As most “freestylers” will attest, freestyle is the sport where you can have the most fun with your dog. It involves training behaviors, setting them to music and “dancing” with your dog. Freestyle displays true team spirit between dog and handler, requiring bonding and creativity. The result is a performance where dog and handler display a union of music, training, theatricality and joy.
The process involves development of behaviors through totally positive training methods. Often, the dogs provide their own ideas about how a behavior can be done, making the process truly collaborative. Once several simple behaviors are learned, the search for music begins. Ideally, the music will suit the personality of the team, show off the dog’s behaviors and allow the handler to do their best “moving” with the beat. Professional dance steps are not required, nor are specific behaviors by the dog. The theme of the music or your own creativity sets the tone of the costuming for the human part of the team, as the dogs are only allowed to wear a decorative collar and/or “cuffs” on their legs to avoid injury (not appropriate for hairy Kerry legs!). Some teams follow the lyrics of the song or the style of the music, like salsa, country or show tunes. Others, develop their own “story” based on their view of the song. One “freestyler” does a routine to, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” as a bag lady who finds a “stray” dog. As you can see, the sky’s the limit on what you can do.
While many “freestylers” prefer only to demo the sport at venues like pet expos, nursing homes, block parties, 4H groups, etc., there are organizations that offer freestyle titles at titling competitions. The organizations include the World Canine Freestyle Organization in New York, the Musical Dog Sport Associationin Texas and the Canine Freestyle Federation in Virginia. While each organization has developed their own rules and emphasize different aspects of the sport, they all focus on the bonding and creativity formed out of this unusual activity. Freestyle can be enjoyed by all ages of dog or handler. All breeds (including mixes) and all levels of ability may participate. WCFO holds competitive classes for juniors (children 16 and under), seniors (dogs over 9, and/or handlers over 65), “handi-dandi” (physically challenged dogs and/or handlers), singles (one dog, one handler), pairs (two dogs, two handlers), teams (an equal number of dogs and handlers, over two) in multiple divisions based on prior titles. There is also an “Innovation” category for anything that doesn’t fit in the above categories.
There are two divisions for each category: Musical Freestyle , which emphasizes artistic moves both close to the handler and at a distance, and Heelwork To Music , which restricts the behaviors to within 4 feet of the handler with emphasis on positioning relative to the handler. Video competition is available for those not able to attend specific competitions, and many people both in the United States and abroad have gotten titles via this method. Rules and scoring are specifically defined within each organization’s guidelines. In short, there is something in freestyle for everyone. For more information on this fun sport, you can visit worldcaninefreestyle.org, musicaldogsport.org, or canine-freestyle.org.
As a member of our local freestyle club, the Dog House Dancers and the World Canine Freestyle Organization, my Kerry, Gaylic-Saxony I Am I Said (Ch. Primrose Takes Two To Tango x Gaylic-Saxony Mil Un Dolr Baby), “Hummie”, is the only Kerry in the world to hold a WCFO freestyle title, and he holds TWO: W-FD, HTM and MF. As you can see from the picture, our theme was Mexican, as we competed to Tijuana Taxi , by Herb Alpert. He will be competing in proficiency testing at the National competition in Reading, PA this December and in further titling competitions next spring.
The freestyle websites publish upcoming demos and competitions. Please take some time to come, watch and get involved in a sport that is for everyone , both “dancers” and their audience. Local clubs along with the national organizations hold seminars, fun days, matches and competitions for beginners through advanced, and there isn’t a more supportive group of people in the world! So, put on your dancin’ shoes, grab your favorite music and your canine partner and come dance with us! If you have any questions, you can contact me, Gay Stahley, by just clicking on my name.