'Not only is punishment risky, but it also fails to teach the dog an acceptable alternate behaviour. The dog does not learn what to do the next time he is in the same situation. He only learns to fear the situation.' Emma Parsons, Click to Calm p73

Friday, 8 July 2011

Richard Curtis - 'Dancing With Dogs: A step-by-step guide to Freestyle.'


'In the USA, Heelwork to Music is exactly what it says, i.e. heelwork performed with limited moves, set to a piece of music. There is also a category called Freestyle, which is a routine where anything goes. . . . In the UK, in the early stages, there was just one category, which was Heelwork to Music, but there was no restriction on how little or how much heelwork was included.' (p6)

'Regardless of the breed, it is very important that a dog is fit and healthy in order to complete some of the moves. As with Agility, some of the moves put strain on the joints (e.g. standing on the back legs), and should not be attempted until the dog is fully developed.' (p7)

'When you start working on a complete routine, it is essential to start with a warm-up session. The dog may be asked to . . . [use] parts of the body that are not in general use. A human athlete will warm up gently before racing; so, with the dog, we may do some heelwork at various paces, or perhaps just ggive the dog a massage before starting training.' (p7)

'The beauty of this sport is that it is open to anyone, of any age. The routine is invented by the handler, so it can be adapted to suit the individual.' (p8)


'Playing with your puppy is essential, as a dog that is play-motivated often has a happier outlook when it comes to work. . . . Use your play session positively. . . . The emphasis, however, is to take everything slowly and gently, planting the seeds for what you want the dog to do in the future.' (p11)

'In addition to food and play, the handler has another powerful weapon in his armoury - the voice. It is very important that you use your voice to motivate the dog, as well as working with food treats and play. . . . In a competition, you can speak to the dog as much as you like, so it is an invaluable aid.' (p12)

'It is up to each individual handler to decide on the commands or signals that are to be given to the dog. . . . When you have chosen the commands you will use, write them down so that anyone working the dog knows what commands to use.' (p14)

'At the beginner level you can give as many commands as you like, and you can talk to the dog throughout the routine. However, as the dog becomes more accomplished at moves, the handler can start to make the signals less obvious. This is an important step, as when you are performing at higher levels, the signals or cues to the dog should be hidden in the body language of the handler.' (p14)

'When the dog is confident in a move, it is important to get him used to the fact that he will be rewarded, even though you might not have a treat in your hand. The dog must understand that he needs to accomplish he move, and he will be rewarded by the owner taking the reward from his/her pocket, i.e. the reward is out of sight. This is important for when the dog starts to compete, as no toy or treat can be taken into the ring.' (p16-17)

'If you decide to use clicker training, stick to the following guidelines:
- Use the clicker only when you are starting a move.
- Get rid of the clicker and put the move on command as soon as the dog is responding consistently.
- Help the dog as much as you can.' (p20)


Obedience training required involves--left-hand heelwork, focus work, instant down, recall, wait, retrieve and moving sits/stands/down.]
Step 1: To help the dog keep in position, hold the lead close to your left leg with your left hand. Hold the toy or treat in your right hand, above the dog's head but close to your side, in order to keep the dog's attention.
Step 2: Start with a few paces in a straight line, giving the command "Close" or "Heel", and then progress to a small left-hand circle. Intersperse verbal praise with the "Close/Heel" command to remind the dog to maintain his position. It is important to remember to give the dog the toy/treat while he is close to your leg and looking up at you.
Step 3: After a period of time, the dog will realise that he is getting the reward for being on the left-hand side, close to the handler's leg. Then it is just a case of developing the amount of work, including changes of pace and changes of direction, which you can accomplish with the dog in position.' (p21-22)

'It is imperative that you keep your dog's attention when you are in the ring, especially when there might be many hundreds of people watching you, as well as lots of things going on around you. Basically, the command "Watch" should mean that the dog looks up at your face - and nothing else - until you give the next command.' (p23)


Beginner moves outlined are--spin in either direction, spin on the move, circling the handler, dog going through handler's legs and returning to heel, dog walks backwards away from handler, dog walks backwards through handler's legs, heel on the right, dog passing through handler's leg to different side to heel, roll over from left to right and bow.]
'It is important to remember that all dogs are individuals, and this can be seen very clearly when you are training moves for Heelwork To Music. You may find that your dog has a real liking for some moves, yet there may be others that he finds difficult and is reluctant to perform. My advise is: if a dog does not seem to like a move, do not force him. All dogs have their strengths and weaknesses, and it is far better to concentrate on the positives.' (p31)


Action moves outlined here are--left-hand heelwork (dog and handler walking forwards, backwards and sideways), dog weaves between handler's legs, dog moving in-between handler's legs, dog jumping over handler's arm or leg or a prop and dog and handler side-stepping whilst facing each other.]

'[...] a dog who can hold a nice left-hand heelwork position will be a bonus during a routine.' (p53)

'It is important that the dog is fully developed before he starts any jumping work.' (p58)


'Heelwork To Music is performed in front of an audience, so, when planning a routine, it is important to include some moves that have special appeal.' (p62)

This is actually a combination of three of the basic moves that you have already been taught, namely: Verse [dog reverses through handler's legs], Twist [spin] and Back [dog walks backwards].' (p63)

This move always gets the crowd going when you are performing a routine. The dog places his paws on the handler's back, and then the pair move forwards.' (p64)

This move suits the smaller or more agile dog, as it requires him to stand on his own back legs. The previous exercise ['up on back'] will help the dog to build up muscles in his back legs to support his weight, but if your dog is of a heavier build, it may be advisable to leave out this move.' (p66)

A dog that performs this move well often gets the "ahhhh!" factor from the audience. As the command suggests, the Creep is where the dog crawls along the floor, on his belly.' (p68)

This is where the dog performs a circle, backing around the handler. It is a fairly difficult move to teach, but, when the dog masters the Wiggle, it can be stunning to watch.' (p70)

Asking your dog to put his paws up on command may seem a very simple thing to do, but it often gets a positive reaction from the crowd. The important point to remember is that it works better in a routine if the dog puts his paws up high. This has big appeal, especially with the larger breeds.' (p74)

As the command suggests, this is when the dog sits in a Beg position with his front feet off the ground. Small dogs find this move easier, but it can be more striking if the dog is bigger. In all cases, be careful with older dogs, as this position puts strain on the dog's back.' (p77)


'There are many ways that you can advance your dog's training simply by using the basic moves outlined so far. There are three main areas to proceed with advanced training, which are as follows.
It is easy to forget that the handler can change the look of a move by simply changing position. however, as the handler is changing his stance, this needs to be taught so the dog still understands what is required.
This follows on from the last point, getting the dog to perform various moves but at a distance from the handler.
As your dog develops more moves, you can link certain moves together athat are more difficult.' (p80-83)

This is where the dog will walk forward of the handler, and then reverse down the right-hand side of him, ending up back in the left-hand heelwork.
This move works well in line dancing/Western-theme routines, as it looks as if the handler is doing a do-si-do with the dog.' (p83)

This is a useful position, as it enables the handler to move around the ring without having the dog in heelwork. For this move, the dog should keep his head on the side of the handler's right leg, facing the opposite way to the handler.' (p85)

This move is best taught when the dog is doing a good, basic Weave. Basically, this is a backward weave that flows better than doing an ordinary figure-of-eight weave backwards (see page 55). The dog needs to take a slightly different line into the Weave. Note that the dog will be facing the opposite way to the handler, who is going to be walking backwards.' (p87-88)

Earlier, the dog was taught to walk sideways to the handler's left when he was in front of the handler. Side Behind is basically getting the dog to do the same move, but facing the handler's back.' (p89)

This move is easier with Collie types, as they naturally circle the handler, but any dog can be taught to do this with a little help. It requires the dog to go out away from the handler and to do a big circle around. The move looks better if the dog is at least 6ft (1.83m) away from the handler.' (p90)

This move is more difficult for the dog, as he will need to have his back to the handler. In the Train position, the dog should be straight in front of the handler, but facing the same direction, hence the command "Train" (i.e. like a train on a track!).' (p93)'

When you are performing, you can use a prop, such as a walking stick/cane or a hat, that will go with your costume. The prop can be used in the routine to create different moves.
If your dog has been taught the command "Over", this move can be used in conjunction with a stick
. . .
This is where the dog circles the stick while the handler either remains still, or walks around the stick in the opposite direction to the dog.
. . .
The dog is required to weave through the handler's legs, around the stick, and then back through the handler's legs. It is similar to the weave in Agility, although in this instance, the dog must do a continuous weave one way, then go back the other way.
. . .
By holding the stick between your hands, the dog can jump up and put his paws over it. The handler can then move in any direction.
. . .
This is where the dog does a figure-of-eight around the handler and an object, such as a hat or a stick.'(p94-100)


'When your dog is able to do a variety of moves, you are ready to find a piece of music for your routine. It is often helpful to choose music that the audience and the judges will recognise, as this will enhance their enjoyment.
Do not choose a piece of music just because you have always liked it, or because it is by your favourite artist. When performing Heelwork To Music, there are a variety of factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as the speed of the music in relation to the movement of the dog.' (p103)

There are definitely some pieces of music that are easier to work with than others. Listed below are the four main types that are useful for a Heelwork To Music routine.
Foot on beat: This type of music has a walking beat, so that when each - or just one- foot hits the ground, it is on the beat of the music. An example of this is We Are Family by Sister Sledge. This is probably the best type of music to go for when preparing for a first performance.
Count the beats: This is where you need to count the beats. For example, count to four constantly, i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4 twist 1, 2, 3, 4.
Split sections: If the music has no lyrics, you may need to break the music down into sections and time each one, so that you have an idea of how long each piece of the track is.
Lyrics: Tracks that have lyrics can also make a performance easier, as you can have 'marker words' which signal when to perform a specific turn or move.' (p103-104)

'It is not essential to have a theme, but it can help to tie the dog and handler together, especially if the handler has a good costume. [...] If you are using a theme, then your costume should follow it. . . . The costume should not detract from the dog, and it is essential to ensure that nothing is hanging down that is going to distract him when he is working.' (p105)

'Your dog's breed or general appearance can give you inspiration for choosing a piece of music. For example, a flashy Poodle suits amore extrovert track, or an American Cocker Spaniel might do a American line-dancing routine. It is also important that the speed of that track suits the pace of both dog and handler.' (p105)

'Having found a piece of music with the potential for a Heelwork To Music routine, the next area to examine is the length of the track. To start with, you need to find out what length of time you will be expected to perform in a competition. This will depend on the organisation that is running the competition, so find out what is required, as points may be deducted if you over-run. [...] It is important that you are really aware of the music before you start putting moves to it.' (p106)

'Some people have natural rhythm when it comes to working or moving with the music, but not all of us are that fortunate! So it is important to look at improving your own movement to music before you put the dog into equation as well.' (p106-107)


'Before starting to construct a routine, it is important to be aware of what the judges will be looking for. There are three main areas they will assess:
Programme content: The judges will be looking for a programme with varied content. Repetition of moves can be valid (e.g. heelwork), but continual repetition should be avoided, as this could result in a lower mark. I try to use a particular move only twice in a routine, but I may use a move in batches, e.g. three Thrus, one after the other.
It is important to make full use of the ring during the performance; marks may be deducated for the team staying only to the boundaries of the arena.
The judges will also be evaluating the dog and handler as a team, watching how they interact, and assessing whether the moves complement each other. However, the emphasis should be on what the dog is doing.
The judges can also mark down teams in this section if they are not tidily dressed, so it is important to have a clean and tidy image when you enter the ring.
Accuracy and execution of movements: The judges will be looking to see how well the moves are executed, and how accurate they are. If something goes wrong, try to disguise the mistake by going on smoothly to the next move. This section will also take into account the bearing and deportment of the handler, which should be smart and not cramped. In addition, the judges will be assessing the dog's style, which should be happy and willing.
Interpretation of moves: Although the judges will be looking for some reflection of the music in the routine, it is not necessary for the handler to move in time to the music. However, some musical interpretation is needed to score well in this section. The gestures of the handler will be taken into consideration, but should not play more of a part in the routine than the dog's moves.' (p108-109)

'When you have listed the moves that you can link together, try to visualise performing them to the music. Remember that you need to move around the ring, so make sure that some of the linked moves enable you to move to other parts of the ring during the performance. It is also important to mark which of these moves your dog performs best.' (p111)

'Before working on the whole piece of music, it is important to decide on your Start position. An innovative Start position is very important, as it will make the judges and audience sit up and take notice. As many people start their routine with the dog in the heelwork position, you will need to think about the look of your Start, as you will be static for a while until the music starts. [...] You also need to work out how you are going to move out of the Start position, as you will need to flow forwards or backwards to continue with the routine.' (p112-113)

'There are two options for the Finish:
Finish on a pose: Finishing with a static pose can be difficult, as it requires good timing and precision to end on the correct piece of music. If you are running late in the routine, it can then throw the end, which will look out of place.
Finish on a move: This method of finishing is easier, as you can put the dog into a move that he will be able to maintain until the music ends.' (p113)

'I am often asked how many times a routine should be used. Normally I will only use a routine for three competitions, making small changes each time to make it different for everybody. A lot of time and effort goes into putting a routine together, so it is impossible to put a new one together for every show.' (p121)

- One of the first things to do is to take the dog to different places to train the routine, making sure you use a place that is similar in size to the competition ring. This is where a portable CD player comes in handy. Moving training areas will accustom your dog to working in different environments.
- Another factor that can affect the dog is the audience clapping at the start of the routine. To overcome this, use tapes of people clapping at different levels, which will help to desensitise the dog.
- When you are confident that the dog can work the routine, you need to get used to performing in front of an audience. Ask friends and family to come and watch you train, as this will place you under more pressure. It is often more nerve-racking working in front of a few people than when you are faced with a big audience at a competition.' (p123)


'Start by contacting the organisation that is holding the event, and ask them to send you a schedule. With the increase in the amount of classes available, it can sometimes be confusing as to whether your dog's routine fits the Freestyle or Heelwork To Music category. If you are unsure of which class to enter, ask the show secretart or an experienced competitor. Don't forget to send your payment with your form, otherwise it will not be accepted.' (p124)

- Make sure your costume is in good order, together with any props that are required for the routine. There are usually places to change at the venue, so don't wear any part of the outfit until the performance, as you never know what may happen during the day.
- Make sure you have at least two copies of the music that you are using. Mark it with your name, the dog's name, and the class that you are entering. It is essential that you have two copies, as it is not unknown for tapes to get eaten in the recorder or for CDs to get scratched.
- Take rewards for the dog, especially if the dog has a favourite toy, as this can be used when you are warming up.
- Don't forget to take food and water for the dog, plus food for yourself.' (p124-125)

'At most events, the organisers will let the competitors practise in the ring before the start or during breaks. So get the dog in the ring, and let him have a look around - there may be pots of flowers or speakers at ground level, which could distract the dog if he has not seen them before the performance.
Now start to get the dog's attention, and do a few moves that he likes, as this will give you both confidence.' (p125)

'When it comes to your turn, remember to take a big, deep breath and smile! This is so important, as it makes you look as though you are here to enjoy yourself - even though you may feel petrified. Usually, the compere will introduce you and your dog to the audience, and then you must walk confidently to the middle of the ring.' (p127)

'It is always important to remember how far you have come with your training. Be happy with what you have achieved, and how much progress you have made. Above all, make sure your dog knows that you think the world of him, regardless of how highly you have scored in competition.' (p128)


K-Koira said...

Wow, thats a lot of text. Looks really interesting though, I'll have to go through and read it when I have more time.
And, you should send me the link to the flyball box you saw for sale! If its any good, I can probably talk you through the basics of teaching a box turn.

Sara said...

Does this mean you are going to do freestyle?

Lots of good information in there!

Sophie said...

Koira, I don't know how good it is but this is the box I saw - http://www.pettastic-petsupplies.co.uk/dog-agility-flyball-box---training-equipment-1917-p.asp

It's £23.96 as opposed to a more usual £100+, so obviously if it would work I'd be pretty happy!

Sara, I'm definitely thinking about it :) I think Lola would really enjoy it, since she wouldn't so much have to interact with other people or dogs.