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Competitive canines pulling for the weekend

Dog lovers can enjoy a weekend of friendly competition with other owners preparing for “ruff” competition later this year.

The Mid-Atlantic Weight Pullers competition will be held at Epps Farm Supply on Joshua Lane this Saturday and Sunday. The competition is part of the International Weight Pull Association, a nonprofit that promotes the dog sport in organized, safe and family-friendly events.

Another competition is scheduled for the same location and times on March 24 and 25.

Each participating dog must pull a sled or cart weighted with cinder blocks 16 feet within 60 seconds, according to IWPA rules. There are eight different dog weight classes, from 20 pounds and under to more than 151 pounds. The winning dog is decided by the most weight pulled in the shortest time.

Owners must always have their dogs under control, and absolutely no cruelty is tolerated, according to Debbie Lee, Tidewater regional representative for weight pulling. Owners have built strong partnerships with these dogs based on trust and the best possible food, care and training.

“The whole key to this thing is making it fun for them,” Lee said in a phone interview. “They’ve got to love it. You’re 16 feet away and if they don’t want to do it, you can’t make them.”

Weight pulling competitions at Epps Farm Supply typically draw 15 to 20 dogs of wildly different breeds.

“I have a friend of mine who has an 8-pound poodle who’s pulling gangbusters,” Lee said. “His name is ‘Chewie,’ for Chewbacca.”

Lee has been training dogs for more than 24 years and is an official judge for the IWPA and the United Kennel Club. Delbert, her Giant Alaskan Malamute, is a massive, 3.5-year-old, 168-pound lovebug, while Yeti is a 2-year-old Malawa weighing in at 104 pounds but pulling neck-and-neck with Delbert.

These next two pulling weekends will be the last before Lee and others take their pups to Grand Rapids, Mich., for championships this May. According to Lee, Delbert will need to pull 5,630 pounds on carpet to earn gold.

She has high hopes for Delbert after he broke international records at the championships last year. She explained that it’s not just about keeping these dogs fit. You also have to work with their individual personalities as bona fide partners.

“I’m so proud of that boy,” she said.

Weigh-ins will be held from 8:30 a.m. until competition starts at 9:30 a.m. both days. Spectators pay no fee, while it’s $10 for the first dog entry and $5 for each additional entry. Non-members need to pay an additional $5 per dog.

Visit iwpa.net or search “Mid-Atlantic Weight Pullers” on Facebook for more information.