Musical Canine Freestyle, is a fun way to train a dog. I started training dogs when I got my first two Australian shepherds. I enjoyed teaching them basic obedience, but then I wanted to know what more could I teach my smart dogs. Starting them with basic obedience was easy and fun and I wanted something more advanced I could teach them at such a young age. I also needed something I could teach on our own home. I thought about agility training, but my dogs needed to be past the age of one to really get into that and it needs a special field with special equipment.

Then, I finally discovered musical freestyle. It is a combination of the best of obedience, agility and trick training and adds in some musical creativity and dance! My dogs loved it from the start. Musical canine freestyle is a dog sport in which you do heelwork to music and add in all sorts of creative and basic tricks like sit, lay, spin, jumps, leg weaves, and circle around, etc. In canine freestyle you get to have a variety of creative heelwork positions. There are more options than just left heel! There is the right heel position, front, middle, and follow from behind. Then your dog can be a number of postions himself such as standing perpendicular to you as you move, or standing with his back to you or you back to back with him. You can also incorporate a variety of movement directions such as moving forward and backwards, together or apart and moving sideways left and right mirrored or parallel. The variety and creativity is endless. But don’t be overwhelmed, beginners get to start easy and work their way up. In most competitive organizations, there are very loose requirements allowing for the handler and dog to show off their talents and skills while avoiding things you are not good at. It is up to you to create the choreography of the routine and it has very few restrictions. You get to chose what moves work well for you and your dog and select music that suits your dogs’ movement so it looks like he is dancing to the music.

Clicker training is the most efficient way to train your dog to dance. Trainers have found they can teach their dogs in a matter of minutes and weeks what it used to take forever to teach using clicker training methods. Clicker training is a positive reward based training system. During training, never give any punishments or use negative reinforcement. Your goal is to make your dog to look and be happy about his training time. Learning tricks and cool moves is always an optional thing for your dog to do. Some moves and tricks might be hard for him to do and may not be well suited for your dog. Listen to your dog and if you think that something is not right for him, move on to something else. Remember many moves and tricks can tax your dog’s body so be sure they are age appropriate and stop when youre ahead. You don’t want your dog to be sore after training. It might dampen his enthusiasm in the future.

During clicker training, use good rewards. Food works best for most dogs. Use something that is really smelly and tasty like real chicken, hot dogs, liver, turkey, and cheese. The treats need to be sliced up into small bits. It’s best to use real food, for two main reasons: for one it is soft and easy to swallow, the second is it is healthier, cheaper, and tastier than store bought dog treats. Don’t skimp on the treats either. Keep the rewards coming to keep your dog engaged and to be giving him as much positive feedback for what he is doing as possible. For dogs not motivated by food rewards use what works for them. It may be playing with their favorite toy such as a tug toy, squeaky toy or Frisbee. He may love working for your praise and attention alone. It is good to have a variety of foods and toys to keep the treat basket interesting longer and keep your dog engaged longer.

The clicker training formula for training tricks is lure, mark, reward. We use the clicker to mark each behavior we desire. You can also use a marker word such as yes to mark good behaviors. I recommend using the praise, pet, treat sequence of reward. By using this reward sequence, we are being highly rewarding for our dogs during training and it is easier to transition to praise and petting rewards in the future.

Your marker word needs to be a word you do not normally use except to mark desired behaviors. I use a marker word for behaviors and moves my dog already knows when we are practicing. He does not always receive a treat immediately during these practices. My marker word is yes. My reward and praise word is good. I use good as positive encouragement when training as well. Remember to be happy and enthusiastic during dog training sessions. Your dog picks up on your energy and feeds it back to you.

I use the clicker as my marker when training new skills or working to make moves more precise. The benefit of a clicker is that it is not produced naturally in nature, so the dog is not already desensitized to it. It is a unique sound easy to hear and recognize by your dog. We charge the clicker by clicking and treating a few times to get the dog’s attention and get him excited about the clicker. We do this by clicking and treating several times. Now, your dog is ready to respond well to the clicker. Timing is critical when clicker training in that you want to click on the exact behavior you want, if you are slow you may click once the behavior has passed and your dog thinks you are rewarding him for a different often undesired behavior. Be sure to reward after every click, even accidental ones. You don’t want your dog thinking he has to make you click multiple times in order to get a treat.

You can train behaviors using the shaping methods once you get more advanced. You click and reward for each behavior that is a closer approximation to the end behavior you desire with this method. For example, if you are teaching your dog to bow, you may first click and treat for his head going down, then his head moving down further, then his body stretching back, then for a slight bow, etc.. until the dog is bowing in the correct position. With the shaping method, you are not luring the dog, but marking the dog for doing the behavior on his own and getting closer and closer to the end goal. This technique takes more patience and knowledge about what successive approximations to go for when teaching new behaviors. Many trainers think using this method gets your dog thinking more and results in an easier to train and more solidly trained dog down the line. I personally use a combination of luring and shaping depending upon the dog’s behaviors.

Using clicker training methods, you will have your dog dancing in no time.

To learn more and to get a free guide to getting started in musical canine freestyle, visit my website at www.DoggieDancing.com

Written by,
Melanie McClure

Using clicker training methods, you will have your dog dancing in no time.

To learn more and to get a free guide to getting started in musical canine freestyle, visit my website at www.DoggieDancing.com

Written by,
Melanie McClure

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