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From Antiquity to Modern Sports: The History and Evolution of Dog-Pulled Carts

For centuries, large animals like horses, cattle, and donkeys have been harnessed to pull carts, carriages, and other wheeled vehicles, transporting cargo and people since antiquity. Their contributions are immortalized in paintings, sculptures, literature, songs, and folk stories. However, one might be surprised to learn that dogs, too, have played a significant role in this domain.

 

Early Use of Dogs in Carting


While historical references to dogs pulling carts are sparse, this practice dates back to the Roman Empire. Dogs were employed to transport loads over short distances and navigate spaces too crowded for larger animals. Until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, dogs were commonly used across Europe to move furniture and household items. Traveling vendors often relied on dog carts to carry their wares. Although dogs couldn't match the load-bearing capacity of horses or oxen, they were cheaper to acquire and maintain.


Legislative Changes and Decline


 In London, the use of dog carts was banned in 1839, during the early Victorian period, by the Metropolitan Police Act. This legislation prohibited the use of dogs to draw any cart, carriage, truck, or barrow within fifteen miles of Charing Cross. The act was partly motivated by concerns over animal cruelty and the belief that overworked dogs were more susceptible to rabies. Indeed, The Lancet noted a decline in rabies cases in London in 1841, possibly linked to the Dog-Cart Act.


That same year, a broader bill was introduced in Parliament to ban dog carts across the kingdom, driven by humanitarian concerns. This legislation was part of a series of acts aimed at reducing animal cruelty, including an 1822 act against the cruel treatment of horses and cattle and an 1835 act banning bullbaiting and cockfighting.


 Dog Carts in Europe and Wartime Use


Despite the ban in London, dog carts remained popular in parts of Europe. In the Netherlands and Belgium, dogs pulled delivery carts loaded with milk jars and military light artillery. In Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, village bakers and butchers used dog carts to transport their goods. During World War I, dog-pulled wagons were employed to move ammunition, equipment, and even the wounded and dead. Dogs also helped lay communications cables and transport artillery to the front lines. The Soviet Army continued to use tens of thousands of dogs during World War II.


 Transition to Modern Society


 Post-World War II, the use of dogs for carting declined due to the same concerns that had led to earlier bans and the growing perception of dogs as pets rather than working animals. The shift towards a commercial and industrial society, which required the transportation of larger loads over longer distances, also contributed to the disappearance of dog-driven carts.


Revival: Dryland Mushing


The practice of using dogs to pull carts saw a resurgence in the 1980s with the advent of dryland mushing. Originally devised by dog mushers needing to train their dogs during the snowless summer months, dryland mushing replaced sled runners with wheels. This innovation gained popularity in the United States and Europe.


Modern technology played a crucial role in this revival. Vehicles were designed specifically for dogs, considering their physical capabilities and anatomical structure. Initially, these vehicles were built for large teams of dogs as summer replacements for sleds. Subsequently, smaller vehicles suitable for urban conditions and single dogs were developed. A notable innovation in dryland mushing was the single-shaft dorsal-hitch cart.


 Competitive Sport and Global Growth


Dryland mushing transitioned from a recreational activity to a competitive sport. In 1985, the International Federation of Sled Sports (IFSS) was established, fostering the growth of sled sports through education, research, and technological development. The IFSS, initially based in the United States, moved to Brussels in 2012, reflecting the sport's global expansion.


 The first dryland mushing World Championship took place in 2002 and has since become an annual event. European Championships and World Cup competitions further highlight the sport's popularity. Today, the IFSS includes over forty national and international organizations, each hosting local and national competitions that attract thousands of professional and amateur participants.


 The Future of Dryland Mushing



The first guide to dryland mushing, originally published in Hebrew in Israel in 2012, marked a significant milestone. The release of the English edition in 2017 signify the sport's evolution from a niche activity to one accessible to dog owners worldwide. This guide represents a new chapter in the history of dryland mushing, inviting more enthusiasts to discover the benefits for themselves and their dogs.

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