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Musical Freestyle – Dancing With Your Dog

Musical freestyle is a relatively new sport that is gaining tremendous popularity among dog owners worldwide.  Whether done ‘just for fun’ or competitively, this unique way of blending dog obedience and dance presents a visually exciting display of handler and canine teamwork, making it a joy to watch as well as participate in.  The handler and dog perform dance-oriented footwork in time to the music, rather than display the traditional walking pace of obedience.  Although heeling is an important component of freestyle, nonstandard movements are also expected to be displayed by the dog, along with attention, enthusiasm and a degree of difficulty over and above that which is normally seen in the obedience ring.  A variety of handler upper body movements are also encouraged to lend interpretation to the music.  Costuming for the handler also helps to enhance the interpretation of the music and to involve spectators in the spirit of the routine.  Throughout the routine the handler may encourage the dog’s performance with verbal commands, but no training aids or food are permitted in the competition ring. 

ForeverGreen's My Girl  ("LuLu")

Musical freestyle is not to be confused with “freestyle heeling”.  In freestyle heeling, the focus is placed on the dog’s heel position and the dog’s execution of heeling patterns to music.  Showcasing the dog’s talent is the primary objective, with the handler’s role remaining quite understated.  In addition, musical freestyle is not heeling with music in the background.  Rather, the dog is encouraged to move out of the heel position to perform a variety of movements and tricks not found in a traditional obedience performance.  The handler freely uses the body, arms and legs to interpret the music.  Footwork is a mixture of dance-related steps and traditional movements at different speeds.  Because of the freedom for both the canine and human partners, musical freestyle routines incorporate creativity and diversity of movement.  Emphasis is placed on the teamwork between the handler and dog; neither partner is ‘showcased’, since both are judged equally.


How to get started in Musical Freestyle : 

Music selection is the beginning step in creating a freestyle routine.  Any type of music or medley of selections can be used to create a 1-1/2 to 4 minute performance.  Instrumental or vocal music with a strong beat is the easiest to interpret.  Selecting music to complement the dog’s (and handler’s) abilities is highly recommended; choosing music you will want to hear even after many times of repeat playing is also suggested since you will be listening to it A LOT while learning and practicing your routine! 

Many people believe you have to be a dancer or have formal dance training to compete in musical freestyle.  While a sense of rhythm is helpful, being a dancer is not necessary.  When performing, the handler must interpret the music and show some variation in speed and footwork when moving in time with the music.  Observing dance performances of any type can give you ideas for routines.  Using local resources, such as dance school teachers or ethnic dance groups, in conjunction with your obedience coach can be helpful when developing and executing a new freestyle routine. 

Nor does your dog have to be a top-ten in obedience to participate in musical freestyle.  If she is reasonably accomplished in heeling and has mastered novice level exercises, she is ready for a routine in the On-leash Division.  The addition of non-standard movements such as backing or heeling on the right enhances the degree of difficulty of the routine, leading to a higher score.  In the Off-leash and Masters Divisions, the dog must be capable of working off-leash, as well as be able to accurately perform a variety of nonstandard movements such as weaving, twisting, or circling.


How are routines judged in competitive Musical Freestyle ? 

Musical freestyle routines are judged for their technical execution and artistic impression.  In judging technical execution, the judges consider a number of details of the performance, including : 

  • difficulty of the movements

  • precision in execution of movements by dog and handler

  • dog’s attitude and enthusiasm

The judging of artistic impression focuses on : 

  • choreography

  • interpretation of the music by the handler

  • synchronization of the handler’s and dog’s movements with the music

The judges also consider the handler’s attire or costume and whether it is appropriate to the routine.  One, two, or three judges review the routine; if there are two or more judges, each judge individually scores the routine, then the scores are averaged to give the final score.  A qualifying score of 60% in the Off-leash and Masters Division, and 55% in the On-leash Division is required for the accumulation of points towards titles.  Remember that the objective of Musical Freestyle, whether you choose to do it competitively or just for fun and exercise, is to provide a venue which spectators can observe and enjoy with little knowledge of the technical elements, and one in which any handler with a reasonably well trained dog and a sense of rhythm can participate in.


Click on the links below to learn more about Musical Freestyle  





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Page Last Updated

March 14, 2008

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Leonberger Club of Ontario

Leonberger Club of Ontario