Obedience training is essential to Freestyle, as obedience
provides the foundation for developing the dog’s athletic and training
potential. Enroll your dog in good obedience class. Besides having
a better mannered companion, you’ll be surprised at the
wonderful relationship you will develop with your dog as you
devote special time to him, and him alone, each day for training.
By the time your dog is trained to the level for a Companion
Dog title you’ll be ready to consider a plunge into Freestyle.
However, as you devote time to the initial training of your dog,
there is lots you can do to prepare for the broader world of
Freestyle. . .
Obedience Training Plus
The standard beginning obedience class will concentrate on heeling,
fronts, finishes and recalls. Ideally your class will also
teach you to train your dog to work with his attention alertly
and keenly focused on you. Attention is essential for CFF Freestyle.
There are also a number of excellent attention training videos
by top dog trainers available - an invaluable investment. Your
attention to attention will pay off multifold in both obedience
Traditional obedience is very one sided from the physical point
of view. This is because heeling is performed only with the dog
on the handler’s left side. Dogs actually develop different
muscling patterns on their two sides due to this type of training.
In CFF Freestyle heeling must be performed on both sides of the
handler. One outstanding benefit to Freestyle dogs is physical
balance and fewer problems from unequal conditioning. Freestyle
dogs are trained and physically developed equally on both sides
of their bodies. So. . . when your obedience instructor teaches
you heeling on the left side, you should go home and practice
heeling on both sides. When you learn in class how to teach your
dog to finish to heel position on your left side, you should
go home and also teach a finish into a right side heel position.
Be sure to use different commands to help your dog understand
the differing movements.
Are you intrigued? Your fun is just beginning. Once you have
the basics, start teaching your dog some more unusual moves not
required in the obedience ring, but all potential elements of
a Freestyle performance:
- Teach your dog to back in a straight line. How many different
ways can you think of to back your dog? Well, let’s see,
there’s backing in heel position on both your left and
right sides and there’s backing away from you from front
position. From the front you can either move with your dog as
he moves backwards or you can teach your dog to back further
and further away while you remain stationary. And there’s
backing at different speeds.
- Teach your dog to pivot in place in heel position - on both
sides - and in front.
- Teach your dog to side step - in both directions - on both
sides - in front.
The possibilities are endless. Ask your obedience instructor
for help in teaching new movements. Trainers are just beginning
to explore the potential of our special canine athletes. Use
your imagination, but remember, your goal is to show off your
dog’s grace, beauty and athleticism, not to do tricks or
acrobatics. All the movements are natural ones performed by the untrained dog
Once your dog knows and understands a wide range
of movements, you should select a piece of music for your Freestyle
debut. Remember the music should fit the natural rhythms of the
dog. You, the handler, may or may not be moving to the music.
We all need to hone our listening skills to unleash the potential
of Freestyle choreography with music. Listen for the melody,
the instrumentation, themes and variations and, particularly
important, learn to listen for the rhythm. Consider all themusical
possibilities, from classical to contemporary, jazz to folk,
instrumental or vocal. Select several pieces which you think
will fit the rhythm of your dog and heel while the music plays
until you find a rhythmic match. You will also discover your
dog likes music! Many obedience instructors have used music in
their classes for years because it improves the attitude of both
dogs and handlers as well as helping establish regular rhythms.
Your dog will quickly learn to recognize his music for his Freestyle.
You’ll see a new sparkle in his eye, feet stepping higher
and a tail wagging harder. A new star is born.
Choose a piece 1 1/2 to 4 minutes long - shorter is better for
your first excursion into Freestyle. Choose music that you like,
because you will be listening to the music a lot. Once you have
choreographed your performance you should walk through the routine
without your dog over and over and over, until you know exactly
where to be and what to be doing at every beat of the music.
When you are thoroughly familiar with the rhythms, instrumentation
and patterns of your music and you have a good idea of the
variety of movements your dog is capable of doing, you are
ready to start choreographing. Remember, your goal is not to
show off every move your dog can do, but to create an artistic,
flowing, compelling whole. Maintain a sense of space and direction.
For instance, always choreograph with a clear idea of which
direction is front, where your audience and perhaps your judges
Now, wake up your dog, get him happy and upbeat and start experimenting
to the music. Since the music was chosen to suit your dog he
is an essential element. Only by doodling with your dog will
you know how far across the ring you will get as you side pass
or heel or weave to a particular segment of music. Balance stationary
or localized movements with ground covering ones. Balance slow
movements with faster ones. Repetitions can be very effective
in different locations so your audience can see and appreciate
a move from different angles. Or the same move could be repeated
at different speeds for a very different look. Stopping completely
for several beats of music can be an effective accent and give
your audience a moment to catch up in a busy routine or build
anticipation for a movement to come. The options are endless.
Aim for smooth transitions and work with the music for maximum
impact. An observant friend can offer valuable feedback on the
suitability of music and how different moves and sequences of
moves may look. A video camera is a useful tool as well.
Your goal is to develop movement combinations which will maximize
your dog’s strengths and minimize his weaknesses. Allow
the structure of the music to guide the development of your movements
into a unified choreographic whole. Be sure to make good use
of the 40 X 50 foot ring space. The focus should always be on
the dog, so downscale your costuming and any exaggerated movements
of your own. You should flow with your dog and direct the audiences’ attention
toward your dog. This is a sport which is also entertaining,
but the entertainment should never overshadow the sport.
Embarking on the Freestyle adventure, you and your dog will
also reap benefits in the obedience ring. CFF co-founder and
canine choreographer, Joan Tennille, finds the attitude and attention
of the dogs in her Freestyle classes improve weekly. The excitement
is infectious for handlers too. Frequently Joan’s two hour
classes stretch into three or four. Everyone is having too much
fun to leave!
Through Freestyle you will find great joy in training with your
dog and the ultimate satisfaction of projecting the harmony and
bond of your working relationship to an appreciative audience.
Much work will go into making a perfor mance look effortless
but words cannot express the feeling when you and your dog become
one in thought and movement with music.