BALANCING THE LOAD (testing design limits)

Something that I’ve learned about, sometimes the hard way, over the years is the need for appropriate design of tools and equipment, and the need for appropriate application. When you exceed design limitations with use, bad things can and do happen.

For example, when you load a trailer to pull behind a vehicle, it should be loaded with weight not exceeding the limits stated by the manufacturer, and the items added must be loaded to distribute the weight as described by the manufacturer. When we bought our last toy-hauler trailer, our sales person commented that this was the number one issue he had seen with these trailers. People will load their food, clothing and travel gear, fill the water tanks and load their ATV or motorcycle, and often exceed the design limits. Well, we pull the trailer with our van, and the dogs are in the van, so that 300 lbs. isn’t in the trailer. We don’t usually travel with the water tanks filled, but this may mean that more weight is placed on the tongue. However, the design limit for the tongue is not exceeded, and the total weight of the loaded trailer does not exceed the specification for our vehicle. Toy haulers are nice for traveling with dogs. When the weather is nice, you can open the tailgate and enjoy the fresh air through the screen across the full width of the trailer door.

When you have Newfoundlands, you must pay closer attention to designs and design weights, in general. For example, trailer steps are typically steep for Newfoundlands, especially in toy haulers, where the door opening may be a little higher from the ground.  This can lead to damage  from repetitive impact on their front end joints.  Ramps work well for an entrance and exit for the dogs across the steps. Also, there are wider steps that can be used to replace the ones that come on the trailer.

Ramps are a good basic tool to have for Newfs in any case. When exiting a vehicle, joint impact is avoided when they use a ramp. Dogs tend to want to jump out of a vehicle, but owners should not let this happen. Owners can assist a dog by putting one arm under the neck and one under the belly and moving down with the dog in a sweeping motion. This reduces strain on the owner’s back as well as joint impact for the dog, but ramps accomplish this even better.

The problem with ramps is that the Newfs don’t like to go up the ramp. This may be because the angle is uncomfortable for their toenails, pushing their nails backward. There are also options of adjustable height platform metal steps, and for vehicles, there is a step that attaches to a trailer hitch and twists outward. There are also steps that fold into the space of a suitcase. The design limits of each should be considered carefully as well as whether the device will hold securely in place during use.

Do you know how much your Newf weighs?  How much weight will the ramp hold?  What if the Newf comes down the ramp quickly, applying more force than simply his weight?  Will the ramp support the extra force?

Parker has had the misfortune of being the one to test design limits in our Newf household. He has been the largest of all of the Newfs so far, weighing 168 at maturity. He has also been one who likes to do things Fast!  Our first ramp was a heavy folding plastic ramp which required that pins be added underneath to support the weight of the dog at the hinge. It wasn’t always easy to get the pins into their supports, and I developed a bad habit of using one pin, then not even using one pin. Once when Parker bounded out of the vehicle, the ramp broke across the plastic below the hinge and he fell.

Our next ramp was a telescoping ramp. That one is plastic with an aluminum frame, and it has lasted well so far. As Newfs age, it is even more important to have this as an assistance device for exiting the vehicle. When they need assistance going in, the sling combined with the ramp helps, and the lower the entry height for a vehicle, the better.

Another basic tool for which design and design limitations should be considered is the grooming table. Grooming tables are wonderful for the owners! It is much easier to groom a Newf from a table, but the table must be constructed reliably to hold the weight of a giant breed dog. The table legs for a folding grooming table must be strong and locked securely in place for use. A comfortable height for a grooming table is somewhere between about 20 – 24″.  This allows the groomer to reach Newfs from the top to the bottom with ease, and most Newfs can jump onto the table without assistance. As they age, it is easier to assist them onto a table of this height, or even a little lower, than one that is taller. And at any age, the longevity of their joints will benefit from your assistance as they come off of the grooming table, using the same sweeping movement (with an arm under their neck and one under the belly) as when you support their weight coming out of a vehicle.

There may be other items that you can substitute for a grooming table, but those should be abundantly sturdy, with a slip-resistant finish and not too tall.

Grooming tables for Newfs may be 48″, 42″ or even 36″ long. The longer the grooming table, the further you must reach from the back to work on the dog’s rear, since most of the time they will crowd the front of a table. Longer Newfs may have trouble with a 36″ table, so 42″ is a good size for general purposes. The most important design feature is the weight the table will hold. When you have a 125 lb. Newf, and the design limit for a table is 150 lbs., there isn’t much of a margin of safety.

Grooming tables that are built to withstand water (such as those made from marine-grade plywood or with a fully coated top) are nice for bathing. There is not the side of a tub to get in the way. A vinyl apron with rubber boots keeps the bather comfortably dry with either a tub or a grooming table. A well built grooming table will last a very long time, although not forever. The weak point is often in the metal legs, and the rust that occurs inside the metal tubing, particularly at welds. Parker was again the one to uncover this limitation for us, as the table collapsed while he was on it, with the legs folding under at the welds.

A folding grooming table is convenient. It can be more easily stored, and if there is room, you may want to take it with you when you travel. Having the table on trips can be a very nice asset, for those times when the Newf gets into burrs, mud, or worse. Your Newf may not think of that sewage lagoon near the travel stop in Kansas as anything but a lake, and that cute little black and white kitty may leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

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