Flexing his muscles ’ A Wenatchee pooch, an American pitbull terrier, is one of the nation's best in dogpulling
By Brent Stecker
World sports writer Published
April 15, 2008
(World photo/Kathryn Stevens)
WENATCHEE ’ Flex boasts bulging muscles.
Flex: Champion puller
(World photo/Kathryn Stevens)
He can pull 4,470 pounds.
He's ranked in the top five in his region's weight class.
He competed at nationals last year and has qualified to make a return trip this year.
No, Flex isn't the newest American Gladiator. He's a four-and-a-half-year-old American pitbull terrier owned by Wenatchee's Dan Riddle, and in the world of dog weight pulling ’ or dogpulling ’ they don't come much better.
Since he began pulling nearly four years ago, Flex's supercanine strength has taken him all over North America. Along with Riddle, he's traveled to events in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, and even Greeley, Colo., for last spring's International Weight Pull Association National Championships. This year Flex is heading back to nationals, this time in Yakima, and he looks to be one of the favorites in the 80-pound weight class of this non-breed specific sport.
But it wasn't always a sure thing that Flex was going to be a big hit in dogpulling.
Most dogs start training to pull around the age of 5 to 8 months, but Flex didn't have this advantage. By the time Riddle became familiar with dogpulling, Flex was nearly a year old, giving him a late start to his dogpulling career.
"It took a while longer than a younger dog (to train Flex)," Riddle says. "I always take it slow because you have to teach the idea of the harness, but Flex took to it quicker."
Flex wasn't immediately a contender ’ according to Riddle, "he just now got to the national level as far as his abilities" ’ but over the last two years he's really come into his own. In 2007, he finished fifth at nationals. This year, he's the third-ranked 80-pound dog in Region 2, which makes up most of the Pacific Northwest.
Like most canine companions, Flex loves to play fetch or take a dip in the water. But he's really at home when he's pulling weights. To make things interesting for Flex, Riddle likes to keep him guessing when it comes to training methods.
"To veteran dogs training becomes boring, so I switch it up a lot," he says.
When it comes to competitions, Riddle also has a specific style to encourage Flex.
"Each dog is different in their style and in how they react," Riddle says. "With Flex, I like to stay fairly quiet and feel his energy as it goes. I usually do more clapping, and it's like setting a military person to a beat. He can pace himself and time the claps to his footsteps. It's like a march to pull the weight."
Dogpulling is a reminder of how simple it can be to find an activity for man's best friend. A dog is put in a harness connected to either a wheeled or railed cart holding cinder blocks. Just like in free-weight lifting by humans, the dog pulls until it has reached its limit. And to save the dog disappointment, a human assist is added on the final pull to give the pooch a sense of accomplishment.
The sport hasn't been immune from criticism ’ People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has helped shut down at least one pulling event in Trenton, Fla. ’ but Riddle maintains that it is safe and healthy exercise for canines.
"It's all about promoting the care of dogs," Riddle says. "Dogpulling gives dogs a job to do, which most feel they need. Dogs just enjoy exercise and one-on-one time with their owners."
Riddle was always looking for "something fun" to do with his dogs, and when he found dogpulling he knew that was the ticket.
He's trained four dogs of his own and helped with countless others. Down to just two dogs now ’ Flex and Rage, also an 80-pound American pitbull terrier ’ he spends much of his free time training them.
In 2007, he formed the Central Washington Bully Pullers with five other local dogpulling enthusiasts and training buddies, and they have since organized two Spring Thaw Dog Pull meets at Walla Walla Point Park. The latest, on March 29-30, saw Flex pull personal bests for a wheeled cart on consecutive days ’ 4,110 pounds on day one and a whopping 4,470 pounds on day two.
Riddle says the dogpulling community is a very receptive one, and the Bully Pullers are no different.
"People really take new pullers under their wing," he says. "It can be very competitive, but people also do it for the fun and sportsmanship."