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Dances with Dogs and Canine Freestyle

We've all marvelled at the flawless teamwork displayed by people in costumes performing elaborate dance routines with their dogs at international events such as the Westminster Dog Show and Crufts.

But how do you end up dancing with your dog on the world stage? We spoke to Janette Wilson, Secretary of the Melbourne & District Dances with Dogs Club to learn more.

'I took it up as a bit of fun eight years ago and also to entertain the residents in the nursing homes that I visit as a Pet Therapist' says Janette. 'I quickly realised that it was an awesome dog sport, and now with my second dog we are competing at very high levels in both Heel to Music and Freestyle.

What is Dances with Dogs? 

Have you ever felt like turning up the music and dancing with your dog? Does it make you feel great to have fun with your dog? 

Well, did you know that there is now an official sport that encompasses moves and tricks to music

Dances with Dogs (DWD) is a relatively new canine sport which became popular in Canada and the UK in the early 1990s. Approved in 2009 as an official sport by the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC), dogs can now compete and gain titles to be added to their registered names. However, many people have taken up this sport simply to have fun with their dogs! 

Gaye with German short-haired Pointer Holly
With a fusion of obedience, creativity, focus and teamwork, a DWD routine gives the illusion of a dance with a skilful choreographed routine performed to music. 

In competitions, the routines are between one and four minutes. Competitors earn points for:

✔️  technical accuracy
✔️ musical interpretation and
✔️  artistic expression 

So what appears to be a simple sport is actually a very complex mix of techniques

But DWD is not just a sport for competitors: many people are finding the joy of doing classes just for fun and fitness with their dogs, and love showing off their moves to family and friends!

I can’t dance, can I still do DWD with my dog?

Do you “have two left feet”, and you can’t dance like Fred Astaire? Don’t worry! 

DWD does not require you to be a fantastic dancer! And it doesn’t require your dog to do a quick-step, a twirl or a waltz.

If you and your dog can walk together and you enjoy having fun together, then you can do Dances with Dogs.

The aim for each team is to make their routine look flowing, simple and interesting. By choosing the right music that suits your dog’s pace, style and natural rhythm you can create a routine that will wow the spectators.

While the routines move in time to your favourite music, they often also tell a story. The style of dance and music varies greatly from team to team and is only limited by your imagination. Each routine showcases the unique abilities and relationship between handler and dog.

Of course we all know how much training goes on behind the scenes to make a routine look easy! All DWD training is achieved by using positive and motivational methods, and that is why dogs are so happy doing this sport. 

Janette Wilson training with her dog Scarlette
Is DWD a sport just for the most athletic dogs and handlers? 

Are you and your dog a “little less athletic”? While many of the more experienced competitors develop extremely athletic and complex routines, many others create routines that are more suitable to the ability of themselves and their own dogs.

DWD is a sport that is suitable for handlers of all ages and abilities. It is also suitable for dogs of all breeds, sizes, ages and abilities. We even have members with deaf or blind dogs!

The sport is suitable for all breeds, not just the usual athletic breeds. We see Löwchens, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Border Collies, Pomeranians, German Short-haired Pointers, German Shepherd Dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs, Papillons, Schnauzers, Poodles and of course dogs of mixed breeds.

Do I have to do obedience first?

In general there are no formal training pre-requisites for you and your dog to take up this sport. However remember that DWD is entirely performed off-lead, so a basic level of obedience is desirable before joining classes.

If you are already a competitor in Rally O, Obedience or Agility, then you will be very surprised at the added skills that you can learn in DWD. As DWD develops your dog’s focus and teamwork as well as gently improving fitness and body awareness, it is very common to see DWD titles on dogs competing at high levels of other dog sports.

But no matter what your reason for taking up the sport, it is guaranteed that you and your dog will develop your skills and fitness, while creating a fantastic positive training relationship.

DWD is not just one sport. It is actually two sports!

DWD encompasses two distinct divisions: Freestyle, and Heelwork to Music with competitions held in these two divisions. While Freestyle is “free flowing, flashy and tricky”, Heelwork to Music requires precision and very technical heelwork.

Obedience competitors know the amount of hard work that is required to achieve precision heelwork in one position (dog on the left) – so imagine the work required to achieve this precision in eight positions!

Do I need to buy expensive equipment to do DWD?

Gaye and Holly
No special equipment is required although some teams use clever props to enhance their routines and add to the spectator appeal.

If you don’t have a lot of space for training, you can even teach many of the DWD moves in your own living room!

While the human competitors might choose to wear costumes that enhance the story telling, the safety and dignity of our dogs is paramount.

Competing dogs are not permitted to wear costumes of any type, but are permitted to wear a bandana or flat collar.
And of course, no dangerous moves are permitted. 

The fun is growing, and you are welcome to join in. 

Every year since its introduction, the number of people involved in the sport in every state has been growing.

In 2018, Victoria held its very first Top Dog Competition where the top teams were invited to perform their Freestyle and Heelwork to Music routines for the accolades of being the Victorian Top Dogs. 

2018 Top Dog (Heelwork to Music) is A & G Penny and HTM.CH FS.CH Abtei Great Expectations CDX RN. Gaye and Holly showed amazing heelwork precision, performing to Variations 1-4 (Live) by Andrew Lloyd Webber. 

2018 Top Dog (Freestyle) is Deb Harvey and CH FS.CH Dymatan Denim N Diamonds ADX ET GD JDM RN SD. 

Deb and Tia (above) dazzled us with their rendition of All That Jazz by Glee Cast FT Kate Hudson. 

We are all excited to watch the 2019 Victorian Top Dog Competition to be held in July.

In addition to the regular competitions held by each club and each state DWD committee, there will be a very exciting National Competition on 29 June 2019 at Durack in Queensland. This will be followed by the Queensland State Competition on 30 June.

Check out the links at the end if you would like to come along and watch these amazing teams.

Where can I find out more about Dances with Dogs?

If you are looking for a sport that is a little bit different, develops your rapport with your dog and only uses positive and motivating training methods – then this could be the sport for you!

Italy's Lusy Imbergerova & Deril amaze crowds at Crufts 2017 with their incredible freestyle

There are several DWD clubs throughout Australia that host competitions regularly in each State, so check out the links below for the schedules. Spectators are also very welcome at all the competitions, so come along and join in the fun of Dances with Dogs.






South Australia:

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