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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

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A key concept in the CFF Definition of Freestyle, and unique to CFF Freestyle, is that "A Freestyle presentation is always accompanied by music selected to suit the rhythms of the dog." CFF does not specifically address the handler’s rhythm other than to say "all handler movements should complement and enhance the dog’s movements," in other words the handler’s rhythm should not become the primary focus of the performance. The handler absolutely may, and frequently does, also move with the music.

Every dog has a natural rhythm with which he moves in a comfortable trot. With training this rhythm can be adjusted slightly but dogs are not able to adjust over a wide range as people can.

Dogs have a taste in musical styles just as people do. If you move your dogs to different types of music you will see their preferences reflected in their bodies, in their eagerness to move at all, in their tail set, in their ear set, etc. Some dogs prefer Rock, some Classical, some Jazz or Blues or Country etc. Dogs will also move more freely and happily when the musical rhythm matches their own rhythm. When a dog likes the style of music and it also matches his natural rhythm, he will glow, step lighter and happier, and wag harder. This is the match we seek in Freestyle.

These are new concepts to most of us and you will need to get out your CDs, your boom box and your dogs to give it a try. Try this in a group with different dogs and music so you can share what you see with each other. This is truly a case of a picture being worth a thousand words. You don’t need a background in dance or music. Every human being has an instinctive understanding of movement and rhythm. These instincts are part of being human and living in a world filled with movement and rhythm. We all find a summer breeze rippling a field of hay soothing while the gusts and gales of a hurricane are jarring. Have you ever thought about why, or, like most of us, simply accepted the fact? We all live with natural rhythms such as our breathing and our heartbeat and artificial ones such as the ticking of clocks and the cycles of traffic lights. You will instinctively appreciate a dog moving in harmony with music just as you enjoy a dancer moving in harmony with music.

Many people have commented that they find moving contrary to the rhythm of music to be uncomfortable and awkward. Don’t you think our dogs would be more comfortable working to music which fits their natural rhythms?

The handler is also frequently moving with the music, although their footfalls may or may not match those of their dog step for step. From a purely technical point of view it is possible to analyze dog/handler teams on video, frame by frame, while heeling in both freestyle and obedience. In most cases, but not all, handler and dog footfalls have a consistent relationship, varying from 1:1, 1:2, 2:3, etc. This relationship breaks down at different paces and with tiny dogs which are not trotting. However, looking past the strict technical relationship, what you see is a human being and a dog who have established a smooth rhythm together, a fluid forward motion showing unison and harmony. They have probably spent a multitude of hours developing that oneness and harmony which few have ever analyzed to the level of footfalls. They don’t need to - they can feel the unity of rhythm.

This footfall evaluation is one way to describe what most of us understand instinctively, but have never analyzed on an intellectual level. We’ve never had reason to think about it before. Whether the dog’s rhythm matches the music with all four feet, just two or on a regular single footfall, on halftime or double-time, we all recognize the harmony because the effect is pleasing to our eye.

When more complex or tighter movement precludes a technical analysis of footfalls the rest of the dog’s body can surely move with the music and again you will instinctively recognize the natural harmony. There is more to a dog than just his feet. There are some styles of music which have no distinct underlying rhythm but there is a flow which a dancer or a dog can join and become part of. When music and movement harmonize the result is beautiful and joyful. We recognize that at a basic, non-intellectual level.

Just as in evaluating a dog for conformation where you must consider the whole dog, not just the parts, so when evaluating Freestyle movement overanalysis of parts - feet, tail, head, body - results in loss of the whole picture. You can analyze a Mozart piano concerto note by note and still not fathom the genius of the whole piece. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

CFF freestyle is based on the natural rhythms of our dogs. Find those rhythms, find music which fits those rhythms and then let your creativity flow in choreographing your routine. We have barely scratched the surface in exploring the movement and training capabilities of our dogs. The creative possibilities are enormous in developing, training and guiding our dogs’ natural rhythms. This approach does not involve complex and unexplored training techniques but grows out of our innate sense of pleasure in observing teamwork and movement which is harmonious and joyful. And, while an audience educated in dogwork will also appreciate the training involved, an audience unfamiliar with dogs will also enjoy and appreciate a performance based on natural rhythms just as they instinctively enjoy the grace and beauty of an Olympic skater.

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