Who is 28 inches tall, weighs 105 pounds, is 6 years old, can pull 30 to 40 times his body weight, is a national champion and lives in Montrose? The answer is Bridger — or, as I call him, Bridger the Mighty Dog.
He is the adopted four-legged “son” of Dr. Teresa Petterson, a local small animal veterinarian at San Juan Vet Clinic. In April, Petterson took Bridger to the International Weight Pull Association National Championships in Post Falls, Idaho, and he won his weight class (101 to 125 pounds) by pulling 3,040 pounds on a loaded wheeled cart.
This was a competition where many breeds of dogs, some as small as 20 pounds and others as large as more than 150 pounds, compete against each other to see who can pull the heaviest cart in the fastest amount of time for a distance of 16 feet. Bridger pulled his load in 17 seconds and out-pulled breeds like American pit bull terrier, American bulldog and Alaskan malamute. I am a friend of Bridger — and Petterson — and I wanted to share their story, as it is one of athleticism, drive and devotion.
Bridger is a greater Swiss mountain dog — Swissy for short — and he is proud of his accomplishments. He sits up tall and poses with an air of confidence when you ask to take his picture or put his medal around his neck. Not only is he a powerful working dog with several national titles under his collar, but he is also a beautiful dog who won the Ambassador of the Breed title from the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Club in 2009. That same year, he pulled 2,500 pounds in his first pull ever. The next day, he pulled 2,800 pounds and won the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Nationals in Utah. In 2010, he pulled 4,010 pounds at the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Nationals in Illinois and broke the record for this breed. In 2011, he won the Swissy Nationals again in North Carolina and the IWPA National Championships in Estes Park.
I was curious what drives a dog to want to pull so hard and to keep up the effort. Petterson told me that “it’s 80 percent drive and 20 percent strength.” A devotion to their owner and a desire to please is innate in dogs. They also love to work and want to have a job to do. Bridger has a natural pulling technique, where he lowers his shoulders and digs in with his powerful legs. His eyes are focused on Petterson. If you want to see his style, go to You Tube and type “Bridger weight pull” to see the two videos of his competitions.
As you might imagine, they use a heavy duty harness that looks like a thick dog sledding harness. It runs the full length of the body, but it has bigger straps and is well padded, with a spreader bar behind the tail so that the harness does not press against the dog’s hind legs. Typically, the carts are wheeled, and the pulling surface is either natural (dirt) or artificial (carpet). Some events use a cart on rails or a sled on snow. When you see the loaded cart, you wonder how they can even get the cart rolling.
That’s where Bridger has a natural and effective technique. He is explosive and lunges forward, digging in with his legs with everything he has, driving his shoulders toward Petterson. He does this again and again, fueled by adrenaline, until he gets the load across the line. Petterson encourages him by getting down on his level and shouting his name and “Let’s go.” She slaps the ground and looks right at him, getting him to focus on digging in. And when he crosses the line, he gets all sorts of praises, lovin’ and applause. He eats it up!
Swissies are bred for pulling. Technically, they are considered a “draft and drover” dog, which means they were bred for pulling butcher and milk carts, and for driving cattle (with their barking, not nipping) in the Swiss Alps. Consequently, they love to pull and need to pull. They are high-energy dogs with the need to exercise. Swissies need lots of room to run, and they love getting hooked up to a sled or cart for them to pull. They also bark a lot and have a dominant personality. They need a human companion who is dedicated to training them, who can control and channel their strong will, and who can provide intense exercise — and a lot of food — on a regular basis.
Like most working dogs, they will be unhappy and unhealthy if they are cooped up in a small yard and not worked hard regularly. Teresa takes Bridger on hikes almost every day, and often he wears a pack loaded with water and other gear. He loves the snow and negotiates rugged terrain with ease, despite his size. I have been skijoring, hooked up to one or two dogs half his size, while Bridger is free running alongside us, and he keeps up just fine for about two miles. In fact, he is an amazingly smooth and graceful runner with a powerful, sustained sprint. After two miles, he slows his pace, but he still has a huge stride and runs on pure heart.
Bridger is a very athletic dog, blessed with great genes, but his biggest asset is his drive to go. He is totally devoted to Petterson, and she is totally devoted to him. It is that powerful bond between owner and dog that motivates Bridger. He knows that he is loved and cared for, and he has fun just being a Swissy and doing what Swissies do best … pulling with all their heart.
Petterson tells me that almost any dog can be trained to pull, even a 20-pounder. Dogs love to be put to work, and it is good exercise for them. You can get a beginner freight/weight pull harness at websites like Nordkyn. You hook the harness up to a tire or make-shift sled that the dog pulls across the ground. Dogs will also pull you on skis in the winter (i.e., skijoring) or on a cart, bike or scooter (i.e., canicross) in the summer. Call Petterson at the San Juan Vet Clinic at 249-4490 for more information. She would love to see a local club of owners and their dogs who want to practice weight pulling. So if you and Fido are looking for a team activity that will give both of you exercise and strengthen your bond, give weight pulling a try.
Laurie Brandt is a former professional mountain bike racer and three-time Colorado state mountain bike champion. She is a professional geologist for Buckhorn Geotech and the mother of two young girls. Her email is email@example.com.