Canine freestyle, also called musical freestyle, or freestyle dance is a creative form of obedience handling that allows handlers to show off their dog’s heel work to music. It started around 1989 and has grown from there. Today there are many different competitive freestyle organizations worldwide, each offering their own variation on the main theme of freestyle performance.
The idea for freestyle competition grew out of traditional heel work. Handlers wanted a more creative and engaging way of displaying the careful heel work of their dogs. They combined this with a love of music and some inspiration from the equine sport musical kur and came up with the concept of putting together intricately choreographed routines that demonstrate a dog’s obedience and particularly their ability to maintain the heel position as the handler moves around.
There are actually two types of canine freestyle: freestyle heeling and musical freestyle. Before engaging in either, a handler needs to get his dog used to the notion of working on both sides of the handler, rather than just maintaining the traditional left side heel that is used in regular obedience training. Once the dog masters this, then the handler can add in other moves and increase the distance between himself and his dog.
In freestyle heeling, the idea is for the dog to maintain variations of the heel position while the handler moves around. In this type of freestyle, dog and handler must remain in close proximity at all times There are no distance moves, and all moves, including pivots, diagonals and backwards steps must be done close together. Anything that involves sending the dog away, having the dog jump or anything else that wouldn’t strictly be considered heeling is not allowed.
kurapatka / stock.adobe.com
kurapatka / stock.adobe.com
Musical freestyle is the more elaborate and crowd-pleasing form of freestyle. Here the dog performs a variety of tricks and obedience commands. Almost anything is allowed, including jumping, weaving, rolling, moving away from the handler and playing off of the handler’s dance moves. Often handlers will finish a routine with their dog jumping into their arms or onto their backs. The key is keeping everything to the rhythm of the music.
There are several organizations worldwide that sponsor freestyle competitions, including the World Canine Freestyle Organization, Canine Freestyle GB, and the Musical Dog Sport Association. Each group has their own rules for competition, but they generally involve a combination of technical and artistic merit points, similar to the scoring process for figure skating. In the UK, the emphasis is more on the heel work and the dog, while American groups tend to focus more on trick-based routines and will even incorporate costumes.
In any competition, choice of music and the ability to master obedience commands, particularly the heel command, are crucial. This sport is the perfect way for handlers and their dogs to demonstrate their ability to communicate and work together. It requires more precision than some of the more physically demanding sports and can be quite satisfying when done properly.
If you’re looking for a way to make your dog’s obedience training more interesting and lively, why not consider becoming involved in canine freestyle? It can be a fun and entertaining way to engage your dog and hone both his skills and yours. Obedience doesn’t have to be boring when you can spice it up the freestyle way!