This is the final installment in our series on creating and performing new freestyle routines. I hope these 3 articles have helped you to plan, get unstuck and/or get excited about working on a new routine. But most of all, I hope the series reminds you how much fun it is to do freestyle with your dogs! So, read on for some final bits of advice, then get up and dance with your pups!
Tips for Building a Fun Freestyle Routine
It Doesn’t Have to Be Stressful, Part 3
We’ve addressed many of the considerations for creating and performing a freestyle routine in Part 1 and Part 2 of the series. Below are some additional things to think about, but there really isn’t a one size fits all method. So, try out what you think will help you and your canine partner. Ask questions and, above all, have fun!
11) Use Your Space
You can and should practice in whatever space is available to you. But if your goal is a competition freestyle routine, you need to think about building a routine that will be performed in a regulation size ring.
Depending on the size of your dog, covering the whole floor isn’t necessarily a requirement, but a balanced routine with both straight and curved lines of travel, will score better than one that only moves forward and back in half of the ring, for example. Debbi and Atom, above, use the space well.
You will also want balance in your movements. After a controlled sequence, use your space to allow your dog to move out with speed and confidence. These contrasts will benefit your heeling and will show your dog off well to the judges.
12) Practice With Distractions
The competition environment can be difficult and distracting. There’s still pressure, even if you’re videoing and not at a live event. So, not only will you want to make your practice setup look as close to event day setup as possible, you’ll also want to practice behaviors in novel environments and under novel conditions. This strengthens those behaviors and builds up a reward history that will help keep your pup focused and enthusiastic.
There are some important considerations when working with distractions. Working outside, or in any novel environment, is harder for your dog. Start out working on single behaviors or very simple sequences of just a couple of moves. Whenever we add difficulty to one area of training, we need to make other areas easier. Raise your rate of reward! Use better treats, give more treats, have longer play sessions! Disconnects and loss of focus, even around distractions, will be less of an issue once you start reinforcing more. Also, before giving a cue in any setting, make sure you have your dog’s full attention! Time spent training an unfocused dog won’t benefit either of you.
Pay attention to which scenarios are most difficult for your dog. Is your dog reacting to something in the environment or is he missing part of the cue? If your dog is having trouble doing one behavior anywhere but at the training center, that behavior may not actually be on verbal cue. Here’s a great blog on getting behaviors on verbal cue.
13.) Think Fluency
If you choose to compete, you are choosing to work toward specific skill benchmarks. As you progress through the classes, those skills become more complex and should be performed more accurately and precisely. When the difficulty of the behavior exceeds the dog’s ability to execute with accuracy and precision, scores will be lower. So, make sure you’re including skills that are “level appropriate.”
Beginners and Newcomers tend to want to put in Intermediate or higher skills in their beginning routines. Which is great, as long as the execution is there as well. If you’re putting intermediate or advanced skills into your routines, but the execution, accuracy or precision are at a lower level, the higher difficulty with lower accuracy and precision
cancel each other out.
Novice behaviors performed accurately without hand cues by Novice teams will not only score better than higher level skills performed with less precision and accuracy, but they will also build a new freestyle dog’s confidence! If your dog is struggling with what they’re being asked to do, whether due to a lack of foundation skills, a physical limitation or inexperience, this can affect the dog’s feelings about what it means to perform freestyle. It’s easy for freestyle teams to “burn out” early. Not sure what is considered novice, intermediate or advanced skills? Check out the Rally-FrEe sign behaviors! That will give you an idea of how behaviors are classified.
So, be thoughtful about your and your dog’s skill levels. If you are at the beginning of your journey, there’s no need to pack your routine with difficulty. Instead, focus on accuracy, clean cues, positions and transitions and build from there.
14.) But I Just Want to Dance with My Dog
Competing in freestyle can be hard and competition isn’t for everyone. Many trainers enjoy challenging themselves, striving toward benchmarks, and achieving high scores. But if that’s not you, it’s okay! It doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy participating. Freestyle has a place for everyone. You just need to be open and honest about what it is you want from your participation.
In RFE, the “That’s Entertainment” Class is specifically for those that would like to showcase their training relationship with their dog. It allows teams to go out and have a good time without having to conform to the rules in order to earn a qualifying score. So, if you enjoy working with your dog on a routine, but you don’t enjoy the added pressure or stress of competing, or maybe you don’t have the time or desire to continually go bigger and better as you move up through the classes, you can still experience the joy of freestyle by entering in the “That’s Entertainment” Class. It’s also an excellent way to help you and your dog prepare to compete, if that really is your goal.
Another option is the Provisional Division. This Division is for dog-and-handler teams who would like to use food or toy reinforcement in the ring. Provisional includes all classes except Champion, Grand Champion, Encore and Alternative. There are specific guidelines for how to reinforce, so if you’re interested in trying Provisional, make sure you’re familiar with them.
There’s also the option of the Encore classes. These classes allow the team to stay in a class (or go back to a class) after titling if moving up to the next class puts too much pressure, stress or added difficulty that they may not be ready for or have no desire to train toward.
And, remember that more live events are being held again! So, if you love the camaraderie of the freestyle community, check the Upcoming Events tab on the member login page of our website. Or, consider hosting a live event in your area!
Whether you enjoy challenging yourself and working toward the goal of a title, or you want to go out and have a good time with your dog without the pressure of competition, RFE offers plenty of ways for everyone to enjoy freestyle.