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  • Bonnie Sallans

Shafted! Setting up for Chore-Dog!

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

My Benny was a very strong dog. Early on it became evident that he liked to pull and really grooved on working his muscles, one on one, near me, beside me, with me. So we went to work! Here's what I built to do it with!

FOUR WHEELED WAGON This set-up involves installing shafts on the front axle of a four-wheeled wagon. On a two-wheeled cart the shafts go directly to the chassis or sometimes the box of the two-wheeled cart. A two-wheeled cart does not need a turning axle as does a four-wheeled wagon because two wheels can pivot together. Four wheels cannot. A two-wheeled cart is not great for carrying much weight as the weight can end up going into the dog's back as transferred to the shafts if the balance of the load isn't consistently perfect. Horses can handle this. Dogs not so much. Four-wheeled wagons distribute the load over four wheels with no potential pressure on the dog's back. But in order to turn, they require the shafts go into the front axle in a way that allows it to turn the wagon, not the body of the wagon. That's where things get complicated.

WHAT SHAFTS ARE FOR: Shafts are for steering.

If we're going to pull anything on wheels with a dog we need some way to control the steering and to keep the wagon from riding up on the dog when there is the least bit of momentum or you are going down hill. This is the role that shafts and "hold-back" britching plays on anything a horse pulls. However when you are driving a horse or pony cart, you are usually sitting on the cart. That means you have a brake which you also use to hold the cart back. The horse in "britching" helps with the holding back, but the shafts essentially are there for steering. When I use the set-up described below for my dog to pull I keep a rope at the back of the wagon which I use as a brake. If you rely on the the shafts to do all the work of braking, the harness rides up under the dogs's elbows and that is not very good for your dog.


The wagon is the most expensive part of the package (well, after your dog!) The yellow one in the picture above is a large utilty wagon I got from Timber Mart. It is pretty big and carries a serious load. You don't need that to start. You don't want to ask that much of your dog at the beginning. Indeed, unless you are working with a seriously powerful weight-pull trained dog, as is my Benny above, you should not ask your dog to work that big of a load. Regardless, of the weight, be sure you remember to install a rope on the back axle so you can hold the load back yourself and keep it, in the form of the shaft-harness hook up, from bumping the dog's under his elbows.

The instructions below refer to the utility wagon from Canadian Tire, I got when I first began doing this. The current cost for one of these is about $230 CAD. You can make this set-up work with with any kind of four wheeled wagon. As my dog matured and grew stronger I switched to the larger utility wagon that could take more weight and distributed it better over a wider axle. But the idea is the same. The only thing that changes from one wagon to the next is the way the handle goes into the axle. Somewhat different approaches to the modifications maybe in order when you remove the handle to install the shaft attachment. Two variations of this are described below.


The shafts are made out of rigid PVC conduit pipe, half inch. I bought one 10 foot length of pipe, a "T" junction, two "sweeps" to make the corners and a handful of connectors. There are three advantages to using conduit. The most important is that this material is not more sturdy than your dog.. That means in the event of an overturn or some such disaster they are more likely to break than to hurt your dog. The second advantage is that the sweeps and connectors allow for nice round corners and easy connection of pieces. The third is this stuff is cheap: I think I paid less than than $15 total for these materials including the cement used to glue the pipes together. When something does break it is inexpensive and easy to fix.


The shafts are made out of rigid PVC conduit pipe, half inch. I bought one 10 foot length of pipe, a "T" junction, and two "sweeps" to make the corners, plus a handful of connectors to link the pieces together and pvc pipe "cement" to make them stick.


The handle that came with the Green Canadian Tire wagon fits on a piece that connects to the front turning axle by way of an upside down u structure. Then I called my dad, Bill Sallans. What came next is largely his work.

Initially my dad and I just talked on the phone. We got into some confusion because he has the same wagon as me, but bought it a year or so earlier. The handle hook-up was different from mine. Mine is shown in the drawing on the left. The diagram on the right, with the blue writing, is the way his handle worked. If mine were like his, it would have been easy to simply cut the handle off near the end, insert a stub in bit that was left, and then insert this stub into the box that makes the T for the PVC pipe. If I'd had that kind of handle then what follows would have been a little different. There are other variations out there. But the general idea is the same. We have to get the shafts to attach to the front axle like the handle does so the shafts control the steering as the handle would if you were pulling on it. My handle worked with an upside down u that had been welded to the shaft of the wagon handle, and a bolt to fix it in the piece that goes to the axle. So we had to do it differently. We cut the handle off pretty short, and then stuck this piece itself into the PVC "T".

It was a good fix because the handle pivot on the bolt allows the shafts to also pivot up and down. So when they are not in use, I can stand the shafts straight up against the wagon.

Below you see the PVC "T" junction with the "sweeps" installed on either side. These make the nice round corners to the shafts which are the prime advantage to using conduit.

Here I am pointing to the "u" from the handle. You can't see the handle stub itself because

it has been inserted into the PVC "T".

The handle stub comes right out the other side of the "T". You can see the top of the eye bolt that we put there: that is where I hook up the "tug line" that goes to the back of the dog's harness. You can also see that there is a D-ring on the piece that goes to the axle with an old leash attached to it. I use this to brake from the front when necessary and also to pull the wagon myself rather than pulling on the shafts when moving it around while my dog is off doing his own doggy things.

Above you see the hook up on the piece that goes to the axle. The shafts are now in a vertical position, standing straight up for storage, so you are looking at the bottom of the PVC "T" . The "u" part that was part of the wagon handle is actually now in the position it would be if the handle were still on it

This is how it looks with the shafts in pulling position. Here again you can asee the eye bolt that is pushed through a hole we drilled in the stub of the wagon handle. The harness tug attaches to this chain.

After this it gets really easy. I just glued the long pieces of pipe into the ends of the sweeps using the connectors. (See below) I finished off the ends of the PVC pipe just by sticking one of the connectors that is used to join two pieces together on the end with a nickel inside to close the pipe.

Below we see the shafts completed and in place. You will notice that they lack the "bow" or "halo" that goes over the dog's back in the yellow wagon picture at the top of this post, also that they tilt up quite a bit. This can be adjusted. Over the years I modified my set-up adding the halo, reducing the angle of the shafts. The halo is useful as when the dog is actually pulling the shafts come quite a bit further back as the harness tightens up against the pull. I found that the made the shafts slide around the dog's shoulders, rather than sticking into them when he turned. The "halo" is also good for grabbing onto and "guiding". Just remember the shafts are made of pvc pipe. You can guide, but they will not sustain a lot of force. And that is a good thing! If something goes wrong these shafts will snap instead of putting pressure on your dog and possibly causing injury. And you don't want to use them to push your dog around either, just to guide.


The harness I am using in the green wagon pic is a toboggan harness with a spreader bar at the back. The picture at the top of this post with the yellow wagon shows the harness I went to as my dog matured. It is a weight pull harness with a padded collar and wide webbing to spread the pulling pressure on the dog's body. This is a more expensive harness and is usually custom made. If you're going to do a lot of work, once your dog matures it is worth it! But shop around. There are lots of options out there!

Bottom line: you need a harness that works with a spreader bar. In this type of harness the pulling lines come down from the dog's sides then attach to a wooden bar at the back before drawing together to the single point of pull on the wagon axle. This is different from the usual sledding harness, where the pull comes from a single point off the back of the dog. It is also different from a the type of carting harness which comes down either side of the dog and hooks into either side of a whipple or whipple tree, a pivoted or swinging bar to which the traces, or tugs, of a harness are fastened in that set up. It is a more complicated set up. A simpler verion of the carting harness is is used for two wheeled carts.

What you can also see in the above picture (highlighted below) is how if the shafts push up on the dog, the webbing will push against his elbows. He can hold the load back that way to a certain extent but I do not think it is very comfortable for him. When there is too much pressure it pushes the dog forward so your load will go faster on him. Make sure you have a rope on your load and that you are in control of that load at all times.

What you can also see here in this picture is a close-up of the shaft-harness connection as it evolved on my heavier harness.

WORKING! Shafts are for Steering!

Remember the shafts are not for pulling. They are for steering. Here you see where the pull attaches to the single point on the axle in front of the shafts. They go to the single tug coming in from the two sides of the spreader bar on the harness. The spreader bar keeps the harness lines from squeezing in on the dog's back legs. You have to adjust your lines so that the shafts do not pull making sure that the pull comes instead through this single point of pull attached to the axel. Also the shafts do not bear the bulk of the hold back load. Holding back when any kind of weight is involved requires a brake, namely you with a rope on the load!

In addition to being careful to hold the load back yourself on steep heels or with a heavy load, you will also need to be careful of cornering with this set-up. The shafts turn the front axle which turns the front wheels in the direction you want to go. But you need to guide the dog so he doesn't make too tight of a turn, causing the shafts to bind up on the side of the wagon. You will see all of this when you work with the set-up and adjust. This just a head's up! This set-up is great if you are ready to work beside your dog and/or behind the wagon. You and your dog have to work together to manage the load and the direction it goes it. For me, the bonding that comes from working like this is what makes it fun and worthwhile, in addition to getting the woodshed filled! Good luck, have fun, and enjoy your dog at work!


Nordilight's Arnavik Benny, 2010-2018

Bill Sallans

1936 - 2018

Master Innovator and Problem Solver

*P.S. This is an account of my building project, not a set of instructions. f you emulate anything from above and something goes wrong with your set up these suggestions cannot be held responsible. Please be careful and do your own quality testing for safety and be vigilant.


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