A key concept in the CFF Definition of Freestyle, and unique
to CFF Freestyle, is that "A Freestyle presentation is always
accompanied by music selected to suit the rhythms of the dog." CFF
does not specifically address the handler’s rhythm other
than to say "all handler movements should complement and
enhance the dog’s movements," in other words the handler’s
rhythm should not become the primary focus of the performance.
The handler absolutely may, and frequently does, also move with
Every dog has a natural rhythm with which he moves in a comfortable
trot. With training this rhythm can be adjusted slightly but
dogs are not able to adjust over a wide range as people can.
Dogs have a taste in musical styles just as people do. If you
move your dogs to different types of music you will see their
preferences reflected in their bodies, in their eagerness to
move at all, in their tail set, in their ear set, etc. Some dogs
prefer Rock, some Classical, some Jazz or Blues or Country etc.
Dogs will also move more freely and happily when the musical
rhythm matches their own rhythm. When a dog likes the style of
music and it also matches his natural rhythm, he will glow, step
lighter and happier, and wag harder. This is the match we seek
These are new concepts to most of us and you will need to get
out your CDs, your boom box and your dogs to give it a try. Try
this in a group with different dogs and music so you can share
what you see with each other. This is truly a case of a picture
being worth a thousand words. You don’t need a background
in dance or music. Every human being has an instinctive understanding
of movement and rhythm. These instincts are part of being human
and living in a world filled with movement and rhythm. We all
find a summer breeze rippling a field of hay soothing while the
gusts and gales of a hurricane are jarring. Have you ever thought
about why, or, like most of us, simply accepted the fact? We
all live with natural rhythms such as our breathing and our heartbeat
and artificial ones such as the ticking of clocks and the cycles
of traffic lights. You will instinctively appreciate a dog moving
in harmony with music just as you enjoy a dancer moving in harmony
Many people have commented that they find moving contrary to
the rhythm of music to be uncomfortable and awkward. Don’t
you think our dogs would be more comfortable working to music
which fits their natural rhythms?
The handler is also frequently moving with the music, although
their footfalls may or may not match those of their dog step
for step. From a purely technical point of view it is possible
to analyze dog/handler teams on video, frame by frame, while
heeling in both freestyle and obedience. In most cases, but not
all, handler and dog footfalls have a consistent relationship,
varying from 1:1, 1:2, 2:3, etc. This relationship breaks down
at different paces and with tiny dogs which are not trotting.
However, looking past the strict technical relationship, what
you see is a human being and a dog who have established a smooth
rhythm together, a fluid forward motion showing unison and harmony.
They have probably spent a multitude of hours developing that
oneness and harmony which few have ever analyzed to the level
of footfalls. They don’t need to - they can feel the unity
This footfall evaluation is one way to describe what most of
us understand instinctively, but have never analyzed on an intellectual
level. We’ve never had reason to think about it before.
Whether the dog’s rhythm matches the music with all four
feet, just two or on a regular single footfall, on halftime or
double-time, we all recognize the harmony because the effect
is pleasing to our eye.
When more complex or tighter movement precludes a technical
analysis of footfalls the rest of the dog’s body can surely
move with the music and again you will instinctively recognize
the natural harmony. There is more to a dog than just his feet.
There are some styles of music which have no distinct underlying
rhythm but there is a flow which a dancer or a dog can join and
become part of. When music and movement harmonize the result
is beautiful and joyful. We recognize that at a basic, non-intellectual
Just as in evaluating a dog for conformation where you must
consider the whole dog, not just the parts, so when evaluating
Freestyle movement overanalysis of parts - feet, tail, head,
body - results in loss of the whole picture. You can analyze
a Mozart piano concerto note by note and still not fathom the
genius of the whole piece. The whole is greater than the sum
of the parts.
CFF freestyle is based on the natural rhythms of our dogs. Find
those rhythms, find music which fits those rhythms and then let
your creativity flow in choreographing your routine. We have
barely scratched the surface in exploring the movement and training
capabilities of our dogs. The creative possibilities are enormous
in developing, training and guiding our dogs’ natural rhythms.
This approach does not involve complex and unexplored training
techniques but grows out of our innate sense of pleasure in observing
teamwork and movement which is harmonious and joyful. And, while
an audience educated in dogwork will also appreciate the training
involved, an audience unfamiliar with dogs will also enjoy and
appreciate a performance based on natural rhythms just as they
instinctively enjoy the grace and beauty of an Olympic skater.