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Tampa Dog Trainer Brenna Fender: The ABCs of Canine Freestyle

Stevie Leg Weave webThe ABCs of Canine Freestyle

By Brenna Fender

A dog sport that combines obedience moves, tricking training, and dancing: that’s canine freestyle!

Breeds that are good for canine freestyle include… all of them! Because routines are varied, you can showcase your dog’s strong points, whether he is a Beagle or a Border Collie. A strong working relationship and good partnership with the handler are more important than breed.

Canine Freestyle Federation is one of several organizations that sanction canine freestyle events. Their mission statement, in part, is “The Canine Freestyle Federation, Inc. (CFF) is an international organization dedicated to defining and developing the sport of Canine Freestyle and providing the structure necessary to offer competitions and demonstrations.” Read the rest of it at their website: http://canine-freestyle.org/.

Dogs Can Dance is another canine freestyle organization. It offers titling opportunities, not competitions. They offer the Dogs Can Dance Challenge, which has the following mission statement: “Dogs Can Dance Challenge®, a division of Dogs Can Dance® was founded to promote the art and sport of canine freestyle, worldwide, by offering musical canine freestyle titling opportunities. The premise of the Dogs Can Dance Challenge® is based on the following concept; each performance should honor and showcase the dog by emphasizing the beauty and grace of the dog’s natural movements in a manner reflective of the musicality of the chosen accompaniment…. The Dogs Can Dance Challenge® goal is to encourage training of dogs at all stages of their lives and further educate the handlers toward future success.” For more information and the complete mission statement, visit http://dogscandance.com/.

Even dogs that are overweight, retired from other sports, elderly, or have physical limitations can enjoy the sport of canine freestyle. In fact, moving to the beat of music can help shed pounds and increase strength and fitness (for both dog and owner). You can tailor your routine to make it safe for your dog. Check with your veterinarian to make sure that your dog will remain healthy as you train and compete in canine freestyle.

Freestyle began as a dog sport in the late 1980s. It seems to have begun almost simultaneously in several countries. There is no one “founder” of the sport. In Canada in 1991, the first canine freestyle organization, Musical Canine Sports International, was created.

Getting ready to choreograph your first canine freestyle routine? You will need to mix a wide variety of moves together in a smooth routine, taking into account your dog’s strong and weak points. Get help from instructors and the internet while creating that first routine.

Heelwork-to-music (HTM) is a category of musical freestyle that involves having the handler and dog very close to each other throughout the routine. In World Canine Freestyle Organization events, heelwork-to-music is described on their website as a routine where “on all moves, the dog and handler team should move as one entity throughout the routine, displaying heelwork and creativity in the many positions and behaviors possible in HTM.” There should be no weaving between the handler’s legs or distance work in HTM events. In other canine freestyle classes, a wider variety of moves is allowed.

Interesting fact: according to their website, the World Canine Freestyle Organization (see “W”) is “a 501 (c)(3) public charity, the only organization to achieve this status in the world of dog/people sports.”

Join facebook freestyle groups (just type in canine musical freestyle and you’ll find many options) or attend seminars to help you learn more about the sport.

Keep freestyle training fun, according to enthusiast Jan Mayr, who has been involved in the sport for 15 years. Happy training sessions will be reflected in upbeat, lively performances.

Leashes are allowed in most organizations in the beginning levels, but more advanced levels of competition require off-leash work.

Musical Dog Sport Association is another organization that sanctions canine freestyle activities. Their mission statement is “is to advance the sport of canine freestyle and to share the joy of the canine/human bond achieved through positive training, enhanced by the artistry of music and choreography. Created by freestylers for freestylers, the MDSA defines Canine Freestyle as a dog sport in which training, teamwork, music and movement combine to create an artistic, choreographed performance highlighting the canine partner in a manner that celebrates the unique qualities of each individual dog. It is built upon the foundation of a positive working relationship of a dog and handler team.” To read the rest of their statement and learn more about MDSA visit http://www.musicaldogsport.org/about

Never correct …. Dogs can create too,” says Mayr.

Organize work sessions around learning behaviors first and then create your routine by sequencing those behaviors together,” says Mayr.

Pairs and team classes are offered in some organizations so you can dance with your friends and their dogs too!

Quiet? Not at a canine freestyle event! While competing dogs are generally quiet, the music isn’t.

Rhythm is significant. Dogs generally have a comfortable, rhythmic trot. Fit your music and routine to your dog’s rhythm rather than to yours.

Selecting just the right music for your dog is important. Choose one that matches with the rhythm of the dog as he moves. Music that suits the dog is important. But don’t choose a song you hate. You’re going to be listening to it many times!

Titles are available in all the freestyle sanctioning organizations.

Uncomfortable dancing in public? No worries! While the handler can dance in many freestyle organizations’ events, it’s not a requirement and it may, in fact, distract from your dog’s performance. Remember that freestyle is about a partnership between a human and a dog.

Video competitions are often an option in canine freestyle. In fact, some freestyle organizations, like Dogs Can Dance, are only (or almost only) based on videos alone; they do not hold “live” events.

World Canine Freestyle Organization, Inc. (http://www.worldcaninefreestyle.org/) is one of several organizations that sanctions canine freestyle events. The WCFO was founded by Patie Ventre, who created it with 13 other people in 1999. The mission statement of the WCFO, according to their website, is “WCFO, INC. is a non-profit corporation, founded to globally promote the joys and fun of responsible pet ownership through musical canine freestyle, both as a sport and an entertainment medium.”

X marks the spot where you can get started in canine freestyle! The Canine Freestyle Federation lists clubs that offer classes here: http://www.canine-freestyle.org/guilds/, but if your area doesn’t have a club listed, check with local obedience clubs and schools. Just because a club isn’t listed on an organization’s website doesn’t mean it won’t have great freestyle classes. Don’t forget to look on facebook for clubs near you as well.

You can create freestyle routines for places other than competitions. Mayr says, “Many do freestyle for therapy dog visits.” Can you imagine doing a freestyle routine for an auditorium full of school children? Or in a nursing home lobby? Or for spectators at the county fair?

Zillions of dogs, handlers, and spectators like canine freestyle. Maybe you and your dog will too!

Special thanks to Jan Mayr for her assistance with this article.

A version of this article first appeared in DogSport Magazine.

Courteous Canine, Inc. DogSmith of Tampa offers dog training, puppy training, working with aggressive dogs and rehabilitating fearful and shy dogs.  In addition we offer cat training, agility, pushball and dock jumping. Courteous Canine, Inc. DogSmith of Tampa is a full service dog school that offers doggie day care, pet sitting, group classes and boarding!

Tampa Dog Training School Student: Judith Destasio and Tucker Go From Rescue to Pet Therapy!

DSC_0138Tampa Dog Training School Student: Judith Destasio and Tucker Go From Rescue to Pet Therapy!

by Judith Destasio 

June 2012 we adopted Tucker, a magnificent 18 month old purebred from Golden Retriever Rescue Mid-Florida.  It’s hard to believe but he had been surrendered twice already!  Tucker was ready for his forever home.  We were so happy and blessed to bring him home.  He is a big strong boy so we thought we should get him in training.  We have been customers and friends of Courteous Canine for a long time so we signed up for Basic Manners.  Tucker did great so the next step was to work toward his Canine Good Citizen (CGC), he passed his test in November of 2013.  Then with a lot of positive feedback about Tucker’s skills we decided to start training with the goal of Therapy Dog.  We decided to take the CGC/Therapy class again as a refresher, which was a good idea.  He passed his Therapy Dog evaluation with flying colors April 26, 2014.  Thank you to everyone at Courteous Canine, with special thanks to Angelica, Pam, Monica and Jan.  You all provided so much support and guidance we wouldn’t be where we are without you!

Courteous Canine, Inc. DogSmith of Tampa offers dog training, puppy training, working with aggressive dogs and rehabilitating fearful and shy dogs.  In addition we offer cat training, agility, pushball and dock jumping. Courteous Canine, Inc. DogSmith of Tampa is a full service dog school that offers doggie day care, pet sitting, group classes and boarding!

Tampa Dog Trainer Angelica Steinker Recommends Blog: Eileen and Dogs

Eileen and three dogsTampa Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant Angelica Steinker Recommends Blog: Eileen and Dogs

Smart, gifted and clear are the words that come to mind when I think of this blog: Eileen and Dogs written by Eileen Anderson about the training adventures she experiences with her dogs.  Eileen is careful to base all her information on science, fun and results oriented training.  

The internet overwhelms with largely inaccurate information so this blog is fresh air.


Read. Enjoy and please subscribe!

Eileen Anderson, BM, MM, MS Eileen is a passionate amateur dog trainer who writes about learning theory, her life with three dogs, and force free training in her blog and other publications. She brings a science background, critical thinking skills, and teaching experience to her writing, with a focus on making training accessible and learning theory comprehensible to pet owners. Eileen has worked professionally as a writer and academic editor, a network administrator, taught remedial college math, and trained all levels of computer skills in academic and workplace settings. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music performance, and a master’s degree in engineering science. She received the Certificate of Excellence for completion of Susan Friedman’s professional course, Living and Learning with Animals, in 2012.

Courteous Canine, Inc. DogSmith of Tampa offers in dog training, puppy training, working with aggressive dogs and rehabilitating fearful and shy dogs.  In addition we offer cat training, agility, pushball and dock jumping. Courteous Canine, Inc. DogSmith of Tampa is a full service dog school that offers doggie day care, pet sitting, group classes and boarding!

Tampa Dog Training: Courteous Canine Super Splash Dog Competition

Gayle and Sienna won with a jump of 22.1 feet.

Gayle and Sienna won with a jump of 22.1 feet.

Tampa Dog Training: Courteous Canine Super Splash Dog Competition

The results are in.  Thank you again to Judge Michael Pastrana. Much fun was had and much splashing later here are the final standings:

Splash Division for dogs jumping 0′ to 9’11”

Frank and Shadow with a jump of 10.04 first place

Rebekah and Zoli with a jump of 9.03 second place

Joel Emma with a jump of 7 feet third place

Junior Division for dogs jumping 10′ to 14’11”

Susan and Buster with a jump of 14.07 and first place

Tom and Player with a jump of 13.02 and second place

Adam and Bentley with a jump of 13.01 third place

Frank DeShong and Ressie with a jump of 12.08 fourth place

Jan and Buzz with a jump of 12.02 fifth place

Penny and Ice with a jump of 11.02 sixth place

Susan and Zac with a jump of 10.10 and a seventh place

Ronnie and Zip with a jump of 10.02 an eight place

Semi-Pro Division dogs jumping 18′ to 20’11”

Gianna and Dali with a jump of 17.1 first place

Travis and Kali with a jump of 17.06 second place

Pro Division with dogs jumping 21′ to 23’11”

Gayle Sienna with a jump of 22.1 first place

Frank and Zeus with a jump of 19 a second place

Shannon and Prospect with a jump of 17.06 third place

We look forward to having you again next year!!!

Happy dock jumping to all!

Tampa Dog Training: 9 Fun Facts about Dog Dock Jumping

Ultimate Pool Shot9 Fun Facts about Dock Jumping for Dogs

By Brenna Fender and Angelica Steinker

Does your dog enjoy jumping into your pool or launching off your dock into a lake? Does he just love to swim every chance he gets? If so, you and your dog might like the sport of dock jumping.

Here are 9 fun facts you might not know about this sport:

1. Splash Dogs is organization that sanctions, and promotes dock jumping events. Splash Dogs tracks rankings and offers titles. Splash Dogs is affiliated with the United Kennel Club, and handlers may register to earn UKC dock jumping titles at Splash Dogs events. (The UKC’s website is ukcdogs.com). Courteous Canine holds dock jumping events sanctioned by DockDogs. For more information on Splash Dogs, visit www.splashdogs.com.

2. Ultimate Air Dogs (UAD) is yet another organization that sanctions dock jumping events. They host Ultimate Air (distance jumping) and Ultimate Vertical (high jumping) events. They also offer new game called “Catch It” in which jump distances are only logged when the thrown bumper (used to encourage the dog to jump) is caught. Like Splash Dogs, Ultimate Air Dogs is affiliated with the United Kennel Club, and handlers may register to earn UKC dock jumping titles at UAD events. For more information on UAD visit www.ultimateairdogs.net.

3. Dock jumping is open to any dog that enjoys the sport. All breeds and all sizes can play! While many competitions favor the larger dog that, by grace of having a longer stride, may be more likely to jump farther, some organizations have classes specifically for small dogs as well. Some events offer Veterans classes for older dogs and junior handler classes for kids ages 16 and under. It’s a very “inclusive” sport!

4. You might think that dock jumping is all about jumping far, but that isn’t always the case. As the sport is growing so are the games that are being played. Some events involve jumping high, swimming fast, or catching a thrown bumper.

5. There’s more training involved than you might think! If you just want your dog to have fun jumping in the water, then you might not need to train much, but if you want to win big competitions, there is more to be done. You will need to teach your dog to stay at the end of the ramp, run at top speed down the ramp and to take off as close to the end as possible. You will need to determine how high your dog needs to jump in order to have the proper trajectory for the longest possible jump, and then teach your dog to jump that high. You will need to develop drive and motivation for the bumper, and speedy, strong swimming skills. Dogs structure impacts how high they can push off the end of the dock.  Dogs with shoulder lay back will not be able to reach the same heights as dogs who have straight shoulder angulation. No matter what your dog’s structure, the good thing about dock jumping training is it’s all fun!

6. Conditioning is important for any canine athlete. Build strength and endurance on both land and water for maximum results. Using balance balls such as recommended by Debbie Gross Saunders, Ph.D. www.WizardofPaws.com are ideal.  Just like people dog’s do best when their core is strong. 

7. To maximize your success, your dog will need to be really excited about getting to the bumper or toy that you are throwing. Play with it on land to build a lot of motivation. Make it the coolest thing ever! Hold the bumper up so your dog grabs it while jumping for it to simulate the ideal scenario. The goal is for your dog to track and grab the bumper while he is in the air and before he hits the water. 

8. Know the body of water you are using for training or competing. This is particularly important when you are using lakes, ponds, and other natural bodies of water. Items under the surface of the water, like rocks or a shallow bottom, can injure your dog. In some places, wildlife (like alligators) can pose a danger to your dog. Be careful! We recommend using pools on grass surfaces for optimum safety! Courteous Canine, Inc. DogSmith of Tampa’s pool is optimally safe by being outdoors on grass and crystal clear! 

9. Your dog may get very tired while dock jumping, just like with any other activity. Watch for signs of over exertion and give him a rest when needed. Also, if your dog seems to bite the water or otherwise consume excessive amounts of water while jumping, make sure to take your dog out of the pool often and supervise that he urinates.  If your dog tends to obsessively drink water, discuss how to prevent water intoxication with your veterinarian. This is a serious (but rare) condition that can lead to death.  Fortunately, properly monitored dock jumping is a safe and fun activity that many dogs enjoy. If your dog loves water, give it a try!

Happy Dog Dock Jumping, sign up for a class today! www.CourteousCanine.com

Brenna Fender is a dog sport journalist who writes for Clean Run Dog Agility Magazine, USDAA’s website and many other high profile dog publications.  Courteous Canine, Inc. DogSmith of Tampa offers agility, pushball and dock jumping instruction. Courteous Canine, Inc. DogSmith of Tampa is a full service dog school that offers doggie day care, pet sitting, group classes and boutique boarding! Angelica Steinker the owner of Courteous Canine, Inc. DogSmith of Tampa is the author of Agility Success a book addressing the mental training aspects of agility training grab your copy at www.CleanRun.com.