The ingredients of dogs, music and dance have ensured that it is increasing in popularity at an incredible rate and the real beauty of this sport is that it is suitable for any breed of dog. Dancing with dogs is fun, easy and dogs love it!
Heelwork to Music / Dancing With Dogs: Introduction
Canine Freestyle, also referred to as Heelwork To Music, is a fabulous sport especially for those who love dogs and music.
Music has been used by dog training clubs for many years to help maintain a good rhythmic pace when training for obedience. Mary Ray was one of the first people to present a seminar using music to enhance the obedience and from this Heelwork To Music evolved in this country.
Now officially recognised as a sport by The Kennel Club and growing rapidly in popularity, this new discipline is gaining recognition not only throughout the UK but around the world. The sport incorporates two categories – Heelwork To Music which asks for more precision and close work to the handler and Freestyle which is open to distance work and a greater variety of moves.
The dog and handler teams choreograph performances to their own choice of music, illustrating their training and relationship. This is the only dog discipline where the judge has not ‘set the round’ and this allows the handler to choose a performance to suit them and their dog. This gives all breeds the advantage of showing what they can do at a speed which really suits the team and thus illustrates the dog’s individual conformation and movement. Handlers of any age can participate and with any type a dog, there are no compulsory moves required to be performed in competition, which leaves scope to introduce moves which interpret the music in the best possible way.
No special equipment is necessary although props are allowed to enhance the routine and for incorporating into the performance. It is recommended that you use a CD player rather than a personal CD player as the dog needs to become accustomed to hearing the music. CD is preferable to cassette tapes as they can be instantly restarted at a particular point when creating your choreography and during training sessions.
You can train your dogs at home in a small carpeted area, your garden or maybe in your local park, in fact anywhere that has a safe surface for the dog to work on. At some stage you should try and find a large area for mapping out your display as the competition arenas can be as large as 25 x 20 metres and you should utilise maximum ring space during your routine.
As long as you have a basic level of control of your dog and a degree of patience, then teaching the moves should be quite straightforward. Through experience we have found that some very naughty dogs have become far more biddable through this training as the bond between handler and dog becomes established.
There are some moves which most dogs need to be taught in order to build a flowing routine with audience appeal. The basic moves are spins – both clockwise and anti-clockwise and leg weaves, which once taught will be invaluable to your performance. Each move should be taught slowly until the dog responds to a hand signal and then you can progress to just verbal commands which allow more freedom of expression for the handler.
Jumps can be incorporated and these are many and various as the dog can be taught to jump over different parts of the handler’s body and also the props if being used. Dogs are allowed to work on their hind legs, but this should be carefully monitored and trained very slowly so that the dog’s muscles can develop strength to support itself in this way. Some dogs do not have the necessary conformation for this, however, as no moves are compulsory, do not use hind leg work if in doubt of your dog’s capabilities.
Dogs can easily be taught to crawl, rollover, play bow and give independent paws. Most moves can be worked in different directions and these should be taught separately. It should also be noted that dogs can work on any side of the handler in both categories.
In a Kennel Club Competition there are eight official classes in the two categories (4 HTM and 4 Freestyle). Handlers and dogs new to the sport must enter a Starters class and from there will hopefully progress through Novice to Intermediate and then on to Advanced based on their results. When assessing eligibility to enter a competition, wins in one official category will not count for the other official category. At the discretion of the competition organisers, dogs may be entered in eligible classes in both categories, however, a different routine must be worked. Once a handler has qualified out of a starter class, then future entries with a new dog must be into novice in that category.
When training, it is recommended that you use small amounts of food which are easily swallowed by the dog as reward for correct behaviour. Try not to use food rewards which can crumble to the floor, as this will distract the dog’s attention and food which takes time to chew is not recommended as you will be spending more time waiting for your dog to finish eating rather than moving on to the next part. Slowly lure the dog with treats, training the different moves or positions and stating your chosen command as the dog manages the move. The dog will speed up when the food lure is removed and hand or body signals are taken by the dog as a cue.
You may well need a totally new vocabulary for your “commands” which should remain consistent and not sound similar to another move. This should ensure that your dog is not confused when progressing to verbal cues only.
Please remember that both you and your dog need to carry out warming up exercises in order to avoid unnecessary injury when starting a training session. All athletes warm their muscles before any physical exertion and your dog will become a honed athlete! A cooling down process is also advisable when your training session ends.
Whilst building a good repertoire of moves for your dog, you should start listening out for that special piece of music which you find suits your pace and that of your dog. Be sure that you like the music, as no doubt you will be playing this music many times in the coming months as the routine develops. YES! We did say months as it can take up to five months to choreograph and perfect a good routine.
This is also an excellent time to start thinking of a suitable costume to wear. Costumes are not compulsory; however, they can enhance a routine by depicting the character or theme of the music. Please ensure that you practice with your dog when you are wearing the complete attire as this is an essential part of the training exercise that some people forget.
Most fun days and competitions have to be entered in advance – usually about a month before the date of the event. Fun days can be entered by any dog, however, to enter a Kennel Club Competition all dogs must be registered with the Kennel Club, either as a Pedigree or through the Working and Obedience Register, which will allow crossbreeds and non registered pedigrees to participate once they have reached the age of 12 months.
If you choose to try this sport, you will find a welcoming atmosphere with help and advice available from those who already participate, be it the organisers, competitors, or those just enjoying a super day out at one of the events.
Canine Freestyle GB is a well established National Club with members throughout Great Britain and includes individuals from Belgium, Switzerland and the USA. The Club is run by a group of dog enthusiasts with members who have backgrounds in obedience, agility and working trials who were brought together by their common interest in Canine Freestyle and Heelwork to Music.
The committee and members promote this sport through public performances to entertain and create new interest. They also hold training days for beginners and improvers and organise Kennel Club Licensed Competitions aimed at both newcomers and the more experienced handlers.
Dancing With Dogs: How to Get Started
Fun Days are a popular way to start as they allow toys and treats in the ring without the pressure of being judged. The committee also liaise with other like-minded organisations and clubs and have recently introduced the new Canine Freestyle GB incentive ‘Passport of Achievement’ in response to their members’ requests for a system which highlights the time and effort taken by the teams. This allows everyone taking part competitively or just for enjoyment to compile a record of achievement and be awarded with a rising scale of ribbons.
Dancing With Dogs / Heelwork to Music Videos
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This editorial appeared in K9 Magazine Issue 15. To access back issues of K9 Magazine and view our digital articles archive, join today!