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More Articles

Where Obedience Leaves Off and Freestyle Starts
A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose
The Freestyle Challenge
Getting Started With Freestyle
Definition of Freestyle and Structure of a Freestyle Performance
More Than Just Heeling
Creative Development of Movement
Music, Rhythm and Freestyle
Understanding Required Moves
Do I Have to Dance?
Freestyle - A Point of View
Training: a New Mindset
My Introduction to Training a Freestyle Dog
It Takes Three - The Audience
Choreography: How to Begin
40x50 Feet: The Empty Canvas
Rhythm: The Great Organizer
What is a Guild

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Recently I started a new series of Canine Freestyle classes. After the second night, one of the new students came up to me,her eyes wide, her face aglow with a big smile, and said, " This is hard! It's really, really FUN! But hard! "

It seems a contradiction...really, really fun yet really, really hard. But in reality it isn’t. The things that we do in life that give us the most joy, satisfaction and sense of accomplishment are things that challenge us and make us stretch ourselves and grow. Canine Freestyle does that. It is probably one of the most challenging creative things that a person and a dog can attempt together. It stretches the way we train and changes the way we think about training.

One of the elements of Canine Freestyle that make it so challenging, is not the music or the movements but the audience. Canine Freestyle, by its very definition, requires an audience. The Canine Freestyle performance, from its conception to its completion, is designed and destined to take place in front of an audience. There, it is open to the praise, criticism and judgment of that audience.

Canine Freestyle is a unique discipline in the sport dogs in many ways. Most canine activities involve three participants, the dog, the handler and the judge. You can compete and these activities in a relatively solitary manner. The only person’s opinion that matters (other than your own) is that of the judge. The fact that an audience will be viewing our performances makes a difference in the way we prepare ourselves and our dog for freestyle. An audience not only expects and deserves to see a well executed performance but one that is enjoyable to watch. The artistic expression and creativity found in Canine Freestyle sets it apart from all other canine sports.

From the very first lesson in my classes, students learn that everything they do in Canine Freestyle is done with the ultimate goal of performing in front of an audience. There is a reason that CFF places the judges at its competitions in the audience. The judge sees what the audience sees. In actuality the audience is the ultimate judge.

Art is meant to be seen and experienced. In its artistic sense so is freestyle. Without the audience to view the performance it becomes just a fun activity...playing around with some music and your dog. But once we bring the audience into the equation we set up whole new situation. Now we have a responsibility to present something of value. People are giving us their time, their attention, their interest and ultimately their judgment. We owe it to them to give them to give istically and creatively unique and technically well executed as well as entertaining. They deserve our best.

The handler needs to be aware of her performance space and how to present her dog and herself in that space so the audience sees the best “picture” possible. The designs of the dog and handler team in the space, not only of their floor pattern but of their three-dimensional designs, should be crisp, clear, balanced and visually appealing.

Music and movement should be chosen in away that enhances the dog. The movement should be integrated with the music so as to seem as one. Almost as if it emanates from the team. We should strive to bring the audience to an awareness of the relationship and bond between the handler and the dog. You want to draw them in and have them become involved, not be mere spectators.

A person cannot be successful artistically unless they have the skills necessary to use their medium of choice. The medium we have chosen in Canine Freestyle is the movement of the dog, enhanced by the movement to of a handler and the music. Canine Freestyle opens up an unlimited range of choices of how we use this medium to express ourselves. But when we make these choices, it is always important to keep the audience in mind.

One of the first decisions we need to make when approaching the task of creating a Canine Freestyle performance is to decide what it is that you want to say/show to the audience.

  • What is the motivation for choosing a particular piece of music?
  • What is your reason for choosing do a particular movement with your dog?
  • Why did you choose to do it at a certain point in the music?
  • Why did you choose to do it at a certain place in the performance space?
  • Why did you choose to do it in a certain direction? At a certain speed?

These are all questions I ask my students and I have them and ask themselves. To be truly successful, you need to have answers.

Once a handler has addressed these questions for herself, she needs to have the performance evaluated by what I call the third eye. This is when you need others to play the part of your audience and critique what the audience will ultimately see. No matter how hard we try, there is no way we can see what we look like when we are "in the choreography ." Only an objective and honest third-party can evaluate your Canine Freestyle performance. Hopefully, they will offer a critique that will be helpful in preparing your routine to go public. Ideally these would be people who are knowledgeable, trustworthy and brutally honest. People who care enough to want you and your dog to be seen only at your very best.

It is not enough to just go out in front of people and "wing it!". Canine Freestyle is much more than that and the sport deserves a thoughtful approach. There is something extremely satisfying about creating a successful Canine Freestyle performance and working with your dog to bring it to the point where it is ready for prime time. Yes, it is a lot of hard work, but most things that are deeply enjoyable, stretch our creativity and truly challenge us are not easy. It goes much deeper than just doing something for fun and the results are so much more fulfilling.

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