One day, my little dog Ziggy and I attended a musical canine freestyle workshop. I knew nothing about the sport and had no idea what to expect. The workshop was packed full of dogs with their owners, and we were a bit nervous. When the music began, we relaxed and started prancing and strutting across the floor without a care in the world. To my surprise, Ziggy and I quickly became a dancing team and we loved it.
Freestyle is simply heel work set to music, creative movement, and traveling tricks with the emphasis on having fun. Ziggy and I learned many new freestyle moves while spinning and twirling to the music. We were thrilled to perform a short routine, making me very proud of my little boy.
Hosting this delightful workshop was Carolyn Scott. Scott and her dog Rookie are famous in the freestyle world and well known for their performance dancing to the song “You’re the One That I Want” from Grease. (See the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqbVbPvlDoM)
After attending the workshop, I was so enthused about freestyle that I began offering freestyle classes and workshops around the Bay Area. I found myself working with the most amazing people and their extraordinary dogs. These adorable students not only attended classes but also performed at various doggy events, fundraisers.
All dogs love music: One of the most enjoyable aspects of freestyle is the music, and what I discovered is that each dog has its own preference for certain tunes. Some dogs like rock ’n’ roll, some like country music, and some prefer classical. In class we test three different tunes and let the dog pick the music. The tell sign of a happy dog is a smiley doggy face, extra energy, a wagging tail, and high steps in time to the music. I was surprised that my own fast-paced little guy preferred ballet music when I thought he was nuts about rock ’n’ roll.
Let’s talk about the dogs: What sort of dogs is enamored with freestyle? Big or small, young or old, fast or slow, all dogs love freestyle. What’s not to love? Dogs get to go to class, eat loads of yummy treats, listen to great tunes, and play with their mom and dad. Freestyle deepens your relationship with your dog. It makes you a more effective and thoughtful trainer. Nervous and even reactive dogs tend to develop confidence when being in these positive, fast-passed, harmonious atmospheres.
My own nervous Ziggy was one of the biggest beneficiaries of canine freestyle. Passing other dogs ceased to be scary, and performing close to other dogs became a fun game. I will be forever grateful for what freestyle brought to us.
The moves: Freestyle is about learning the moves that your dog enjoys performing and finding the specific moves that motivate your dog. Every dog is different and has its unique style. I always say there are no mistakes in freestyle and to work at your dog’s own pace. Some dogs prefer spinning and twirling. Some love to jump or hop like a bunny. Some love to weave through your legs or side-step. Some just love to hang out and look cute, but what I do know is that all dogs love to dance. These creative maneuvers are fun.
Let’s talk choreography: When building a routine, keep it simple, short, and easy for your dog to perform. Pick your music, choose a couple of your dog’s favorite moves, a favored fancy trick or two and ta-da! You now have a perfectly spectacular freestyle routine, and as always, your dog is a star.
What you can do with freestyle: Compete for titles or simply just for fun! You can become the life of the party, a sensation at the dog park, perform at doggy events, or brighten up your own living room on a rainy day. Just turn on a tune and get dancing.
Ruthanna Levy, CTC, is a professional puppy and dog trainer. A graduate of the SF SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, she recently relocated to Santa Cruz and will be freestyling soon with her new addition to the family, little Miss Boba.
Each month, this column is written by a different trainer or dog professional. If you’d like to contribute, contact Editor@BayWoof.com
Main article photo by: photo courtesy of Ruthanna Levy