© Photo: Sue Domun
Heelwork to Music, Dancing with Dogs, Freestyle. These are all names for what is basically the same thing. This is a new branch of dog training that has sprung up in recent years where dog and handler perform a series of movements together – normally to music. As a discipline it is evolving from clicker training where behavioural principles of operant conditioning are used to teach the dog all sorts of "tricks" from twisting, rolling over, standing on hind legs, to running in circles, to waving a paw. There are multiple organisations who all seem to be organising slightly differing versions of the same idea – some place more emphasis on the music & theatrical element and some more emphasis on the dog training side.
There is a fine line between teaching your own dog to do all sorts of tricks for your mutual enjoyment to the full blown performing animal (dog) routines in front of a paying audience, a level at which some individuals are taking this activity to. Only the individual can decide how far they want to take such activities, but at a basic level training classes for these activities are a lot of fun for both dog and handler.
© Photo: Dave Harding
There are already Tollers competing in these competitions, and more learning all sorts of manoeuvres with their owners. Dogs can start training at any age, but should be fit and healthy – and should be fully mature before learning to stand up on their hind legs for any length of time.
There are Tollers out there with amazing repertoires of tricks, and even some competing in the competitions – although none from the UK so far has gone on to the top flight of performing in public.
More details from The Kennel Club, the Paws'n'Music Association, & Canine Freestyle UK.