Recently I started a new series of Canine Freestyle classes.
After the second night, one of the new students came up to me,her
eyes wide, her face aglow with a big smile, and said, " This
is hard! It's really, really FUN! But hard! "
It seems a contradiction...really, really fun yet really, really
hard. But in reality it isn’t. The things that we do in
life that give us the most joy, satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
are things that challenge us and make us stretch ourselves and
grow. Canine Freestyle does that. It is probably one of the most
challenging creative things that a person and a dog can attempt
together. It stretches the way we train and changes the way we
think about training.
One of the elements of Canine Freestyle that make it so challenging,
is not the music or the movements but the audience. Canine Freestyle,
by its very definition, requires an audience. The Canine Freestyle
performance, from its conception to its completion, is designed
and destined to take place in front of an audience. There, it
is open to the praise, criticism and judgment of that audience.
Canine Freestyle is a unique discipline in the sport dogs in
many ways. Most canine activities involve three participants,
the dog, the handler and the judge. You can compete and these
activities in a relatively solitary manner. The only person’s
opinion that matters (other than your own) is that of the judge.
The fact that an audience will be viewing our performances makes
a difference in the way we prepare ourselves and our dog for
freestyle. An audience not only expects and deserves to see a
well executed performance but one that is enjoyable to watch.
The artistic expression and creativity found in Canine Freestyle
sets it apart from all other canine sports.
From the very first lesson in my classes, students learn that
everything they do in Canine Freestyle is done with the ultimate
goal of performing in front of an audience. There is a reason
that CFF places the judges at its competitions in the audience.
The judge sees what the audience sees. In actuality the audience
is the ultimate judge.
Art is meant to be seen and experienced. In its artistic sense
so is freestyle. Without the audience to view the performance
it becomes just a fun activity...playing around with some music
and your dog. But once we bring the audience into the equation
we set up whole new situation. Now we have a responsibility to
present something of value. People are giving us their time,
their attention, their interest and ultimately their judgment.
We owe it to them to give them to give istically and creatively
unique and technically well executed as well as entertaining.
They deserve our best.
The handler needs to be aware of her performance space and how
to present her dog and herself in that space so the audience
sees the best “picture” possible. The designs of
the dog and handler team in the space, not only of their floor
pattern but of their three-dimensional designs, should be crisp,
clear, balanced and visually appealing.
Music and movement should be chosen in away that enhances the
dog. The movement should be integrated with the music so as to
seem as one. Almost as if it emanates from the team. We should
strive to bring the audience to an awareness of the relationship
and bond between the handler and the dog. You want to draw them
in and have them become involved, not be mere spectators.
A person cannot be successful artistically unless they have
the skills necessary to use their medium of choice. The medium
we have chosen in Canine Freestyle is the movement of the dog,
enhanced by the movement to of a handler and the music. Canine
Freestyle opens up an unlimited range of choices of how we use
this medium to express ourselves. But when we make these choices,
it is always important to keep the audience in mind.
One of the first decisions we need to make when approaching
the task of creating a Canine Freestyle performance is to decide
what it is that you want to say/show to the audience.
- What is the motivation for choosing a particular piece of
- What is your reason for choosing do a particular movement
with your dog?
- Why did you choose to do it at a certain point in the music?
- Why did you choose to do it at a certain place in the performance
- Why did you choose to do it in a certain direction? At a
These are all questions I ask my students and I have them and
ask themselves. To be truly successful, you need to have answers.
Once a handler has addressed these questions for herself, she
needs to have the performance evaluated by what I call the third
eye. This is when you need others to play the part of your audience
and critique what the audience will ultimately see. No matter
how hard we try, there is no way we can see what we look like
when we are "in the choreography ." Only an objective
and honest third-party can evaluate your Canine Freestyle performance.
Hopefully, they will offer a critique that will be helpful in
preparing your routine to go public. Ideally these would be people
who are knowledgeable, trustworthy and brutally honest. People
who care enough to want you and your dog to be seen only at your
It is not enough to just go out in front of people and "wing
it!". Canine Freestyle is much more than that and the sport
deserves a thoughtful approach. There is something extremely
satisfying about creating a successful Canine Freestyle performance
and working with your dog to bring it to the point where it is
ready for prime time. Yes, it is a lot of hard work, but most
things that are deeply enjoyable, stretch our creativity and
truly challenge us are not easy. It goes much deeper than just
doing something for fun and the results are so much more fulfilling.