Canine freestyle is an extension of and deviation from dog obedience training. In this sport, dogs literally dance in choreographed movement with their trainers, to music. Trainers may dance too, but much more emphasis is placed on the dog achieving graceful movement in a variety of ways in very precise fashion, so that the dog’s movements correspond specifically to the music.
There have certainly been trained “dancing dogs” in the past, but canine freestyle as a sport and art began in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A few early trainers are credited with demonstrations they gave of the form, but invention seems to have occurred in several places almost simultaneously. Val Culpin in Canada, Dawn Jecks in Washington state, and Robert Harlowe from the UK all are thought of as early contributors to the formation of the sport.
Early associations and guilds first began to appear in the 1990s, with classes and interest in the sport spreading through Europe, Canada and the UK. By the 2000s, competitions in canine freestyle were being held in both North America and Europe, and a number of teachers, associations and seminars were offered in a variety of places. Such competitions have increased categories of canine freestyle and now include special judging events for senior dogs and their senior trainers and for trainers and dogs with physical limitations.
Advocates for the sport say canine freestyle benefits both dog and trainer. Both get a little to a lot of physical exercise and extensive training in the sport can result in dogs with superior obedience abilities. Dogs do need to be fairly well trained to begin with, and able to respond to some simple commands, like heel, sit, up, come, and et cetera. As both dogs and owners take classes together, methods of expanding the dog’s training into elaborate dance routines are taught. There are even one day classes or seminars where you can learn the beginnings of dancing with your dogs, to evoke greater interest in the sport and get people (and hopefully their furry friends) fascinated about continuing in training.
There are certain schools of canine freestyle that are emerging as the sport still undergoes transition. Some freestylists emphasize flashy costuming and a variety of tricks. Others say the importance is less about the flash but more about the interaction between dog and handler, and how the team works together to create beautiful space, lines and dances through coordinated movement.
Given the rise in popularity of canine freestyle, it’s likely that more classes, demonstrations and competitions will be available in more areas. If you have a fairly well trained dog and want that opportunity for finding out if your dog is your perfect dance partner, contact your local canine freestyle guild or an overhead organization. Most large organizations have exceptional Internet presence. They are the best source of information about local classes and events.