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Val Moss with Dorvale Wedding Ring
Emmy Simonsen and DK FSCh The Charmed Ones Biscuit in Blue
Biscuit flying at Crufts 2008
Gloria Bonnell & Wizinby Newz Of The Blewz at Cinlock
Gloria & Asha rehearse

Heelwork to Music and Freestyle

by Annette Lowe

Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex
Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex
Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex Annette Lowe & Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex

The author with Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex
photo by Allan Brown

(Please click on the thumbnails below & to the left to see full sized versions of the photos)

2008 saw the second year that Heelwork to Music and Freestyle have been featured as competitions in the Main Ring at Crufts. This has been a cause for delight both to those who take part in the sport and to the many who flock to watch. What follows is an explanation of what the disciplines consist of and how it is currently operating in the UK. I should stress at the outset that it is very much a personal view.

Definitions: To start with can we agree on some terminology? The sport occasionally gets labelled as “dog dancing” which I can just about bear, but if you have to call it “doggy dancing” I think that we should part company now!

Ever since I started competing in 2004 there have been two separate divisions of the sport recognised by the Kennel Club, Heelwork to Music (HTM) and Freestyle (FS). The differences between these remained unclear and gave cause for debate until the KC published its Heelwork to Music Regulations for the first time in January 2007 and established that any HTM routine should consist of a minimum of two thirds heelwork while freestyle should have a maximum of one third heelwork. For details of what is counted as heelwork keep reading.

Origins: I am far too young to be able to speak authoritatively about these. I am told that it is a cause for contention between the UK and its former colony the USA as to who first put paw to music; certainly competitions were around in the late 1990s and one or two of the current Advanced handlers were serving their apprenticeships in those early days. Rugby DTC has been holding their HTM Competition since 1995 and now has the honour of hosting the Crufts Qualifier Semi-Final.

My own addiction began whilst watching Mary Ray perform The Sorcerer’s Apprentice prior to Crufts Best In Show. I had just begun working with a dog and had dabbled in obedience, agility and working trials. This sport however, for me, is the ultimate; it contains elements of each of these with the added ingredient of music and “theatre”. The most attractive characteristic however is the fact that you can train almost anywhere – and in fact end up doing just that. When I’m not working with my dog then I’m listening for music, planning the routine, planning new strategies, looking for costumes, or just visualizing that ultimate round.

Getting Started: You need to realize that there are probably as many different ways of getting started as there are handlers and dogs – this is just one view. I started with a dog that knew how to do heelwork on the left, do a Novice recall and Class “A” recall, retrieve, sit, down and stand. We had competed in beginner obedience classes. Onto this I built some freestyle moves and had my first routine – Surfin’ USA by the Beach Boys. But I have recently started training my second dog for competition and I have to confess that I am doing a lot of things very differently.

This time I am trying to build his repertoire on a firm foundation of heelwork – and this means more than working on the left. A heelwork routine can use a maximum 8 different positions; the dog’s position is so that its shoulder is adjacent to the handler’s leg but the dog can face the same way as the handler, on the left and right, or the opposite way. It can also be at right angles to the handler, in front or behind, facing left or right. In any of these positions you can move in any of four directions – forwards, backwards, or to either side – and of course you can move at a variety of speeds with, hopefully, your steps matching the rhythms of the music. Supplementing this are freestyle moves, spins, weaving and going round, which help to move the dog from one position to another.

Annette Lowe and Jucando Newsflash FS N Ex performing in Intermediate Heelwork Annette and Flash performing in Novice Freestyle

The other major change comes from the many things that I have learnt about motivation. Flash, my first dog, has always enjoyed training HTM, but we have really struggled in the competition ring. One of the main reasons for this, I believe, was my ignorance about rewarding and motivating his behaviours. So, cheese and toys are the order of the day in everything we do.
Of course you don’t have to compete to take part in the sport. My oldest dog would not cope with shows and all that goes with them but is still happy to learn different moves and have his share of treats during a training session.

Music: Is what makes this such a draw for spectators; when the dog and handler interpret the music in just the right way it can make you laugh, cry, or come out in goose bumps.

What you choose and how you interpret it is all down to you; the only rule is that it has to be suitable for a family audience and there are time limits for the different levels. A starter’s routine should not exceed 2.5 minutes, novice 3.5 minutes and intermediate and advanced 4 minutes. In the event of going over time marks are deducted. Apart from these restrictions you can use whatever you want – but you need to match the music to you, your movements, your dog and the dog’s movements.

Classes and Competitions: You may have realised by now that there are four levels for each of the two divisions. For each division you begin in Starters (although once qualified out of Starters with one dog you never return) and work your way through by earning points. Points are given to any dog placed 4th or higher. The number of competitions held each year is gradually increasing but there are still far fewer than for the other sports and you need to be prepared to travel. Some clubs hold fun classes as well as KC licensed competitions; the fun classes are a good way of having a go at first since you can usually take a toy, or food, or both, or even a friend with another dog into the ring with you.

Clubs: There are a variety of clubs that do HTM and FS along with other things but there are two major clubs who dedicate themselves solely to the sport, they are Canine Freestyle GB and Paws N Music Association. You can find their websites, information about shows and much more at the following addresses: www.caninefreestylegb.com and www.paws-n-music.co.uk
In terms of training, if you are not fortunate enough to live near a club that is involved in HTM/FS then you have to look for some kindred spirits to work with, attend training days which come round every now and then, but most probably you will convince your neighbours that you are completely mad by cavorting around your own garden.

Crufts: If you want to go all the way and perform in the main arena at Crufts then you first have to qualify to work in the advanced classes. The next thing to do is to be placed in an Advanced Crufts Qualifier Event; this will take you to the semi-final held by Rugby DTC. Only the top ten dogs from the semi-final get to tread on the magic green carpet! Alternatively if you are not resident in the UK you will have your own qualifying hurdles to jump in order to compete in the Crufts FS International.

Emmy and Biscuit take a bow

Annette Lowe

The MBCC thanks Annette for writing this article especially for us.

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