K9 freestyle dancing dog displays  K9 Freestyle Dancing Dogs

Email - Richard@k9freestyle.co.uk            Phone - 02380 790710

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Training tips for canine freestyle or heelwork to music
What is Canine freestyle or Heelwork to music ?
In the UK the sport is generally called Heelwork to music but it is also referred to as canine freestyle or dog dancing. There are two divisions of the sport which require different elements, HTM is where the dog has to be in the heelwork position for at least three quarters of the routine. In the UK there are eight nominated heelwork positions which the dog be and the team can more at any direction or pace. With freestyle there is no heelwork required so the judges will be looking for a flow from one move to another and not just a lots of tricks done one after the other. In the UK the judges will give you upto ten points in three sections which are content, accuracy and execution and musical interpretation.

My training philosophy

I once heard a saying that to me says it all about the relationship between dog and handler in a freestyle routine

" you are the frame and your dog is the picture"

In essence to me this sport is all about showing off the dog and the relationship with its handler. After all this is a DOG TRAINING sport and thus the dog should be taking centre stage.

In my training i always want the dog to have fun and i like to have that element of surprise in my training to keep the dog fresh and focused. Its REALLY important in my view that you never forget that this sport is based on obedience and control and these elements should never be forgotten in your dogs training.

Training should always be short and to the point so that the dog does not become bored. Motivation is one of the key elements in keeping your dog interested especially when they have been performing a move for a while.

Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself, to give you inspiration as to what to teach next.

* Can my dog perform this basic moves with minimal signal ?

* How can I vary my body position to make this move look different ?

* How far can I get my dog to walk back before doing a move ?

* Can I do this basic at a different pace ?

* What move can I link to this to make the moves flow together well ?

* Have I trained this move in different venues ?


Richard Curtis and Pogo demonstrating dog dancing / canine freestyle

Frequently asked questions

Q - What happens if my dog just does not seem to grasp a move that I am teaching it?

This maybe down to a number of reasons, firstly you may not be praising the dog enough or giving it enough motivation to do it. Secondly the method that you are using might not suit your dog so try another method. Thirdly it might just not suit your dog because of your dogs size or speed, but because there are so many moves in freestyle just leave it and try another one

Q - What happens if my dog gets confused between two moves?

Firstly you need to examine why the confusion is happening are the vocal or physical signals too similar. It maybe that the words start with the same letter so the dog thinks it is going to do a twist when you want a twirl! If they are then it is easy enough to change one of them to a different word so that it presents a clearer picture to the dog.

Q - I am having difficulty getting the front end of the dog into the bow any tips?

Try sitting on the floor and get the dog to follow the treat under you leg this should mean the front end of the dog goes into the down but then you can place you left hand underneath the dogs back end and the dog will be in a bow. Alternatively try playing with the dog and let him tug on the toy as he pulls against it he may go back into a down so that you can put the command to it then

Q - How long do you work on a routine?

Well normally i work a year in advance on the routines although sometimes i don't think it looks like i do!!! certainly preparation is important as this will give you confidence especially if you have not competed before. 

Richard Curtis and Jazz perform part of the k9 freestyle dancing dog display

Tips on constructing a routine

Here are a few tips about constructing a routine

*Make sure the music is the right speed for the dog ie it trots comfortably to the beat and also listen to it hundreds of times so that you know the track inside out

* Start to imagine where certain moves will go, a good tip here is to close your eyes whist you listen to the track and imagine the move being performed It is important to make sure when you are imagining the dog performing a move that you make sure it is at your dogs speed as most people tend to imagine there dog doing the move faster when in reality in a routine it is done a bit slower.

* Identify changes in the music ie speed changes, strength of music loud or quiet as they may give you ideas for sequences

* If there are lyrics in the track then listen to these as some of them might equal certain moves

* All routines should have a start middle and end. The start is important as this will set you out from the others and also make the audience sit up and look especially if you do something a little different

* The middle of the routine needs to be marked with perhaps an unusual sequence but be careful of repeating a move too much. *Repetition of a move or sequence of moves is not really going to score, I would only repeat a move sequence twice. Sometimes repeating a move is valid especially if the audience might have missed it the first time.

* The ending is the last thing that the judges are going to have in their mind of you so when deciding on the ending make sure it is something that your dog is very happy with doing and will perform 99% of the time. There is nothing worse than a good routine where the ending is messy and not performed on the exact ending of the music

* Routine specific moves (RSM)are also a very important constituent in a routine as these will set you out from the crowd. Everyone will tend to put weaves and rounds etc in the routine so you need to look at your own track to come up with some RSMs. A RSM is basically a set of moves or a particular move that would look out of place in many other types of routines

* Try not to just put a move in because the dog will do it, all moves should be relevant to the music type. Remember as the saying goes “quality not quantity” sometimes a routine can be jam packed with moves which gives a messy appearance. It is sometimes better to have gaps in the routine where you might just recall the dog or heel it which will give the audience a break and build them up to the next set of moves

* Having taken all these factors into account you now have to sit down and actually plan the whole thing. Try to start by writing out the track if it has lyrics or time each section if it is an orchestral piece and mark this down on the paper. Certain bits have probably screamed out to you already of where you want to put certain moves so put them down at the relevant point

* Make sure any moves that you require the judges to see, perhaps the dog putting a specific paw up, can be clearly seen by them Try to always make sure that your back is not to the judges after all it is the judges that you are performing to and that are going to give you the end score. Everything should be centred on making sure that the judges can see everything, a good way of checking this is to prepare a route map. Start with a blank piece of paper and place the dog and handler on it where they will be starting in the ring. Then using various coloured lines code the moves and place them on the paper to form a route map of where you will go by doing this you can make sure that you use all areas of the ring.

* When constructing a routine it is also important to take into account props, costumes and handler movements as these can be an important part of a routine.


Changing the dog from one side to another

To keep a heelwork to music routine flowing it is very important that all the connections to get the dog from one position to another are very polished. Variation in the way you transfer the dog is also important so that the judges don't down mark you for repetition. The is many ways in which you can get the dog from one place to another so i have named a few below and how to achieve them. There are many more so perhaps see how many you an come up with.

1. Transferring the dog via a sit is a simple but effective way. The thing to work on here is the speed of the sit an also to be able to give the command and the dog do a sit whilst the handler still moves forward. A good tip here is to have a treat in your right hand and as you say sit swivel at the same time to the front of the dog which will prevent it moving forward and you can use the treat to get the dog into a sit back above its head.

2 . Getting the dog to go under a leg to the other side is another way. This is quite easy to lure the dog at the start from the left to the right but make sure that you have a good weave as this can confuse the dog so make sure you are using a separate command.Richard Curtis and Jazz perform a canine freestyle / dog dancing routine

3. There are many ways of using a reverse move from the dog reversing under one leg to the other side or reversing all the way around the handler. 

4. Use a twist or twirl in some way to transfer the dog. The most commonly used way for using the twist is to do a half twist with the handler doing the same so the dog which started on the left would end up on the right after a half anti clockwise twist.

5. A roll underneath the handler is another method but make sure that you can jump high!!! to start this move get the dog in the middle position between your legs and then get the dog to roll under one leg so the dog ends up in heel on one side. This enables you to have a better balance while the dog is learning the worst thing you can do here is to try and jump the dog and fall over it.


Right hand work

From the many workshops and classes that I teach it seems we all sometimes neglect the most simple but necessary move ie right hand working. As with most basic moves handlers always say when asked "oh yes my dog can do right hand work"

Then when asking them to perform the move the dog either does not walk straight beside the handler or moves back to the left side. Its not surprising that the dog is going to want to get back to the left side as we have probably have taught more left hand work from a young age with the dog.

So what can we do to help our right hand work, firstly we may need to go back to putting the dog on the lead. It is easy to get into a habit of working the dog off lead but just because the dog will work off the lead does not mean you cannot put it back on the lead. Your lead is a very useful tool in helping to guide the dog and keep it where you want it to be. That doesn't mean that you have to string the dog up on a tight lead to keep it in the correct position on the right side, as you will be using some sort of reward to also encourage the dog to stay in the correct right position.

What is the correct right position I hear you say!! well I always look for the dogs shoulder to be roughly level with the side of my leg. The position I require the dog in sometimes depends on the strength of the dog, if it is a pushy dog when I teach right work I would keep the dog slightly back as I know as it builds confidence it may forge forwards. Obviously the reverse would apply if the dog lacks some drive, with that type of dog I would almost encourage it to hold a slightly forward right position.

When working the dog on the right I try and have a shorter but slack lead just enough so that when the dog is in the correct place it is slack. I never check the dog harshly if it is pulling etc I would rather walk in a clockwise circle to bring the dog back to where I want it to be. Also be careful where you are holding your treat, this will effect where the dog is working also. Try having the treat in the left hand rather then the right as it is easy to drip feed the dog from the right hand and also move your hand backwards and forwards bringing the dog out of position. I keep the treat in the left hand and above the dogs head but stuck to my body, running my hand down my body to give the dog the treat. Top tip remember be consistent and persistent in where you reward the dog and the dog will quickly catch on.

So as with most handlers I start the right hand heeling by walking with the dog in a anti clockwise circle. Common problems is for the handler to look back at the dog thus making it lag behind. So a top tip is to place a object in the middle of the circle and start heeling but try and look at the object rather than the dog. This hopefully will make the dog come up to a better right hand side position Remember also to make the circle you walk as big as you can but try not to walk too quickly as the dog is on the outside so will be trying to catch up with you.

When the dog is confident in the circle and not trying to get back to the left then start to do a straight line and turns but always have the dog on the outside of the turn so you are not walking across the front of the dog otherwise you will stop the dogs flow. It is from this point that we all tend to leave it a bit but when you think about it there is so much that you can do with this right position. Not only can you go in all directions ie backwards and sideways with the dog in heel but also get the dog performing other moves from this side like reverse around and roll.

There is endless ways in which you can use the right heel position and the more you use it the stronger side it will become. So have a look on video of your dog working on the right side be critical of what can be improved then list what moves you want to get the dog to perform from the right. By making the list it gives you something to check back to because if your like me you need a reminder !!!

Above all keep the right heel position a fun place for your dog to work !!

Move progression

Normally in this section i explain how easy it is to get the dog to perform a specific move. This time i want to get the readers of this area of the website to start to think of a move that is specific to their own dog.

To do this we firstly need to examine what moves are your dogs strengths and weaknesses. All dogs have moves that they will readily perform and you can tell from your relationship with the dog that they enjoy certain moves. There will also be some which the dog does but sometimes is not as eager to do, so this means you probably have to put a bit more praise and enthusiasm into those weaker moves.

We are going to concentrate on the dogs moves that you feel are its strengths as it is these that you will be able to use to make a move progression. Start by taking a few minutes to list the dogs top five moves which if your life depended on it you would expect your dog to perform. Im sure some of you are now thinking i hope my life never depends on my dog doing some of these moves!!!!!! as they are not that reliable!

Looking at your list now take the two moves at the top of the list as these will be the moves you feel most confident in. Now start to think how could you progress this move as your dog likes it so much. Here are some questions that you can ask yourself that might help you to think of a progression

**Could the dog perform the move in a different position around me?

**Is the dog able to do the move at a distance?

**Can i change by body position and then get the dog to do the move?

**Is it possible for the move to be done behind me or with the dogs back to me?

These questions will hopefully start you thinking of a different way you can perform one of your strength moves. Remember before you start to train the move progression with the dog start to think how you are going to approach the training. Will it be easier to teach with the use of an aid like a barrier etc?

Also remember that you move progression might be to get the move onto more of a vocal command rather than a physical hand signal.


Jazz performing a high five wave