Monday, April 20, 2009

We tried Canine Freestyle!

Dancing with your dog- what a concept! Not just for dancers, not just for women; this is a fun activity you can do with your dog for friends, for competition, or just for yourself.

I am the original klutz. I am not an athlete at all, and I’m short and squat- not the best profile for a dancer. But that’s not what K9 freestyle dancing about. You never have to actually dance, you just transition from one movement to another. You could heel the entire time. Or like Attila Szkukalek you could do a Charlie Chaplin walk.

When I was training Tank to heel for obedience competition, we would heel around the driveway to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” It sped me up, got us moving evenly, and sharpened our performance. And it was FUN. No boring heel patterns and endless drilling for us!

So when I had the chance to try freestyle for a day, I jumped at it. We went to a workshop held by Loren Jensen Carter who came in from Arizona to teach us at Kindred Spirits in Vista, CA. It reminded me of a trick-training class.  

You teach your dog each of the basic moves, such as spin left, spin right, heel on the left, heel on the right, weave through the legs, back up, paws up, bow, and more. 

Lots of treats and clicker training help you lure your dog into position. Tux is not clicker trained, so we used treats (tons of treats) and verbal praise as motivators.

Tux is a quick study. He gets it immediately, and will do something a thousand times for the treasured cookie. The challenge is weaning him off of your lure (a hand with a treat in it) and getting him to do the move with just your hand motion. Then you fade back the hand signal until it is barely noticeable as part of your routine.

Dogs are fantastic at reading body language, so they will react quickly once they’ve learned. Verbal cues are also faded out to nothing, though you can pop them back at any time to help a confused dog.

While the dogs took a break, Loren taught us moves the human partner can do as part of the routine. This is way more fun than aerobics class. The next part of the process is to learn transitions from one move to another so your routine is smooth.

You can’t do it all in one day, but at the end of class, we spent time matching dogs and handlers to music, everything from jazz to classical, pop, and rap. The piece needs to match your energy level and the natural movement of you walking with your dog.

The day was exhausting, but a blast. Try it—just go out in the yard with your dog on a leash and start walking to some fun music. You’re on your way!

Here’s some links to learn more about Canine Freestyle. 

Sandra Davis and her famous dancing dog, Pepper:

YouTube is full of great routines. Do a search for "dog dancing" or "canine freestyle."

Canine Freestyle organizations:

Discussion group—learn a lot here:

Thanks to Sheri Wachtstetter for letting me use her photos. © 2009


Anonymous said...

Yes, I think it's the best, however, has anyone tried it with a Weimaraner?????????

Terry Albert said...

I'm sure there is someone out there- A Weim would do great!