Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Training the next dancer in the family: Canine Musical Freestyle

When I first started seeing videos of agile Border collies bending and twisting in time to music, spinning around their owners and going between their legs, I thought wow--cool! What a great way to engage your pup, get exercise, listen to music, and build an incredibly responsive and attentive relationship through moving together.

As I got to know Fozzie better over the past two years, saw how easily he learned paw tricks and spin tricks and agility tricks, I thought he would be a natural for doggie dance--but what doggie dance class would allow in a student with such impulse control and reactivity issues?

My friends at Your Dog's Friend have come through for me again! Fozzie, Florian and I had our first Canine Musical Freestyle class last Thursday night with the delightful instructor Carolynn Williams and her stunning Australian shepherd Rafe. 

I know Fozzie has made a lot of progress over the past 2.5 years, but I still thought he wouldn't be able to focus at all in class. I thought he'd be a squeaking, quivering mass listening to every rustle by another dog in class, with no interest in treats and no attention on me.

He actually blew me right away. He squeaked and quivered a little when he noticed other dogs in class, but once I broke out the treats he was positively eager to focus and do whatever fun thing I asked him to. Default sits like crazy, then he tuned right in when I led him around me for an "around" and through my legs for "come through." 

He pranced around, wagging and smiling and dancing and checking in with me, looking up like he was so proud of himself as he stepped it up like a little ballerino.

He absolutely loved it!


When he burned out and needed a break from working, I let him play with his squeaky hippopotamus and roll around on the floor, get a really good butt rub, or whatever he wanted. I just couldn't believe he was able to focus at all, let alone be so engaged and happy to work for extended periods. 

Carolynn was so wonderful and put our minds right at ease with respect to any of Fozzie's "issues." Although she's often taught the class with dogs off leash and out in the center of the room, she readily shifted the format when a few students wanted to sign up for this session with reactive or exuberant dogs. Everyone who needed it--Fozzie and 3 other dogs in the class--had a nice pod to work inside to give themselves the visual shield they needed to focus. Most importantly, Carolynn kept reminding us to just let our dogs have fun, with no expectations, and if they needed a break that was just fine. She was confident that Fozzie would be able to accomplish something, and that made me more confident, and that helped Fozzie relax and achieve so much. 

We have been practicing our new tricks and can't wait for next week!


  1. That's awesome Kirsten, I can't wait to see the routine you all put together!!

  2. That is so cool! And what a wonderful way to bond with, and have fun with, your dog! And, great exercise too! The video of you and Fozzie is very cute, and I am happy to read how well he did focusing and following the commands. Great job, Fozzie!

    Suka and K

  3. That is so awesome! Looks like a lot of fun!

  4. Yay Kristen and Fozzie. You guys make a great pair. Remember to just have fun.

  5. What a wonderful class to set up the situation Fozzie needed to succeed. It's thrilling to hear how much he likes this.

  6. Good for you and Fozzie, I LOVED watching that video! Oh, he is a cute boy! And I'd actually never heard of this, but what fun!


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