Yukon is home to a class of athletes that are the first of their kind in Canada. You might not know it, but you’ve probably seen them around town – running, walking, slobbering on their owner’s shoes.

That’s right, they’re dogs. And roughly 30 of them are part of the Yukon Predators Dog Puller Sport Athletic League. The league is made up of these 30 dogs and their owners, and they train together to compete in events such as next weekend’s competition.

A number of these sporty pooches will show off their skills at Shipyards Park on June 3, when roughly 25 dog teams show up in Whitehorse for the fourth Regional Dog Pulling Championship.

It’s not quite what it sounds like. The sport has little to do with dogs actually pulling anything, and more to do with dogs running through a series of controlled drills with their owners.

The exercises centre around a soft purple ring, called the Dog Puller. The toy doesn’t look all that different from anything you might pick up at a pet store, but Erika Rozsa-Atkinson says it’s the most effective training tool she’s seen in 38 years of working with dogs.

Rosza-Atkinson owns Canines and Company Dog Obedience School in Whitehorse. She first found out about the Puller at the World Dog Show in 2013. Two years later, she was the official Canadian distributor, had established the Yukon Predators Dog Puller Sport Athletic League, and was travelling through B.C. offering training sessions to owners and aspiring Dog Puller coaches.

“It’s a Mother Earth of all training,” she says of the toy’s philosophy, which she says incorporates aspects of martial arts, boxing, and dog training. She says it should be the starting point for all other training, and provides a solid base for any new tricks, talents, or education. “This type of training basically comes before agility, comes before obedience.”

Rosza-Atkinson says using the Dog Puller in a particular way puts the focus on communication, fun, and exercise, for the dog, and for the owner.

It’s great for dogs who are high-drive, and impulsive, she says, because it can teach control. Dogs who are aggressive about keeping toys can learn to let go.

“Dogs are motivated to bring it back because they want to have the thrill (of chasing it) again,” she says.

As well, working with Dog Puller builds muscle, endurance, agility, stamina, and focus. Not only that, it creates a bond between animal and owner, who are working and getting exhausted together.

“When you do something like this with your dog, you’re like a little kid,” says Rosza-Atkinson.

Anyone interested in trying out the toy and its training style can bring their dogs to Shipyards Park on June 3.

Beginning at 9 a.m., there will be a chance for newbies to participate. A special slot before the competition will allow owners and their dogs to try the Dog Puller on the spot.

After that, competition will run until 3 p.m. Dogs will compete across various categories, working towards winning the Puppy Cup, Running and Jumping Championships, and title of overall champion.

Dogs will have 90-seconds to compete in each of the various running and jumping disciplines, with one dog and one handler on the field at any time.

Afterwards, there will be an open house at Canines and Company (located at 166 Titanium Way, Unit 103) where people can meet the athletes and ask their owners about the sport.

All are welcome to watch, says Rosza-Atkinson, including other dogs. She reminds owners to keep their dogs leashed, however, as the sport is fast-paced and exciting to watch. For more information Rosza-Atkinson can be reached at Canines and Company 867 668 4368 where she runs dog-pulling.