exercise the dog must show a reliable stay and should not move from position.

Once the load is secured, the team continues along the course until they arrive at another part of the ring where they stop to unload.

The dog once again waits in position while the steward approaches, greets the handler, then greets and pats the dog, receives the load from the handler, and departs.


Throughout the course the team is required to perform a variety of turns and exercises that demonstrate their ability to safely and skillfully navigate with cart in tow. These include:



Various Turns:

Circular patterns and 90 degree turns to the right and left. 








“The Narrows”:

The handler, dog and cart must carefully negotiate through a narrow area that is 12 inches wider than the widest recorded dimension for this team without touching the sides of the object.









Removable obstacle:

The dog waits while the handler opens a gate or removes an obstacle such as a tree branch or child’s toy. The team then proceeds through the gate or past the obstacle.




4-Group Stay

The dogs demonstrate their ability to remain on an off-leash stay while hitched to loaded draft rigs. This exercise is done very much like an obedience group stay exercise, except that the handler is allowed to choose which position to leave her dog in for the stay. For Novice Draft and Brace Novice Draft, handlers stand across the ring from the dogs. (In the Open Draft and Brace Open Draft test handlers are out of sight for this exercise.)

Prior to entering the ring, handlers load their carts with the required and approved weights. Novice dogs must pull 20 pounds, while Open dogs pull the equivalent of their weight.

Dogs may be gently placed in a stand, sit or down and the draft rig shafts may be adjusted for the dog?s comfort. Leashes are placed in the rig. The stay command and/or signal is given and the handlers leave their dogs for the three minute stay. Once completed, the handlers return to their dogs and the judge declares the exercise finished. Their carts loaded and ready, the teams go directly from the ring and proceed with the final exercise–the Freight Haul.



5-Distance Freight Haul

The teams traverse an outdoor course with the dogs hauling loaded draft rigs. This is done as a group exercise with 3-6 teams accompanied by the judges and stewards over a half-mile course that begins and ends in the ring. The route is traversed over the natural terrain of the area and includes navigating hills, changes of terrain and various obstacles. Teams must demonstrate that they are able to work in a controlled manner and capably handle their load throughout the course.  Only with the approval of a judge may the handler physically guide the dog and/or draft rig in unusual trail conditions.

After competing the half-mile course the teams return to the ring and then are dismissed by the judges. The successful completion of each of these exercises has earned them the title of “Novice Draft Dog” and they can await the awards ceremony with all of its glitz and glory!



*Gabe earned his Novice Draft Dog title on Sept. 8, 2012*

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *