If you haven't seen the latest in dog sports that are taking the world by storm, you probably aren't aware of the growing popularity of various forms of doggy dance., also known more correctly as canine dance. Not only is this type of event physically demanding for the dog, but is great mental stimulation for both dog and owner together. The amount of focus and concentration needed by the dog doesn't make the freestyle type of dancing perfect for all breeds, but there are other styles of dancing as well that can be a great match for any breed of dog.
Perhaps the most well known, at least on the most seen on TV and the internet, is what is known as freestyle doggy dancing. Freestyle is really a type of control of the dog as well as the set up of the routine, not actually a specific style of dancing. In freestyle events the owner actually selects the type of music which can be from any genre. Typically it is recommended that the music have a good, steady type of beat to help with choreography and coordination of the dog and owner's movements on the floor. In canine freestyle competitions the owner or handler is allowed to wear costumes and can actually carry props that can be used in the routine. The dog may also wear a costume of any type to add to the theme of the routine. Movements can range from the dog walking beside the handler to the dog jumping over the handler, weaving between the handler's legs or even completing very complex and specific types of dance steps.
A good idea of what types of movements dogs can be taught to make in freestyles events is to look at the movements that are used in dressage competitions. Dogs can be taught to walk on their hind legs, lift their paws in a prancing motion to the music, hop to the music or any other type of controlled movement. The dog also has to be able to maintain eye contact and work off of visual cues including hand and body movements, as the dog is not on a leash during freestyle events.
Often in freestyle events the dog and the human will use the entire ring area within the routine. This means that the dog may work away from the person and may actually be doing complimentary rather than identical moves to what the person is doing. Needless to say these types of moves are not for beginners, but they are something to gear up towards with practice and experience.
In freestyle canine work the human of the team is also a dance partner, very much participating in the choreographed sequences and highlighting the skills of the canine member of the team. Not all people that compete with their dogs are outstanding dancers however and generally being able to move in time with the music and follow a routine is the biggest requirement for the human. After all it is really the dog that everyone will be focused on during the routine.
For beginners, often a type of canine dancing known as heelwork-to-music or HTM is very popular. In HTM the dog is still off-leash, but is working in close proximity to the handler. There is less of a dance aspect to the routine and more of an ability to execute a variety of times of moves in coordination. The goal of heelwork-to-music is to highlight how the dog and owner move together as one through close work, including spinning together, turning or pivots as well as walking in a sustained parallel position.
In all HTM routines the dog and the human must maintain the same distance from each other throughout the entire routine. Any variation of this distance results in penalties being deducted from the team's score. The dog or the handler cannot jump either vertically or horizontally during the routine and any weaving of the dog between the handler's arms or legs is also considered a penalty.
The judges score these events on how closely the dog and handler work together and how seamless transitions from one move to the other occurs within the beat of the music. Although there is not as much variety in movements in heelwork-to-music types of events there is still the option for creative types of close work, as long as it doesn't move into freestyle types of exercises and movements.
In order to get started in HTM or canine freestyle all you really need is a good understanding of your dog, some basic obedience and a lot of patience. Start by ensuring your practice space is slip-free and safe, removing any rugs or furniture that may be in the way or cause a problem. Your dog will need to be able to at least heel consistently without having to be a leash or lead prior to getting started. If your dog has been clicker trained this will definitely be an asset, plus you will need a variety of small, tiny little food rewards to help out with reinforcement during the initial training sessions and even with experienced dancing dogs.
You can start training the dog without music, after all he or she will not keep the beat, it will be you as the human that sets the tempo for any routine. Using food treats to direct the dog's head and maintain eye contact is the first step, plus using the dog's natural movements to incorporate them into the routine is also a key step in developing original moves.
There are several websites designed to help those interested in getting started in canine freestyle or heelwork-to-music types of training routines or competitions. Books, DVD's and even online videos can be very helpful in learning what moves and routines are possible. The very best option is to consider taking your dog to a beginner canine freestyle class or at least finding out if you can sit in on a class to get a feel for the training techniques commonly used in this very creative and fun dog sport.