Musical Freestyle Dogs at Sweetbay

Musical Freestyle

Where and when musical freestyle got its start is hotly debated, with many folks from several nations taking credit for the invention. But whoever thought up this new sport did the dog-owning world a huge favor. This is truly a delightful activity.

In musical freestyle, the dog and handler perform together to music of the handler’s choosing. Defining it further is impossible, because there is unlimited variety! One handler may use mostly heeling moves and perform to jazz; another may create his own clever tricks and work to rap or the current pop 40’s hit. But one thing is consistent: dogs and owners love this sport with a passion.
One definition is “heeling to music,” but this is like calling a Lamborghini simply a car. Good freestyle routines find the dog working at different distances from the handler, moving in and (mostly) out of heel position, doing twists, spins, weaves and reverses that would incur zeroes in the obedience ring. But in freestyle, such moves are rewarded with high scores and hearty applause. In fact, pretty much anything goes, and clever handlers with an ear for music and an eye for choreography can present astounding routines. Sit ringside and watch a freestyle competition, and you may find yourself thinking of skater pairs doing an ice dance routine. Indeed, freestyle entrants are scored similarly, with points being awarded both for technical merit and for artistry. Some freestyle performers restrict themselves to several basic moves, while others take a routine into flights of fancy. It’s perhaps the most striking difference from obedience: in this sport, originality is rewarded and creativity is much desired.

As you might imagine, freestyle is a sport that appeals to spectators, and the competitors go all out to attract the crowd’s admiration and applause. Costumes are chosen to complement the music; dogs are encouraged to be flashy and exuberant and show off their natural athleticism. The music may be classical or techno-pop, waltz tempo or tango, melodic or raucous. The handler begins by building on body postures and movements the dog does naturally, and many dogs who are bored with obedience find freestyle the perfect answer . The sky truly is the limit in freestyle, and that’s one reason it’s so popular with experienced dog trainers and novices alike.
There are many agencies that sponsor freestyle competitions across the country. Each offers competitions with slightly different rules and slightly different classes. In general, a handler may compete as an individual (one handler with one dog), in brace (one handler working two dogs simultaneously, or two handlers working two dogs, depending on the venue) or in team (three or more handlers, each working a dog). The routines are judged and scored, and qualifying legs are earned if the performance merits. Acquire the requisite number of legs, and you’ve got yourself a freestyle title.

A freestyle routine starts with music selection. The handler chooses an appropriate song he loves – appropriate in that it must fit his dog’s natural gait, and be a song the handler is willing to hear over and over, hundreds of times, while practicing with his dog.

Next, the song is separated into portions and each portion gets its own moves. Working out this choreography takes considerable time, as the owner begins with actions the dog does naturally and expands on them, as well as teaching him new moves. In addition, the steps need to fit the music. A slow piece needs graceful elegant moves; an uptempo song can incorporate jazzy quick actions. There is much movement in freestyle, and a good routine will range over a large (defined) area, much as ice skaters use the entire rink in a performance.

Then there are the costumes. What the dog and handler wear should go with the music and appeal to the audience (and to the judges).

Three elements: music, moves, costumes. Done well, what results is breathtaking and mood-elevating. And not just for the audience!

Bonnie Fergusson began teaching her Newfoundland, Kyak, freestyle moves at the same time they were working on advanced obedience. Kyak immediately showed promise as an outstanding freestyle dog – not that anyone who knew him was surprised. A natural clown, Kyak loves to learn. Even from puppyhood, the more moves and tricks Bonnie taught him, the happier he was. Freestyle was made for this dog, and he and Bonnie soon dove into the sport wholeheartedly.

The routine you see pictured on this site is performed to Aaron Tippitt’s rocking country song, “Kiss This.”

World Canine Freestyle Organization, Inc

Freestyle Dog (W-FD):

CanCh Sweetbay’s Kyak CD CanCDX WRD CanWRDX DD CanDDX W-FD FDN, OFA NF-7189 (Bonnie Fergusson)

Paws 2 Dance Inc

Freestyle Novice Dog (FDN):

CanCh Sweetbay’s Kyak CD CanCDX WRD CanWRDX DD CanDDX W-FD FDN, OFA NF-7189 (Bonnie Fergusson)

In case you are wondering what the titles are before and after the dogs’ names, click here.

For more information about the Adlers’ dogs:

Sweetbay Newfoundlands
Judi & Ellis Adler
12320 SW Malloy
Sherwood OR 97140
(503) 682-0604

The routine begins when Bonnie “saddles up” and rides Kyak. Their footsteps are right in time with the music.

Then they reverse, moving backwards to the beat.

Kyak loops around Bonnie in tight quick circles.

In a crowd-pleasing move, Kyak freezes in a deep bow. Bonnie walks around him, dropping her Stetson onto his rump.

Kyak holds the pose for several beats as Bonnie circles behind.

She retrieves her hat, then tells Kyak it’s time to mosey on.

They heel forward a short distance, again matching their footsteps with the beat.

They break apart while heeling: Kyak spins in one direction while Bonnie spins in the other.

Weaving through the handler’s legs is a standard freestyle move, but it’s awesome when done smoothly by a dog the size of a Newfoundland.

As the song nears its end, Bonnie assumes the stance, raises her arm, and fires a gun (actually, her fingers) at Kyak.

Kyak slowly spins in a circle, staggering, and finally – having milked his death throes just like a five year old kid – he crumples to the ground.

He freezes upside down, rolling his eyes, acting very much like a dead dog. Until the applause bursts forth. Then he’s up in a heartbeat, accepting the accolades he knows are for him.