Why Don’t We Just Dance?

“The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.” –Samuel Butler

Risa performs backward circles around me at a freestyle competition.

Dancing with your dog. Just saying it out loud it sounds foolish. You can picture it now. Fido’s paws held in someone’s hands as they circle around the room to some ballroom ballad. You roll your eyes at the very thought.

But there are people out there competing in a canine sport that involves dancing with your dog! It is a bit silly, sure. However, it’s far more fun than you may think! Think of it more like obedience behaviors performed to music.

Risa and I have been involved in canine musical freestyle for quite a while (almost 4 years now!). After we finished our 2nd obedience class, our trainer mentioned offering a class in musical freestyle. At the time, I really wanted to do agility and thought dancing with dogs was stupid. I was open-minded, however, and wanted to get Risa into something that was more involved than just general obedience. I knew it would help us bond better so, despite my reservations about the activity, I signed us up.

It turned out Risa was a natural showman. Who would have thought this shy, fearful mutt would enjoy putting on a show for an audience? Her natural athleticism, happy grin, and helicopter tail lends itself perfectly to this flashy sport. I couldn’t help but be sold on canine musical freestyle. Risa absolutely adores it and I do too.

Having participated in a few demos, taken classes, practiced with fellow freestylers, and competed; I’ve really come to enjoy what freestyle has to offer. Firstly, it’s unique. There is no set routine for a freestyle performance. You pick the music. You design the dance. Each performance is uniquely your own. As an artist, this freedom of creativity really draws me to freestyle.

Happy heelwork at our second freestyle demonstration.

Another thing I like is the variety of behaviors you can teach and utilize in a performance. About the only behavior you NEED to have is heeling (preferably on both sides). Beyond that, the sky’s the limit! You can do weaves, jumps, spins, bows, circles, high fives, etc. This freedom also makes it easier for dogs who, for whatever reason, cannot perform certain moves (like dogs with joint problems who cannot attempt jumps). While each venue of canine freestyle has differing requirements for performance, most of them are pretty open about what movements you must do.

There are three different organizations who offer competitions for canine musical freestyle: World Canine Freestyle Organization (WCFO), Musical Dog Sport Association (MDSA), and Canine Freestyle Federation (CFF). Each has its own unique requirements as well as benefits and disadvantages. I feel it’s up to each competitor to figure out what they want to get out of canine musical freestyle and determine which venue is best suited to them and their canine partner.

For example, Risa and I compete in WCFO freestyle. What I like about WCFO is that there are several options for you as a competitor. You can compete in “Heelwork to Music” divisions where the focus is more about your dog maintaining correct heel position during the entire routine. There is also the “Musical Freestyle” divisions where the only requirement is that you don’t do anything dangerous; it’s pretty much anything goes! You can also compete in the ring with two dogs and one handler (Brace) or even as a group! On top of offering live competitions, you can also compete via video. This is a great option for teams who don’t live close to trials or individuals who own dogs that aren’t candidates for live competitions.

The look on her face says it all. Risa loves to dance!

About the only thing I do not like about WCFO freestyle is the costuming. (To my knowledge, CFF freestyle is the only one of the three that does not require the handler to dress up in costume.) When I first started doing freestyle, I was so against costumes at all. I already felt silly enough. So, for the first few demos and our Beginner title in WCFO freestyle, my costume was very simple. I wore jeans, brown shoes, a white T-shirt, and a red bandanna. Fortunately, we danced to country western songs so this get up was appropriate. 😉 As time as gone on, I’ve gotten a bit more comfortable with the idea of costumes though I prefer to keep it pretty basic. My costume for our current routine is not much different than the one that came before it. The only additions are a belt, a vest with fringe, and a cowboy hat.

No matter which venue you compete in, costuming on the dog is supposed to be limited. Most venues permit some sort of collar or bandanna on the dog’s neck. Some allow wristbands around the dog’s legs. Nothing that impedes the dog’s movement should be utilized. In both of our routines, Risa has worn a simple bandanna. Red for the first. Purple for the second.

I think Risa will forever be a freestyle dog. No matter what other venues we have tried and will try, freestyle seems to be her true love. Though I originally envisioned us racing around a course of obstacles, I too have fallen in love with the joys of canine musical freestyle.

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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