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More Articles

Where Obedience Leaves Off and Freestyle Starts
A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose
The Freestyle Challenge
Getting Started With Freestyle
Definition of Freestyle and Structure of a Freestyle Performance
More Than Just Heeling
Creative Development of Movement
Music, Rhythm and Freestyle
Understanding Required Moves
Do I Have to Dance?
Freestyle - A Point of View
Training: a New Mindset
My Introduction to Training a Freestyle Dog
It Takes Three - The Audience
Choreography: How to Begin
40x50 Feet: The Empty Canvas
Rhythm: The Great Organizer
What is a Guild

Front and Finish Articles

Issue One - Teaching Side Steps
Judges' Comments
Commands: Getting Personal
New Steps for Old Bones
How to Plan a Demo
Presentation Elements

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A big thank-you to Alison Jaskiewicz who has so ably written an entertaining and instructive column over the past year for CFF. Hello from your new columnist and welcome, new reader, to the fascinating and rapidly growing world of canine freestyle. I have been involved in freestyle for over three years with my Belgian sheepdog, Cajun, who has a CD and one leg toward his AKC Open agility title. I teach classes for Capital Dog Training Club of Washington, D.C ., teach in-home dog training outside the club, and work part-time as a Client Advocate for National Education for Assistance Dog Services.

I enjoy freestyle training and showing above all other dog sports, because, by allowing you to talk to your dog during performances and to design your own routine to make the most of your dog's abilities, it truly does promote communication and bonding between you and your dog. Although I will be the columnist in name for this column and will on occasion include my own articles, my goal is to publish articles from the freestyle fancy.

I already have several guest columnists in line for upcoming issues and extend an invitation to anyone else to submit articles related to freestyle for future inclusion. ( I reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.) Possible topics about which you might write are reviews of matches, trials, demos, seminars or freestyle "events"; training tips; freestyle from the perspective of a judge, trainer and/or competitor; how to choose music or choreography; etc. Surprise me! The topic for today's column is my explanation of the "sidepass" move and how to start teaching it. I hope it is of help to those new to sidepasses.

As an occasional instructor of freestyle classes, I am often asked how to teach a movement called "sidepasses." A sidepass is the generic, all-inclusive term for a movement requiring the dog to step sideways with both his front and hind end moving simultaneously so as to keep the dog's torso (and the sidepass) in a straight line. Sidepasses may move to the left or right, on either side of and parallel to the handler, on a straight (lateral) plane or on an angled (diagonal) plane. They may also occur with the dog facing the handler's front or side or even when moving from front to side, side to front, etc. There are many variations possible. To my eye, the most visible and therefore flashiest sidepasses are ones where the dog actually crosses his legs to step sideways, although this is not required and may, in fact, be difficult to impossible for breeds with wide and/or low bodies (pugs, corgis, dachshunds). Long-legged, short-coated dogs such as Dobermans and boxers seem to be particularly eye-catching when performing "crossover" sidepasses well.

Sidepasses look like a difficult move, showcase true athleticism and training, frequently create a nice transition to and from larger, more flowing moves, and often provide texture and contrast to choreography and music. They are a valuable and, at some levels, a required movement for freestyle competition.

So, how do you teach a dog to sidepass? In breaking down the execution of a good sidepass, in my experience the hardest part of it for the dog is the movement of the rear end--particularly when asked to move the rear at the same time as the front. Let's look first at teaching the dog to sidepass from a familiar position: standing at (left) heel. Our goal is to teach the dog on command to move simultaneously with the handler, stepping from left to right in a straight line. Tools needed are a short leash on a buckle collar; as lightweight a dowel as will still motivate the dog to move when GENTLY tapped; and food, preferably in the handler's mouth to keep the dog's head focused up. Before working with the dowel, accustom the dog to it by rubbing it softly along his body and rewarding him with food when he ignores or accepts the rubbing.

Start by placing the dog in a stand in front of you. Hold the not-quite-taut leash in your left hand to keep the dog from moving out of position or range. While keeping your dog's attention on your face, gently tap the dog's left leg anywhere from the hock down to the foot. By tapping there rather than on the hip, you will cause the foot to step sideways away from the tap, resulting in a more precise sideSTEP, versus a bunnyhop of the rear. When the dog takes even one step--crossed or not--away from the dowel tap, praise and reward. Proceed gradually until you are able to "tap" the dog into swinging in a half-arc all the way to heel position (end in a stand-at-heel). It's often helpful at this point to turn in a small circle yourself to keep the dog motivated to keep sidestepping toward you and into heel position. Remember to use your leash to keep your dog from simply backing away from the dowel. Start adding your command, also. If your dog already knows an obedience command that means to swing his rear closer, by all means use it and add a stand at the end.

When your dog is successfully arcing from in front to your side by sidepassing on his rear, you should add a few sidesteps of your own as the dog begins to line up at your side at the end of his arc. Pat your leg and encourage him with his sidestep command. Proceed gradually and reward small increments. For some dogs, sidesteps involve muscles not used much, so be aware of any soreness and don't overexert the green dog.

This method has worked the best for me, but there are other methods that work, also.. You may start the dog in heel position on your left in a stand, hold the leash snugly in your hand, and tap the dog's hock with the dowel held in your left hand (over dog's back). Simply step sideways as you tap the dog to move with you. Or. with the dog in heel position at a stand, slip your left hand through his buckle collar with the back of your hand against his neck and your fingers pointing toward the ground. Gently twist the collar in toward you while sidestepping to the right and encouraging the dog to do so. Another method some handlers use is to straddle their standing dogs (if feasible) with both of you facing the same direction and sidestep to the right, allowing the movement and pressure of your legs to guide the dog to move with you. You will probably have to maintain control of the dog's collar with your hands at the same time.

No matter what method you use, teaching sidepasses should be handled gently and gradually to condition the dog's body to respond comfortably, to forestall front-and-back snaking sidepasses, and to build your dog's confidence in a rather difficult, unnatural move that can become the well-spring to many other movements. In another issue, I'll discuss how to teach sidepasses going away from you and in other than heel position.

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