A Freestyle Primer
by Alison Jaskiewicz
(published with the permission of the author)
begins. You and your partner flow into your choreography.
Broadway? Ballroom dancing? No! This is Freestyle and
your partner is your dog!
evolved in the early 90’s as an artistic offshoot of obedience training.
Add music, creativity, choreography and artistry to dog training and a new
sport is born. Perhaps some of you are familiar with the Musical Kur
or Freestyle of equine dressage? Canine and equine Freestyle share
many elements, yet diverge to reflect the unique character and attributes
of the different species.
Something For Everyone
In it’s simplest form or
definition, freestyle is a dog and handler performing to music.
Since the mid 90s multiple organizations have defined Freestyle in
different ways. While this can often be confusing to a newcomer, the
resulting ‘styles’ enable teams to explore a wide range of possibilities.
There is a niche and style for everyone and still much room for
experimentation and exploration. The future of Canine Freestyle is
still wide open. Many freestylers choose to entertain
rather than compete. Freestyle is a fine addition to therapy visits
and a wonderful way to introduce children to the joys of dog training.
Consider giving Freestyle a try.
Freestyle = Training
Freestyle, like every other dog sport, is all about training.
Freestyle offers the opportunity to share a vast array of trained skills,
skills of your own choosing and your dog’s choosing. Along the way
you will discover and develop a wonderful interactive relationship with
Freestyle = Balance
Perhaps you have started training in basic obedience?
Traditional obedience is one-sided because heeling is performed with the
dog only on the handler’s left side. Dogs actually develop different
muscling patterns on their two sides due to one sided heeling. For
Freestyle you will teach heeling on both sides, finishes to both sides,
and, in fact, many different movements on both sides, and some in front
and behind as well! If you started in agility you may
already have a dog working both sides. Your dog will thank you
because he will be more physically balanced and comfortable.
Freestyle = Movement
Freestyle is a celebration of movement with music. What movement,
you ask? Any movement which is safe and enjoyable for your dog.
Some frequently seen movements are backing, pivots, side-stepping,
weaving, spinning, circling, crawling, bouncing, waving, bowing. Use
your imagination. Watch your dog as he/she plays. You may
notice movements unique and natural to your dog which you can then train
to a cue. You will also begin to notice that every dog does each
movement with their own style. Capture and develop that style, and
your freestyle will become a unique celebration of each individual dog and
your relationship with him or her.
You will find yourself
honing your listening skills to unleash the potential of Freestyle
choreography with music. Listen for melodies, instrumentation,
themes and variations, and, particularly important, listen for the rhythm.
The most effective Freestyle music is selected to match the natural
trotting rhythm of your dog. Consider all the musical possibilities,
from classical to contemporary, jazz to folk, instrumental and vocal.
You will discover that your dog likes music! You will also discover
that your dog has musical preferences! Skeptical? We all were
at first, but when you first watch a dog ‘choose’ music you will be
astounded. After you have found several pieces of music which match
your dog’s rhythm, play them one at a time while you heel with your dog.
When your dog really likes a musical selection he will step higher, wag
harder and sparkle with a new and delighted presence. Having a
friend watch or running a video camera can help with this process,
although you will be able to feel your dog sparkle and glow at your side
Starting to Choreograph
When you are thoroughly familiar with the rhythms, instrumentation and
patterns of your selected music and you have a good idea of the variety of
movements your dog is capable of doing, you are ready to start to
choreograph. Your goal is not to show every movement your dog can
do, but to create an artistic, flowing, and compelling performance.
Maintain a sense of space and direction. For instance, always
choreograph with a clear idea of which direction is front, where your
audience or perhaps your judges will be.
Now start to experiment
with movement with your music. Perhaps move by yourself at first,
imagining your dog and his movements, but plan to include your dog very
soon. Only your dog can tell you how long it takes to perform a
certain movement and whether it will work with the music or not.
This is a team effort and you must include your partner. Your goal
is to make him look his very best, maximizing his strengths and minimizing
movements with ground covering ones. Balance slow movements with faster
ones. Repetitions can be very effective in different locations so your
audience can see and appreciate a movement from different angles. Or the
same movement can be repeated at different speeds for a very different
look. Stopping completely for several beats can be an effective accent,
giving your audience a chance to catch up in a busy routine or building
anticipation for a movement to come. The options are endless. Aim for
smooth transitions and work with the music for maximum impact. An
observant friend can offer valuable feedback.
As you are probably realizing, Freestyle is all about choices, choices of
many kinds. Through
Freestyle you can share your dog, his/her personality, character,
training, athleticism and the joy, bond and relationship you share.
Some people happen to like precise and dressage-like movement.
Others prefer looser and more freeform movement. Some prefer music
without the distraction of vocals. Others always choose vocal
selections. And choreography is a choice with every step, every
change of direction, movement, tempo, energy and balance. This vast
freedom of choice in Freestyle appeals to many, and yet, can also be
intimidating or overwhelming to those more familiar with structured canine
sports. The key is to doodle and experiment and if possible find
some like-minded friends to explore this new sport with you. Visit
the various websites listed below, join one or more of the Freestyle
e-lists, ask lots of questions, attend some seminars and enjoy the
freestyle journey with your dog.
Through Freestyle you will find great joy in training with your dog and
the ultimate satisfaction of projecting the harmony and bond of your
relationship to an appreciative audience. Much work will go into
making a performance look effortless but words cannot express the feeling
when you and your dog become one in thought and movement with music.
The currently existing
North American Freestyle organizations are:
Canine Freestyle Federation, Inc.
founded in 1995 (US)
Paws 2 Dance
founded in 1999 (Canada)
World Canine Freestyle Organization, Inc.
founded in 1999 (US)
Musical Dog Sport Association
founded in 2002 (US)