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Dog-Carts-art - 11/18/06


"Dog Carts and Draft Dog Training: Directions to Convert a European Style Hand Wagon into a 'Period' Dog Wagon" by Lady Rachael of Bhakail.


NOTE: See also the files: dogs-msg, dogs-lnks, coursing-SCA-msg, hounds-lnks, pets-msg, carts-msg, p-backpacks-msg, sedan-chairs-msg, woodworking-msg, wood-finishes-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Dog Carts and Draft Dog Training:

Directions to Convert a European Style

Hand Wagon into a "Period" Dog Wagon


By Lady Rachael of Bhakail, East Kingdom

(Rebecca Morris)

Figures by Lord Bendan O'Moran, East Kingdom

(Michael Moran)


Tournaments Illuminated Magazine, Issue #150, Spring 2004, Pages 8 - 13.

Published by the Society For Creative Anachronism, ISSN: 0732-6645


(Minor Revisions: 4/03/2005, 6/24/2005)



A 50-pound or larger dog pulling a small wagon (Figure 1) is useful at an SCA event. He can pull armor, pull a child, and help with water bearing and shopping.  In period, tradesmen used dogs to make local cart deliveries.  In 1486, Dame Juliana Berners mentions in her book titled, Boke of St. Albans, three types of English draft dogs; turnspit, butcher and midden dogs (1.).  Turnspit dogs were small dogs which were used to turn the cooking spit (2.).  Butchers used their large dogs make meat deliveries (2.).  Midden dogs were used to haul garbage to the midden or garbage dump.  There is a dog cart illumination on folio 110v in the 14th century manuscript commonly called the Smithfield Decretals (British Library Manuscript Royal 10 E IV).  During 14th century in northern France, dogs were used to make local cart deliveries (3.).  Dr. Johannes Caius wrote in his 1576 book, Of Englishe Dogges, about four types of English draft dogs; Water Drawer, Turnspit, Tinker Cur, and Butcher Dog.  The Water Drawer was used to draw water out of wells "by a wheel which they turn about, by the moving of their burthenous bodies."  The Tinker Cur carried the tools of the traveling tinker in a dog pack-saddle or backpack.


ACD Systems Digital Imaging

Figure 1: Medium sized dog pulling a wagon.


The royal families of Europe frequently used dogs to introduce their children to the equestrian arts of riding and carriage driving.  Around the age of four, a royal prince would graduate from riding lessons on a dog to his first pony (4.).  In 1608, the 7 year old - future Louis XIII of France, was given a miniature carriage to which he hitched his two dogs, Pataut and Lion (5.).  At this time, France was a leading innovator in carriage building (6.), and it is not surprising the young prince was given a miniature version.  During the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, the racing stables of Rome went on strike.  The strike was broken by the threat to replace horses with dogs in the chariot races (7.).  Working dogs were used as draft dogs for carts into the early 20th century (8.).  Beginning in the early 19th century, humane societies lobbied for laws to regulate the use of cart dogs.  In 1840, canine carts were banned in London.  In 1855, all vehicles pulled by draft dogs were outlawed in Great Britain (9.).


A number of manuscripts show horse wagons (figure 2) that appear to be similar in shape to vintage European hand wagons (Figure 1).   This type of wagon is called a "ladder wagon" because the sides resemble a ladder.  Sometimes they are called "goat" or "pumpkin" wagons.  These hand wagons are similar in size to the red metal hand wagons that are frequently used at SCA events in the United States.   Vintage ladder wagons come in three sizes: small, medium, and large.  The wagon in Figure 1 is the medium size.  They can be bought on eBay or from antique dealers.  Reproduction ladder wagons are cheaper and also may be bought on eBay or garden stores that sell garden decorations.  


ACD Systems Digital Imaging

Figure 2: Medieval horse-drawn Ladder Wagon


This article will cover how to convert a ladder wagon into a period model of a horse ladder wagon.  It will outline how to train a medium to large dog to pull your wagon.  In addition, patterns for the breast harness and shafts are given.  This article assumes the reader has basic woodworking skills, in addition to sewing or leather working skills.  


At this point I wish to avoid confusion by giving some definitions.


Cart:  Vehicle with two wheels in parallel.  This article will not cover adapting a cart to a dog.


Wagon:  Vehicle with four wheels.


Dog Cart:  For this article, a 'dog cart' is any wheeled vehicle pulled by a dog.  There is also a 19th century horse cart called a "Dog Cart" which was designed to carry hunting dogs under the passenger seats.


Shafts:  The poles that extend from the wagon body and are parallel to the draft animal.  The draft animal steers the cart or wagon with the shafts.


Traces:  Straps that attach near the wagon body and to the harness.  The draft animal pulls on the traces and moves the wagon.  Sometimes the traces are connected to the shaft ends.


Bridle:  The part of the harness that attaches to the draft animal's head.  With dogs a simple collar may be used instead of a bridle.


Reins:  Two straps used to signal the draft animal.  With dog carts the reins may be attached to a bridle or to a simple collar.


Dog carting:  The dog handler walks a dog on a leash while the dog pulls a wagon.  Any size dog can be trained for dog carting as long as the vehicle and weight pulled is appropriate to the dog's size.  The rule of thumb is a dog can pull up to three times his weight with a wheeled vehicle.  When calculating the maximum cargo weight, don't forget to subtract the vehicle weight from the total weight.


Dog driving:  A large dog pulls a wagon while the dog handler rides in the wagon.  Voice commands or reins, usually both, are used to control the dog.  This article does not cover dog driving.




Training should be started even before the wagon conversion and breast harness are complete.  It is important for the dog to enjoy dog carting.  Once he learns to enjoy carting he will eventually take pride in having a job.  My dog, Vixen, whines and runs around when I take the harness and wagon out.  She cannot wait to pull the wagon.  The dog should already know how to walk quietly on a leash beside you.  He does not need to be so well trained he can win obedience titles.  He does need to have good basic manners on a leash.  Fifteen minutes a day over a week or two should be enough for your dog to learn the basics of carting.  Treats and praise are strong motivators.  Hot dogs, thinly sliced, are cheap and get my dog's undivided attention.  If you or the dog gets frustrated or angry, immediately stop for the day.  There is always tomorrow to try again.  


Four voice commands need to be taught.  You may use any word you want as the voice command, but you must be consistent or you will confuse the dog.  The voice commands can be taught and reviewed any time you take your dog for a walk around the neighborhood.  The most important command is for the dog to stop.  I use the word 'whoa' for my dog to stop beside me.   'Halt' or 'stop' will work too.  


Next, you want your dog to turn left or right on command.  I use the words 'right' and 'left' with a light tug on the leash in the correct direction.  'Gee' and 'haw' are the traditional driving terms for right and left.


The command to walk backwards is the hardest of the four voice commands to teach.  It is very useful when there is not enough room to make a u-turn.  Initially, I push on the dog's chest and force him to take a step or two backwards while I say the word 'back.'   Once the dog understands what is wanted, I stop pushing on the chest when I give the command.  Your goal with the back up command is for the dog to back up a couple of feet in a straight line.


If your dog has never worn a harness, he needs to become familiar with the feel of the straps on his back and chest.  For this purpose, a cheap walking harness from the local pet store will serve fine.  Just put it on and let him get used to it.


Some dogs are initially scared of the wagon when they pull it.  They try to get away from the sound of the wagon and become frightened when they cannot escape the sound.  Since you don't want your dog hurt by the wagon or the wagon damaged if the dog runs away, you need to get him used to the sound of something following him.  This training method also trains the dog to pull.  Put a harness on the dog.  Get a long rope and a gallon milk jug filled with water.   Tie the rope end to the milk jug. Tie the other end to the harness.   Now walk your dog with the leash on his collar and let him pull the milk jug.  Give him lots of praise and reassurance.   He may want to stop and look back at the milk jug.  After a few days he should be comfortable with pulling the milk jug around.  Now you are ready to introduce the dog to pulling the wagon.


Introduce your dog to the look and smell of the wagon.  You don't want the wagon itself to scare the dog.  I recommend you leave the wagon someplace where your dog can check it out in his leisure for a day or so.  Try leaving it in the living room or the yard if your dog is allowed to run free in the yard.        


Put the breast harness on the dog and hitch him to the wagon.  At first some dogs do not like being confined between the shafts.  Treats and praise will get him over this dislike.  Slowly walk your dog while he pulls the wagon.  The wagon will sound different than the milk jug and he may want to stop and look back at it.  After a few days he should get used to pulling the wagon and you can train him to stop, to turn, and to back up the wagon with the voice commands.  You also need to learn to maneuver him and the wagon in tight spots.  You must watch where the wagon is because the dog has no idea how wide the wagon is.  On his own he will bump into people and knock things over.  


Breast Harness


The breast harness (Figure 3a) is period to the Middle Ages and is fairly simple to make. It can be made of strong leather or webbing straps.  The straps should be at least an inch and half wide.  The harness needs to be padded across the chest and back.  Real or fake sheepskin fleece works fine as padding.  


The breech section (Figure 3b) of the harness allows the dog to brake the wagon and keeps the wagon from overrunning the dog on down grades.  He also uses it to back the wagon.  The simplest breech to make is a 'false breech.'  It is just a strap between the shafts and is located two or three inches behind the dog.  When braking, the wagon it should come in contact below the base of the tail and above the top of the legs.  When he pulls the wagon it should not touch him.  It should be near enough to him to engage easily to slow the wagon as needed.  


The two traces are made of the same strong material as the harness.  They are used to transfer the pulling power of the dog to the wagon.  They are long straps with clips on both ends. The length of the traces should be the distance from the D-ring on the harness to the pulling points on the wagon.  See the section about making shafts.    


When you make the harness, remember to make the inside surfaces smooth so the harness will not chaff the dog's skin.


Dog carting harnesses can be bought and they range in price from $30 to $100.  A short list of sources for ready-made cart items is at the end of the article.

ACD Systems Digital Imaging


Figure 3a: Harness Measuring Points on the Dog


Points A to B on Figure of Harness

Measure the circumference of the dog's body behind the front legs.  On a horse, this is the girth measurement. A buckle will be added to this section of the harness at point A, so add a few inches to the measurement.  Pad the area across the dog's back since this part of the harness carries the weight of the shafts.


Points C to D on Figure of Harness

Measure from one side behind the dog's front leg at the girth, across the front of his chest, to behind the front leg on the other side.  The chest strap must be padded so it doesn't chaff the dog.  A D-ring is installed at point C on the harness on both sides of the harness.  These are the pulling points on the harness and the traces attach here.  


Points E to F on Figure of Harness

Measure from the chest strap just below the base of the dog's neck, across the dog and on to the chest strap on his other side.  This neck strap keeps the chest strap from falling down.


Measure the diameter of the shafts.   Using the strap material, make two loops just large enough to slide freely on the shafts.   Install one loop on each side of the harness between points B and C.  These loops hold up the shafts.  The shafts should be high enough so they don't get in the way of the dog's movement.  Ideally the shafts should be about an inch above point C on figure of Harness.  


ACD Systems Digital Imaging


Figure 3b: Breeching straps used for braking




The pattern for the wagon shafts (Figure 4) is based on the shafts of a 19th century dog sulky I own. The design has been slightly modified so the shafts can be used to replace the wagon handle.  The shafts should be thickest on the horizontal and thinner on the vertical.   Shafts need to be strong enough to steer a wagon but should not be heavy.   Massive shafts look out of proportion to the dog and add unnecessary weight for the dog to pull.  Traditionally, shafts are made of oak or ash.  Do not use plywood to make your shafts.  


ACD Systems Digital Imaging


Figure 4: Pattern for the Wagon Shafts


The primary function of shafts is for the draft animal to STEER the vehicle. If you use long traces with your wagon (four wheels), steering the wagon is the main function of the shafts, and braking is the secondary function.  See the breeching in the harness section of this article.   Thus, there is no need to make heavy shafts.  On the wagon shaft plans (figure 4), the function of the bent wood half circle is to stiffen the shafts in the horizontal direction for steering.  


ACD Systems Digital Imaging


Figure 5: How to Measure Your Dog for Shafts


A to C:  Distance from chest to back of rear leg under base of tail.

B to C:  Distance from front of chest to behind the shoulder blade and under the withers.

B(left) to B(right): Width of dog behind the neck and under the withers.

B to D:  Shaft Height from Ground.  On a cart, the shafts should be level to the ground.

E to A:  Distance greater than half the distance from B to D.  This space is for kick room of the rear legs.  If the shafts are used on a wagon, this distance may need to be greater.

E:  Front of cart body should not extend beyond this point

F:  Back of cart body

With carts (two wheels), another function of the shafts is for the draft animal to balance the cart.  The cargo in a cart should be distributed so that the two wheels and axle primarily support the weight of the cargo. A small draft animal such as a dog, should have very, very little weight supported on its back. In fact, a horse, goat, or dog can pull more effectively if the cart just slightly lifts the dog. Modern horse racing sulkies are designed to take advantage of this fact.  On a cart, shafts also work as primitive springs.  They should be thin enough in the vertical cross section direction so they can flex slightly and help cushion the dog's back from the jostling of the cart over bumpy terrain. The horizontal cross section of the shafts should be thicker than the vertical cross section. Thus, the shafts will be stiff in this direction for steering.


The dimensions given in figure 4 are to make wagon shafts that will fit most 50 to 80 pound dogs.  Figure 5 shows how to adjust the shaft dimensions to fit any size dog.


A long metal pin attaches the wagon handle to the ladder wagon.  Remove the pin and handle from the wagon. Drill a hole large enough for the pin in the end of the pole that extends from between the shafts.  Install the shafts in place of the wagon handle and attach the shafts with the pin.  See the inset picture in the figure 4.  The wagon conversion is almost complete.


The two traces need an attachment point to the dog wagon.  There are two ways to attach the traces. The simplest manner is to install two screw eyes to one of the cross bars between the shafts.  The eye screws are screwed on each end of the cross bar near the shafts.  The other method is to attach the traces to a swingle tree (or whipple tree) and to attach the swingle tree between the shafts and the cross-bars.  See figures 6 and 2.  A swingle tree is a bar that is as slightly wider than the dog and has attachment points for the traces at each end.  The center of the swingle tree has a hole dilled in it for a bolt.  The swingle tree is attached to the center of the front cross bar, such that the swingle tree can pivot around its center without hitting the shafts or the crossbar. As the dog swings his front leg forward, one side of the dog's chest pushes forward, and so on.  The swingle tree translates the side-to-side pull of the dog's shoulders to pulling the center of the wagon.  In addition, a swingle tree makes pulling more comfortable for the dog.    



Figure 6:     Swingle Tree Assembly



Several years ago, I started taking my dog and my dog carts to local events.  I liked not having to carry my water, folding chair, and etc. around events.  I found in the SCA, adults like the idea of putting their big dog to work and of adding a little ambience to their persona, camp, and event.  Children like the idea of playing "horse" with a dog.  Vixen loves the attention and being petted. Converting a small hand wagon into a dog wagon and training a dog is not hard. If you are interested in dog carting, I encourage you to give it a try.


End Notes:


1. Dame Juliana Berners (Barnes or Bernes), Boke of St. Albans. 1486.


2. A. Laby, 'Useful Dogs in Holland,' The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, February 26, 1876, Page 525.


3. Marjorie Rowling, Every Day Life of Travellers, 1989. Page 15. Published by Dorset Press.  ISBN: 0.88029.351.9


4. Katherine MacDonogh, Reigning Cats and Dogs, 1999, Page 8. Published by St. Martin's Press, New York. ISBN: 0.312.22837.6


5. Katherine MacDonogh, Reigning Cats and Dogs, 1999, Page 10. Published by St. Martin's Press, New York. ISBN: 0.312.22837.6


6. Stuart Piggott, Wagon, Chariot, and Carriage; Symbol and Status in the History of Transport, 1992. Page 152. Published by Thames and Hudson, New York. ISBN: 0.500.25114.2


7. James Grout, Circus Maximus, 2003. http://itsa.ucsf.edu/~snlrc/encyclopaedia_romana/circusmaximus/circusmaximus.html


8. Rebecca Morris, 'This Job's Gone to the Dogs!' The Carriage Journal, Vol. 42, No. 1, January 2004. Pages 16, 17, and 29. ISSN: 0008.6916


9. Mary E. Thurston, "Canine Emancipation", Dog World, March, 1996, pp. 36-42.




Figure 1: Ladder Wagon and Vixen, the author's dog.  


Figure 2: Drawing of a Fourteenth Century Ladder Wagon by Rebecca Morris.  Drawing is after Jehan de Grise, Romance of Alexander, c. 1338 – 1344. Bodleian Library, Oxford University. MS. Bodl. 264. Folio 83 Verso.



Figure 3a: Breast Harness. AutoCAD drawing by Michael Moran.

Figure 3b: Full breeching. The author's dog, Vixen.


Figure 4: AutoCAD drawing by Michael Moran.  The shafts are patterned after an existing 19th century dog sulky.


Figure 5: Shaft Measurement Points.  AutoCAD drawing by Michael Moran.


Figure 6: Swingle Tree (or Whipple Tree). AutoCAD drawing by Michael Moran.



Additional Suggested Reading


Vivian Ellis, Richard Ellis, and Joy Claxton, Make the Most of Carriage Driving, 1995. Published by J. A. Allen & Company Limited, London.  ISBN: 0.85131.602.6


Dr. Johannes Caius, Of English Dogs (Of Englishe Dogges), English translation originally published in 1576. (It was originally written in Latin by John Keys in 1570.) Facsimile reprinted in 1993 by Beech Publishing House, West Sussex, England. (pages 32, 36, 37)
ISBN: 1 85736 070 2


Dr. Gordon S. Cantle, A Collection of Essays on Horse-Drawn Carriages and Carriage Parts, 1993. Published by the Carriage Museum of America, Inc.  Printed by Image Print York, Ltd., 219a Malton Road, York YO3 9TD, England.  No ISBN number.


Rebecca Morris, History of Dog Carts, 2003. http://hometown.aol.com/vixensmistress/page1.html


Henri Baup, "Chiens Attels et Voitures Chiens", Attelages Magazine, Issue number 35 (Decembre 2004 - Janvier 2005). Pages 58 - 61.


J. Spruytte, Early Harness Systems, 1983, London: J. A. Allen & Co. ISBN: 0851313760


John Thompson, Making Model Horse Drawn Vehicles, 3rd Edition. Published by Charterlith, 1994, Hampshire, U.K.  ISBN: 0.9505775.0.2

Dr. Judith A. Weller.  Roman Traction Systems, 1999



Sources for Pre-Made Carting items


Ladder Style Hand Wagons



Blue Boar Antiques  



Ladder Wagons already converted into dog wagons


1786 Broomstick Hill Road
Littleton, NH   03561


Dog Breast Harness for Carting
Drivers A La Cart  

Ikon Outfitters



Roman Chariot Style, Dorsal Hitch Harness for Dogs



Wood Spoke Wheels

Any carriage shop or wheelwright catering to the Amish and Mennonite communities is a good source for well constructed wood spoke wheels with either metal or hard rubber tires.  They can be ordered in any diameter you want.  Be kind to your dog and order wheels with cone or ball bearings.  The bearings are hidden in the wood hubs.  In 2004, new wood spoke wheels cost from $80 to $100 each.  

I use Witmer Coach Shop

1070 West Main Street
New Holland, PA 17557
(717) 656-3411



Lady Rachel of Bhakail is the poorly educated daughter of an English pilgrim.  She doesn't know what year it is.  "To whose calendar are you referring?"  Rachel lives as a traveling performer and by her wits.  She uses a dog cart to travel. The game warden believes her draft dog is really a lurcher and thinks her hedgehog stew tastes suspiciously like rabbit stew.


Rebecca Morris lives in Philadelphia with her Golden Retriever cross Chow Chow mix dog, Vixen.  She is a Test Engineer who tests batteries for space and military applications.  She has yet to meet the Energizer Bunny.  Rebecca collects antique dog carts and exercises her dog using a 19th century dog sulky.  She thanks all who share their garb research and patterns.  



Copyright 2004, 2005 by Rebecca Morris, 1959 Pratt Street, Philadelphia, PA 19124, USA. <TheDancingJewel at aol.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org