While the concept may sound far-fetched, canine freestyle has dogs across the nation groovin’ to the beat. Thousands of people and their dogs — representing all ages and breeds — participate in this competitive sport, which combines obedience training, tricks, and dance.
Developed about 20 years ago, canine freestyle exemplifies “the fun and joy of responsible pet ownership by training our dogs to dance,” said Patie Ventre, founder of the World Canine Freestyle Organization (WCFO) in New York.
Participants say, and veterinarians agree, that freestyle is an excellent form of exercise for a dog’s body and mind and offers an unparalleled bonding experience between owner and pet.
“Nestle was very broken when I got him from the shelter, the most inanimate dog I’d ever seen,” said Cheryl Smith of Port Angeles, Wash. “Competing instills a sense of confidence in him, not to mention keeps his brain and body in good shape. I was worried about putting too much stress on him, but he absolutely loves being in the ring.”
Smith and Nestle, who is nine and a half years old, took home a second place title in the Sassy Seniors division of a WCFO competition last November.
For veterinary care, Nestle sees Dennis Wilcox, DVM, at AAHA-accredited Angeles Clinic for Animals in Washington. Wilcox believes that canine freestyle is a good way to manage Nestle’s structural problems and keep him limber.
“It promotes healthy activity for the dog [and provides] a good activity to bond the owner and dog,” Wilcox said. “When done properly, the sport can be a very good body strengthening exercise,” he added.
Still, pet owners should watch for and immediately address injuries to their dancing dogs, Wilcox advised.
In fact, dogs that are prone to or diagnosed with skeletal issues, lower back injuries, and ligament strains may not be good candidates for the sport, said A.D. Elkins, DVM, MSE, DACVS, a surgical specialist at Westside Veterinary Service in Kentucky.
To avoid pet injuries, introduce moves slowly and gradually increase difficulty to allow dogs to adapt to the new stress. Once you and your dog have the basics of the dance down you can add different moves. If you have questions about which moves are safe for your dog, ask your veterinary team for suggestions.
The freestyle organization disqualifies dance teams that put dogs at risk in any way, Ventre said. She added that once pet owners start they will love the interaction with their dogs.
“Try it, and I promise…you will not be able to stop!” she said.
Getting started is easy. Talk with your veterinarian about canine freestyle first and then visit www.worldcaninefreestyle.org for more information.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 2 Issue 5, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.