In the specialized sport of canine freestyle, a dog and handler sweep onto the floor to perform an intricate routine of fancy footwork, spins, leaps, twists and tricks set to music. While you perform with your dog, you don't have to be able to dance. It's the dogs that wow the crowds with footloose ways. Develop a solid foundation in canine obedience before embarking on learning freestyle. Your dog needs to know how to heel, sit, down, stay, come, front, finish and maintain focus under distraction.
Step #1 - Practice obedience commands in all positions possible. Familiarize your dog with commands given while you're standing, sitting, kneeling and lying down. Teach your dog to perform commands in front of you, to your left side, right side, behind you and between your legs.
Step #2 - Encourage your dog to fluidly move from one position to another. The ways to accomplish this feat are limited only by your imagination and the laws of physics. For example, your dog may cross from heeling on your left side to heeling on your right side by stepping between your legs, spinning around your body or backing around you while you turn to face the opposite way.
Step #3 - Choose music that complements your dog's movement and rhythm. For your first piece, select a song that is 60 to 90 seconds long. It can be instrumental or have lyrics. Select a song you like, because you'll listen to it dozens of times throughout the training process.
Step #4 - Listen to the music a couple of times to envision tricks, moves and footwork to add to the routine. Select moves that you feel showcase your pup's ability and training. Freestyle isn't about aerial tricks and complex movements; it's about confidence and upbeat heeling in all positions. Know what you want to happen during the routine before you begin practicing it.
Step #5 - Break the song into 10- to 15-second segments. Write the moves that correspond to each segment on an index card so the entire routine is easier to master.
Step #6 - Learn your portion of the routine before adding your dog into the mix. If you don't know what you're doing with your feet during any given part of the song, it'll be far more difficult to teach your pooch her part of the footwork.
Step #7 - Carry treats and prepare to rock n' roll. Listen to the song once all the way through, and then, segment by segment, add in sections of heel-work, tricks and movements. Reward your dog frequently. Practice one segment at a time until your dog is comfortable with it and link pieces together until both of you can perform the routine fluidly. If your pup's performance begins to falter, take things more slowly and give her extra time to practice.
Important: Take practice slowly so both you and your dog can develop the necessary strength and flexibility to learn the moves and routine. Injuries can occur if training is pressed too far, too fast.
By Kea Grace
About the Author
Since 2001, Kea Grace has published in "Dog Fancy," "Clean Run," "Front and Finish" and an international Czechoslovakian agility enthusiast magazine. Grace is the head trainer for Gimme Grace Dog Training and holds her CPDT-KA and CTDI certifications. She is a member of the APDT and is a recognized CLASS instructor. She's seeking German certification from the Goethe Institut.