Thoughts about freestyle--showing up vs. showing off your dog!

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Augusta,- CGC, RN

Such a Good Dog!
Barked: Fri Jan 20, '12 1:31pm PST 
So we're taking our first freestyle dancing class and on the last class we have to come up with a one minute routine.

I've been watching a few of the great, the good, the bad and the ugly performances on Youtube and I think the thing the bothers me most is when people seem to put more work into their moves and how they look than what the dog does! shock And you end up with an overly strange looking, loudly dressed human who's living out some sort of dance performance fantasy with a dog who's barely there . . .

I would figure the handler should put a bit of oomph in their step to make the dog look lively, sort of sell the performance, but not so lively that you are more --let's say, "riveting" than the dog . . . .shrug

Anybody have any good tips on coming up with a simple beginner routine . . . . to get the dog lively looking even if we don't have a lot of big moves yet?

Is it better to make a pattern of what you know and then try music over it? Or do you pick your music first?

Awesome Dog
Barked: Fri Jan 20, '12 4:05pm PST 
Yay for freestyle! smile

Sometimes it depends on the venue as to what is emphasized. In MDSA and CFF style freestyle, the emphasis is placed more on the dog. The human's performances is supposed to compliment the dog's. In WCFO (which is the venue we compete in), it is an equal emphasis. The person's performance is judged at the same level as that of the dog. HOWEVER, the person should still not detract from the dog's performance. It's a team sport. (MDSA and CFF freetyle both place little emphasis on costuming. WCFO expects you to have a much more elaborate costume that fits your routine/music choice and compliments your dog.)

No matter the venue, I'm sure there are people who have brilliant dance moves and their movements can overshadow that of their dog's. But that's not the ideal. And, since I'm no dance star, that's not an issue for us. wink

You can certainly create a good performance without having a lot of moves. The first routine I created for Risa consisted of pretty basic moves: heeling both sides, spin, high fives, jump spin, going through my legs, circling me, jumps, sit/stay, recall, and front/back. I have also seen some really nice beginner routines that featured 5-6 moves. More is not always better!

(Risa's Second Freestyle Demo)

I always pick music first. The piece of music you choose is extremely important. You want to pick a song that matches the dog's gait at a trot; the beats of the song should match his footfalls. It's easy for the human partner to change their pace to accommodate the music. Not so easy for the dog!

For lively dogs, you probably want to go with a faster tempo song. For larger or slower dogs, a more moderate or slow tempo would suit them better. I would recommend picking music that isn't very repetitive and has both beat and tempo changes. It creates a more visually appealing performance when you change speed in tune to the music.

There are two ways to determine what music might suit you and your dog best. You can get a metronome and calculate your dog's ideal beats per minute (BPM) by gaiting him in a trot. Or you can gait him in a trot and play various tunes to see which ones fit his footfalls. Since you cannot see his feet while you're working with him, it's best to have a friend help with this portion. If you don't have someone nearby to help you, you can always videotape yourself to determine what songs might work or to calculate the BPM.

I would also recommend picking a song you like. You're going to hear it a lot when you're practicing!

I usually start by breaking down my music into several pieces. Then I write out a list of moves my dog can do. I listen to the music and try and determine what moves would work best in that section. I often play the song and dance to it with my 'invisible perfect dog' to see if the movement feels right. Then I take my actual dog and try it. Even if the movement feels right, you should always have someone else watch you (or video yourself) to see if it looks right. Sometimes the movements don't look as good as we think they do.

You also want to create memorable beginning and end poses. Think of these as a snapshot, a picture of you and your dog together. The more unique and interesting, the better. Your beginning pose should draw the audience in and give them an idea of what is to come. The end pose should leave a lasting memory of the performance.

When you're laying out the routine, it's important to keep in mind the space you'll be performing in. Depending on the venue and the size of your dog, you want to use at least 60% of the ring (larger dogs will be required to utilize more space). You also want to keep it interesting. Don't just walk back and forth. Incorporate diagonal movements, circles, serpentines, backward and forward movements, etc. Have your dog perform stationary moves as well; you don't have to move all the time! Pace changes also add variety to the performance. You should also remember to heel. Heelwork ties the performance together and gives the audience a chance to regroup between movements. You should also vary your moves. Just because a portion of the song repeats doesn't mean you should perform the same behaviors at that time.

Your movements are important to. They should compliment what the dog is doing. Some people have found learning dance helpful in creating effective movements for freestyle as well as improving their rhythm. There is certainly no harm in signing up for a dance class or two to help you out. You can utilize your own dance movements as cues to your dog in the routine or stick with verbal cues. Much like rally, you can talk to your dog in musical freestyle. Just be careful when using visual cues as it can be more obvious to the judge/audience if your dog doesn't perform the behavior you cued.

I think it's also important to consider the following when designing a routine:

Who is the audience? Are you performing for a nursing home, children, a group of dog trainers, for the crowd at a local pet festival?
What mood are you trying to convey? Is it silly and fun or moving and emotional?
Does your dog have any limitations? Are there movements your dog cannot do or is not comfortable doing? Don't put them in your routine. With few exceptions, there are no required moves for canine freestyle.
What moves does your dog excel at? Pick the moves your dog does best and limit the times you ask him to do moves he's not very good at. You can also place movements your dog enjoys after moves he is less inclined to do to reward him for doing them.
Where is the audience sitting? You want to make sure everyone can see the moves you're performing. If your audience is only on one side of the performance area, make sure you're facing them most of the time. If you're competing, make sure the judges can see the majority of you and your dog's behaviors.

If you have any other questions, just ask!

we will dance in- the ring without- words
Barked: Fri Jan 20, '12 8:28pm PST 
Risa is the pro for Freestyle and my hero in that sport (well, maybe after Tina Humphrey).

I agree with Risa, it all depends on the venue you choose. Me, well, let's just say my mama didn't name me Grace for a reason, so I tend to gravitate towards performances that place an emphasis on the dog. And my personal preferences run more to heelwork to music.

Just find where you click and go with it.

And watch lots of Carolyn Scott and Tina Humphrey videos.


Awesome Dog
Barked: Sat Jan 21, '12 6:46am PST 
And Michele Pouliot, Diane Kowalski, Nancy Tanner, Richard Curtis, and Sandra Davis. smile

In WCFO (World Canine Freestyle Organization), they do break freestyle down into two divisions: heelwork to music and musical freestyle. HTM is less flashy and more about keeping your dog in heel position (no leg weaves, no jumps, no distance behaviors). MF is pretty much the 'anything goes as long as it's safe for your dog' style. We're musical freestylers though I have considered attempting a heelwork to music routine.

CFF (Canine Freestyle Federation) is more heelwork to music based without any class distinctions. MDSA (Musical Dog Sport Association) is more similar to WCFO's musical freestyle class with less emphasis on the human partner/costuming.

Edited by author Sat Jan 21, '12 6:50am PST

Augusta,- CGC, RN

Such a Good Dog!
Barked: Sat Jan 21, '12 6:55am PST 
Thanks so much! Risa always looks like she's having a blast!

I do have a Van Morrison w/ Chieftains song, "Star of the County Down" that I think will fit Gus pretty well. Lively Irish song, but it's not really fast, like some of those can get--I think it will go good with her tail which is constantly wagging whenever we perform . . .laugh out loud

She loves jumping over my arm, one of our early tricks, so I want to work that in . . .

One problem I'm finding is we don't really have much clear space indoors to work--I mean I could work on individual moves, but we don't have room to get going in a full routine. . . do you do a lot of practice outside?

Awesome Dog
Barked: Sat Jan 21, '12 7:36am PST 
Risa really loves freestyle. I would never have gotten so involved with it if she hadn't told me how much she loves it. (I thought it was stupid at first. She convinced me otherwise.)

I don't have a lot of indoor practice space either. That's why I think it's important to break the routine down into smaller pieces and work on those. You can work on the sequences even in a tiny area. While the big picture might change once you get into a 30' X 60' ring, the essentials are the same. I rarely work the entire routine from start to finish and I think it's pretty important NOT to do that. If you run through the entire routine every time you practice, your dog starts to think "Oh great. We're doing that big long thing again." I do like to go through the entire routine on occasion but it's rare. For the most part, I just focus on the pieces and put them together when it's competition time.

I practice outside when I can since that's really the only large area I have available to me. But, it's winter, so that's not happening anytime soon. We're relegated to indoor practices for now.

Our first live competition, I hadn't even put the entire routine together with Risa even one time before we stepped into the ring. Everything I had done was practiced in our super small living room. In fact, I barely knew the routine myself! (Not something I recommend nor is it something I will do again.) Yet, once we got in the ring, it was all good.

Is it easier to practice when you have a large practice space? You bet. But most of the freestylers I've hung out and competed with are in similar situations. Lack of training space. And they're still AWESOME. big grin

Edited by author Sat Jan 21, '12 7:38am PST

Toto, CD, RN, CGC

We don't do- doodles!!!
Barked: Sat Jan 21, '12 8:16am PST 
Risa... I never thought much about Freestyle but reading your responses here, especially the first one, REALLY makes it sound doable and, best of all, REALLY FUN!!!
Yes, I "play around" with dancing with my dogs but YOU have inspired me to look a bit further!
Thanks. To me, this is what I am looking for in reading ANY post...concise, well written and descriptive reply... good job!!!

Awesome Dog
Barked: Sat Jan 21, '12 8:20am PST 
Woo hoo! We've converted another!! big grin

My first response was mostly just copy/pasted from the worksheets I wrote up for the canine freestyle class I would like to teach some day. So your comment really makes me feel good! way to go

The Monster
Barked: Sat Jan 21, '12 8:49am PST 
Thanks for your post, Risa. It's very informative.

I'm part of a canine performance team, and it's been suggested to me (a lot...) that I put together a freestyle routine for our shows (I normally just run agility/relay courses at the shows). I'm pretty self conscious, but Cohen definitely has a diverse enough trick repertoire to do something pretty snazzy I think. It's just a matter of finally sitting down and working something out, and getting a bit more reliable at cues from a distance.

My biggest fear is that people will just roll their eyes and think I'm a giant dork while performing. I'm sure I'll get over it, but it's a scary thought.

If you can roll- in the dirt, do- it!
Barked: Sat Jan 21, '12 10:13am PST 
I had another thought re: people who are living out their dance fantasies and their dog is their for the ride. I'd say, well whatever floats their boat. I'm guessing that judges are really looking at the dog, but to those people-- who's to say? I never had this fantasy so I have no idea about it. smile

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