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What do you get when you take a dog and a handler and
throw in some music? Canine Freestyle! In the hot new sport of Canine
Freestyle - training, teamwork, music, and creativity all combine to create
a unique performance illustrating the relationship between the dog and
handler. Although freestyle is based on traditional obedience elements such
as heeling and focus, it also adds additional athletic moves such as spins,
weaves, and jumps.
Freestyle is already found in a variety of venues.
Competitions are becoming more and more popular with the majority of events
being offered in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Freestyle is also becoming popular in other countries such as Denmark,
Japan, South Africa, and Australia. As the sport gains popularity, freestyle
is now being featured on several television shows such as Animal Planet's
new series "Pet Star". And while competition is always exciting, many teams
use their freestyle routines as part of their therapy dog visits –
entertaining old and young alike.
like obedience, or any other dog sport, solid training is the key to
creating a winning routine. Even though there are no "required" moves in
freestyle, some moves - such as spins and weaves - seem to be standard in
many freestyle routines. Other popular moves include paw kicks, moves where
the dog goes backwards, and having the dog jump over the handler’s arms or
legs. Additional moves are often created from behaviors a dog offers
naturally, like "beg" or "roll over".
Although it may be tempting to copy the cool moves seen
in other routines, not all moves work well for all dogs. It’s very important
to select moves that are comfortable for the team to perform and that will
highlight their abilities. For example, paw kicks on a very small dog may
not be able to be seen by the audience or judges. Or for a team that pairs a
large dog and short handler, leg weaves may be difficult and look awkward.
Because of this, freestyle encourages teams to use moves that work best for
the individual team or to create original moves. These original or
"signature" moves often make a lasting impression on audiences and judges
is also important to be selective about the skills included in your routine.
Even though your dog may know 20 different skills, it is not necessary to
include them all in the same routine. It is perfectly possible to create a
solid beginning routine with as little as 6-8 skills. The important thing is
to select skills that your dog will do well. A routine with only a half
dozen solid skills placed well within the routine will often look better
than a routine with a dozen skills that are only so-so or are just thrown in
freestyle, music is the element that blends together the training,
personality, and relationship of the team. The music used for freestyle
routines is a varied as the teams themselves - from country, to pop, to
opera, to swing and everything in between. Unfortunately, selecting music
may not be as easy as popping in a popular CD. Freestyle is an artistic and
creative outlet, and the music should be selected to match the dog’s natural
rhythm and personality.
Even though a handler may be
tempted to simply pick his or her favorite song, it may not always be the
best choice. If the music’s tempo is too slow, the dog may look bored. On
the other hand, if the music is too quick or too overpowering, it may
dominate the performance and the execution of skills and/or the personality
of the team may be lost. Finding the perfect piece of music can be one of
the most difficult elements of freestyle – but at the same time, it can be
one of the most fun.
One of the common misconceptions about freestyle is that
you have to dance. The truth is that probably about 95% of all freestylers
have not had any dance experience. While it may take a little practice,
freestyle routines are designed to give the illusion of dance by having the
handler and dog move in rhythm to the music with the elements performed by
the dog placed at certain points in the routine to highlight the musical
aspect of the performance. This "illusion" can be enhanced by something as
simple as having the handler adopt the feel of the music. For example,
thumbs hooked in belt loops with a swagger step to country music, or a quick
skip step to a swing song. Costumes can also help to convey the music’s feel
and when combined with the appropriate "attitude" can appear as a dance even
though there is not a single formal dance step anywhere in the routine.
While costumes and choreography can be fun and can help
set the tone for a routine, they should always be appropriate and balanced.
Just as music can overpower a team, a handler that is over-zealous in their
choreography or costuming can also leave a routine unbalanced. When creating
choreography or selecting a costume, it is important to keep in mind that
the dog should still be the focus of the routine. Think about when you watch
ballroom dancing or pairs ice skating – it is very common for an audience to
focus on the female partner. The man in the routine provides the foundation
and support. This should be the balance you strive for with your freestyle
routine – each partner working together, but highlighting your dog’s skills.
The dog is the picture you want to showcase, and the handler is the frame
that holds it all together.
Freestyle performances can be created in several
different styles. "Freestyle" is generally a rhythmic routine where the dog
and handler interact together to create a dynamic routine. "Theatrical"
routines often present a theme with the dog and handler each playing a
character and may include more dramatic costumes and props. Another popular
style is "Heelwork". Heelwork routines draw upon the elements more commonly
associated with traditional obedience work. In heelwork routines, the dog
and handler usually move together to create the illusion of one team, rather
than two partners.
of the most common questions about freestyle is – what do I need to get
started? Obviously, the answer is the first thing you need is a dog. The
second thing you will need is a good, positive relationship with your dog
and the desire to have fun… One of the great things about freestyle is the
fact that it is a very flexible sport. No particular age, breed or size of
dog seems to have an advantage. Since freestyle routines are choreographed
to illustrate the strengths of the individual team, dogs of all breeds and
sizes – from purebred to mixed breed and from Chihuahuas to Newfoundlands –
have been able to achieve success in the freestyle ring. Freestyle is also a
great activity for senior dogs looking for an activity to keep them young,
or for younger dogs as a fun supplement other training such as obedience or
The most important thing a team can accomplish in
freestyle is to have fun – whether just practicing in your living room,
performing for a school or nursing home, or entering a competition.
Freestyle is a great activity for any dog...
How To Get Started In
Knowledge! There are many wonderful resources. Videos, books,
and several online resources. Check our the Freestyle Links below for
information on the different online discussion groups.
Teachers! Check out local freestyle groups for training opportunities
in your area. If there aren't any local classes or seminars in your
area, try to organize an informal support group with other freestylers in
your area to share ideas and receive feedback on your routines.
Training Material! Check out the Freestyle Links below for information on
the different freestyle products that are available.
Compete! Several organizations offer competitions which may can be entered
in person or via video. You will need to research each organization's
philosophy and rules to decide if you want to join one or all of them. They include:
Dog Training! Clicker training, basic obedience, rally obedience,
trick training, agility, and other forms of dog training can provide ideas
and develop great skills that can be incorporated into your freestyle
Art! Watch movies with dance themes, catch the reruns of the old musicals on
television, go to local dance recitals, and check the television schedule
for events like ice-skating, ballroom dancing, gymnastics, and equestrian
dressage - all of these activities can help spark creative ideas.
Author: Kris Hurley
Copyright 2003 - 2006
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Fun Freestyle Links!