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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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The Canine Freestyle Federation held its annual trial on October 7, 2000, in Alexandria, Virginia. After the trial, much thoughtful commentary ensued regarding the trial results, the proposed and newly instituted rule and level changes, and what the judges seemed to like and dislike. I decided to invite the judges themselves to record some post-impressions of the overall strengths and weaknesses of the routines. Several reviewed the trial video tape before commenting and consequently cautioned me to keep in mind that hindsight and two-dimensional videos are not as accurate as viewing the original performance and judging it on the spot. Remember also that although all CFF judges are rigorously trained to the same standards and are very familiar with CFF rules for judging, each judge IS an individual with a personal perspective and will evaluate each performance and its creativity and conformity to the rules accordingly.

Understanding, therefore, that l) the following critiques may be influenced by hindsight, memory and the limitations of video; and 2) that all judging is ultimately a subjective interpretation of rules and definitions, let us examine the most recent trial performances through the eyes of the judges. Perhaps we can glean useful information to help us improve our own performances while also evaluating the direction our sport is taking, at least in terms of how it is judged.

The judges and their respective classes were :

Level I (on-leash) & Level II (off-leash) - Alison Jaskiewicz and Maureen Taylor Level III & Level IV (both off-leash) - Susan Allen and Monica Patty

I asked the judges to limit their comments to generalizations and without naming individuals, as I felt it most instructive and fair to examine overall impressions versus individual routines. Susan described the actual atmosphere of this trial compared to past trials when she wrote that "it felt to me like there was less tension in the air, overall, and this positive atmosphere seemed to calm the dogs, boost the handlers, and contributed to the strongest and most polished routines we have witnessed to date."

All the judges noted marked improvement and growth from the previous trials to this one. When teams lost focus or encountered a glitch, judges agreed that smooth handling saved the day. Maureen and Monica commented together that

It showed in this last competition that there had been a big improvement in the routines and in the presentations. There was a higher level of performance from both dog and handlers at all levels. This shows good training and focus. Programs showed more complexity and a greater understanding of the theory of Freestyle. Transitions between movements flowed and handler cues were muted for the most part. Those handlers with a breakdown in their routines because of inattention or dogs leaving the assigned space showed a great deal of poise by retrieving their dogs and managing to finish their programs. This indicates... that the handlers have indepth knowledge of their programs as they relate to the music and the presence of mind to get back on track instead of falling apart.

Alison stated that:
In general the handling was excellent. Handlers were definitely respecting their dogs' strengths and weaknesses and working with them every step of the way, allowing time to complete movements when necessary, as opposed to rushing off to the next movement whether or not the dogs were gathered and ready to go. Even in those unfortunate instances where the dogs totally lost focus and attention, the handlers remained calm, poised and gentle with their dogs, who were then comfortable in re-engaging for the rest of the performance. Kudos to all the handlers.

I also enjoyed sitting back and absorbing (without judging) Levels III and IV. The calibre of dogwork, training and choreography is growing by leaps and bounds. We were privileged to be allowed to share in many unique and wonderful relationships during the evening. . . . The joy and rapport between human and canine can be a special bond indeed.

Although Maureen and Monica believed that "music selection with very few exceptions was very good and complimented the programs," they advised that it also "immediately sets the tone for the artisitic portion of the program and if ... inappropriate to the movement and size of the dog, the entire program is negatively impacted. It's hard for an Artistic Judge to separate the music from the performance. Personally, we find music with words to be ... distracting to a performance. The aim should always be to select music that compliments the dog's movement." ( I might add that music with lyrics is permitted under CFF rules and therefore does not warrant a penalty per se; however, in my opinion, human nature prompts --even if unintentionally--some connection made, or attempted, between words and the actions of the team. If the lyrics are reflected poorly --or even well, depending on their meaning--the focus of the judge/audience could concentrate more on how well the words are "acted" out instead of on how well the music and movement flow together. The motivation for the performance could then become the LYRICS, not the DOG. Always remember that the guiding policy of CFF-style freestyle is to showcase the dog. )

The same principle of enhancing versus distracting from the dog applies to the handler's choice of outfit, according to judges M & M, who feel that if the outfit is not proper, the artistic presentation is adversely affected. "What is `proper'?" they ask "Some outfits are so different that they distract from the program rather than compliment the performance. If you see one, you know it."

Handler cues, if overdone, can be just as distracting. In the opinions of M & M:

Strong excessive cues are very distracting to the Artistic judge. They tend to draw the attention away from the dog to the handleer. Points [off] are not [accrued} for smooth, small and flowing cues that enhance the performance--the handler's body language should not be stiff but should also flow with the music. However, the handler should not use body language that would distract from the dog's performance but to give the feeling of oneness. Calmness thoughout the program really adds to the overall presentation.

Performance on leash should avoid moves that require the handler to move the leash from hand to hand frequently--distracting.

Alison remarked on the merits of a smooth gait in the dog. She stated:

I would like to address the issue which I found distracted most from several of the performances;.... the dogs were pacing, sometimes for most of the routines. Pacing is not an attractive gait and in CFF the judges are looking for the dogs to be shown at their best. Handlers, if you will move faster and get your dogs trotting, your overall performance image will vastly improve. A trot will smooth out your dog's overall movement, ease transition movements and improve the image of attitude and attention.

Again, let me explain that CFF rules for judging do not penalize pacing specifically. Some dogs pace only when they are tired or inattentive, while other dogs' conformation makes it nearly impossible to gait at other than a pace. If a dog is pacing from fatigue or inattention (or perhaps because the handler isn't performing at a speed fast enough to make the dog trot), then the issue is one of rest or training and supportive handling. If a dog paces at the same points in a program repeatedly, perhaps the handler needs to rethink the choreography. Altering a move or tempo may be all the help the dog needs to more smoothly gait. However, if conformation is the culprit, there is not much a handler can do except plan the choreography around it to downplay unavoidable moments of pacing. Again, although pacing itself does not warrant a penalty, the resulting lack of smoothness and flow in a performance is a judgeable fault.

Interactive attention between handler and dog is a goal and hallmark of a good CFF performance. Our judges agreed that, for the most part, attention was there. When it was lacking, it was generally the fault of one, not both, team members.
As Alison described:

Overall, I found the level of training and teamwork to be very good. The teams shared their bond and relationship with their audience, although the interactive attention, the vibrant link between dog and handler, was sometimes intermittent. This was most often on the part of the canine half of the team (attention breaks, distracted by the audience, flowers, etc.) and occasionally on the part of the handler. . . . The latter image is one of a handler so focused on their floor pattern and choreography that the dog is temporarily left on its own (and usually working valiantly to stay close and connected!).

Maureen commented that although she felt interactive attention was mainly the province of the Technical Judge, "artisitically, without interactive attention, you cannot get a feeling of oneness. When a dog becomes distracted for whatever reason, the program falters, and the team looses the energy and place in their program. This is especially true when a dog goes out of the assigned space."

Monica, as Technical Judge, agreed with Alison that there were moments of "moving in and out of interactive attention by both dog and handler," worsened at times when the handler went "into obedience mode in parts of the program."

CFF requires the team to make complete use of ring space. As Maureen explained, "Artistically, the full use of the space is imperative. To show the dog to its full potential requires using the entire space. Handlers should try not to come between the Judge and the dog when making their moves, because it is hard for a Judge to fairly evaluate the performance when the handler is hogging the foreground. Artistically it detracts from the performance."

She added that big points are lost when a dog leaves the designated space, barks constantly, or shows loss of control or attention. "When these occur," Maureen says, "the handler loses concentration--misses part of the presentation, starts to hurry to catch up in the program, etc.; these activities cause the points to go south."

Our panel made few comments on the performance of specific technical moves, with the exception of gait (already discussed) and laterals. Monica noted that some laterals were "crooked and not well performed; " with the "handler crowding or rushing...the dog into the lateral movement."

I would like to end this column with some quotes from Judge Susan Allen, who chose not to be very specific in her comments but to leave us with some thoughtful observations on the atmosphere of that particular trial, her goals as a judge, and our ultimate goals as competitors, certainly, but more importantly, as ambassadors and custodians of a growing sport:

I, personally, strive to judge each team to the same standard, and reward solid training, together with innovative and inventive movements that enhance the grace of that particular dog, with higher scores, as long as they flow with the choreography and contribute to a truly lovely "whole". While on the subject of scores, i.e., numbers, if a competitor has entered strictly for the self-gratification of high numbers, then I think [his/her] motivation is misguided. If that is the goal, perhaps a sport with only [his- or herself] and a finely honed skill would be a wiser choice. Our canine partners are not always at their peak; and, as we know, one can't always train for or foresee what might happen on any given day.

In an ideal world, each handler would strive to achieve a unique bond and oneness with her dog, and in so doing create a lasting impression of sheer joy and harmony for the audience to savor and take home with it. This is the true essence of success (in my humble opinion). And what will be most remembered years from the competition? A number score, or the feeling of reaching the personal goal set out to achieve?


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