This is a sport that puts a wide smile on everyone’s faces! It doesn’t matter if you are participating yourself if you are watching a live event, if you watch it on TV or if you are one of the judges – it will make you smile, and it is a sport that has grown in popularity in recent years.
We are talking about Musical Canine Freestyle – the activity where you create a routine of tricks and movements, set it to music and then perform it together with your dog. Does it sound like fun? It is. If you have never seen a dog and a handler perform a Freestyle routine, you might want to go check out some YouTube videos to get a basic idea; but be warned – you are likely to get hooked!
About Musical Canine Freestyle
Musical freestyle is a canine sport where the dog and owner work together to create an obedience routine set to music. It combines dance, tricks, and clever commands, and it is one of the most fun dog sports to watch, thanks to its focus on entertainment and mutual respect.
Some say that while Freestyle is open to any dog and owner team, it won’t be the right sport unless there is a unique connection between the two; musical canine freestyle requires more than just obedience and discipline – it requires chemistry and a bond of trust between an owner and her dog.
In musical freestyle, there are several different tricks you can have your dog do; like standing up on their hind legs, hopping forward, walking backwards, zigzagging between your legs, jumping up in your arms, crawl across the floor and a lot more, and this is then combined with you – the handler – performing a routine of your own that combines with both the dog’s movements and the music.
Some freestylers do actual dance routines, while other routines are more like short sketches or theatre acts. How you want to freestyle depends on you and your dog, and what routine you would have the most fun learning and performing. Everyone has their own style, which is what makes canine musical freestyle so unique.
The Musical Dog Sport Association, also known as the MDSA, is one of the many organizations that host and organize musical freestyle competitions for dogs, but musical freestyle is a lot more than just a competitive sport. It is a hobby for many dog owners; a challenging way to activate both themselves and their dogs, and while competing is often the goal, it does not have to be.
A Sport for Everyone
There are no rules for who can and cannot participate in musical canine freestyle, as you are the one to make your own routine, and you can do that according to your own limitations and/or those of your dog.
If your dog is less agile you will simply have to make a routine that requires fewer jumps and acrobatic tricks, or if you struggle to move around yourself – have the dog do most of the moves and to interact with you while you stay in one place. There are so many options in canine freestyle that anyone can participate if there is a solid connection between owner and dog.
It doesn’t matter if you have a small dog, a large dog, a puppy or a senior canine – any dog can do freestyle, provided you adjust the routine to fit their needs. The internet is full of tips and videos for steps and tricks to teach your dog, and the only real limitation is your own imagination.
A Canadian woman named Sara Carson Devine, known from America’s Got Talent, had a video go viral after she performed a freestyle routine with her dog Hero on her wedding day! Dressed in a white wedding dress, she and her faithful friend danced the night away in front of ecstatic wedding goers – a clear statement of how much her dog meant to her (come on, the dog was included in the wedding party!), but also of how canine musical freestyle can be used other than for competitions.
Canine Freestyle History
As a sport, canine freestyle is quite new, and it first began in 1989 – curiously in several places at the same time. The motivation behind the initiative was to come up with a sport that was more relaxed, fun and “artsy” compared to regular obedience competitions, which are often very strict, and it appealed to those who loved dogs, music and creative challenges.
Suddenly, dog training and obedience wasn’t just to have your dog heal on your left side and quietly perform command after command, and instead, it became a performance art with a lot more freedom of expression and of showing personality in each movement.
In freestyle, individuality and creativity were rewarded rather than punished, while still maintaining the core of obedience training. Musical Canine Sports International – the first official canine freestyle group – was founded in Canada, in 1991, and further pushed the sport towards international recognition.
In the early days of the history of canine freestyle, British freestyle groups mostly practiced more traditional obedience but set to music, while American groups began experimenting with costumes and impressive tricks. The lines have since blurred, and both versions of musical freestyle are now practiced worldwide. The sport is big in both North America and in Europe, and you find people doing it for fun and with the purpose of competing.
When talking about competitive musical freestyle, there are two different varieties you can practice and compete in. The first one is Freestyle Heeling, sometimes referred to as Heelwork to Music, and it is where the dog proves its skills staying in the heeling position, while the owner moves in synchronization with the music.
In this variety, it is important for the dog to stay close to the handler throughout the whole routine, and tricks like when the dog walks through the handler’s legs is not considered appropriate or allowed.
The less strict version is Musical Freestyle – the style this article refers mostly too, where heeling can be used but is not required. Instead, the dog and the handler can combine heeling with fun stunts and tricks like having the dog jump up on the handler’s back, up into his- or her arms, circle around the handler and much more, and it is an overall more relaxed and free form of musical canine freestyle, and the one most commonly seen on TV and in viral videos.
How to Get Started
If you have some experience with training your dogs to perform simple tricks like sitting and lying down, you can get started on your own using online videos for inspiration! Due to there being very few rules in freestyle (as the name indicates), you are basically free to come up with any routine you would like and set it to the song of your choice.
You can dance yourself and incorporate dog tricks into the routine, or you can act out a small wordless story! You can also choose a song and use its lyrics as a base for the story you want to tell, or whatever you would feel more comfortable with.
The other option is to look for local musical freestyle groups, and you might be surprised by how many there are in, for example, the United States! You don’t always hear about them unless you are involved in canine sports, but they are there, most likely waiting for you to join!
There are courses you can take in canine freestyle, where an experienced instructor guides you through the different elements you could teach your dog to do if you want, and they will show you the easiest ways to train and learn.
The help and support from a professional dog trainer and from a group is always recommended, especially for beginners, but if you feel confident enough to get started on your own – don’t let anything stop you, as long as you keep it fun for both yourself and your dog.
The rules for competitions differ greatly depending on what organization hosts the competition, and some of the biggest regulating organizations are currently Canine Freestyle Federation, the Musical Dog Sport Association, Rally Freestyle Elements, and the World Canine Freestyle Organization.
Some competitions do not allow costumes or props, while others (often referred to as “Exhibition Freestyle Competitions”) encourage it, so if you are looking to compete – make sure you double-check the regulations for the specific competition you intend to enter.
Becoming One with Your Dog
If you want a sport where both you and your fur friend can have fun together, where you can tire your rambunctious four-legged pal out and where it is all about teamwork and compatibility – musical canine freestyle is the sport for you!
Try watching a performance without smiling and see for yourself how it could strengthen the bond you have with your dog. It is something everyone can do – just adapt it to your own abilities and preferences, and start practicing!