Guide To Canine Freestyle – All You Need To Get Started And Win Competitions

You have probably seen impressive dancing dogs in movies and maybe you assumed that you and your dog could never do that. Would you be surprised to know that many dogs and their owners are participating in dancing around the world, not just professionals?

Competitive dog dancing is called Canine Freestyle, and one of the best things about this activity is virtually anyone can participate. No one will put your fur baby in the corner! Let’s discuss what you need to know to get started.

What Is Canine Freestyle?

Canine Freestyle is when dogs and their owners or handlers perform obedience and tricks to music. The owner or handler chooses the music and creates a choreographic sequence of obedience and tricks, which involves their dog working closely with them. Some handlers and their dogs dress up and perform their routine to a theme.

Why Participate In Canine Freestyle?

There are many great reasons to participate in Canine Freestyle, some of which are:

Canine Freestyle is easy to start at home.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), some competitors have shared that they trained large dogs in small apartments for Canine Freestyle. Since Canine Freestyle involves working in close proximity to your dog, it is easy to train for competitions, or just for fun, in small spaces.

Dogs and owners of different abilities can enjoy Canine Freestyle.

Canine Freestyle is a great activity for virtually any breed or age of dog and owner or handler. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the owner or handler is able to choose the speed of the music and choreograph the routine, which allows them to structure it in a way that their dog enjoys and can perform well at. This allows dogs and owners of varying abilities to participate.

The Texas Six Steppers performance to Uptown Funk is an excellent example of dogs of different breeds and abilities enjoying participating in Canine Freestyle.

Canine Freestyle is a good step past obedience and trick training.

If COVID-19 gave you and your dog lots of time to master obedience and trick training, you might be wondering what to work on next. Canine Freestyle is a great way to continue training in a fun way without any special equipment.

Canine Freestyle is a good opportunity to bond with your dog and build confidence.

Working on training is a good start to bonding with your dog, but Canine Freestyle takes it to the next level. Canine Freestyle involves you being involved with your dog’s routine past simply giving commands, which maximizes the bonding opportunity. The bond is so evident in some Canine Freestyle performances that the audience may even become emotional!

Working on training and subsequently Canine Freestyle is also a good way to build a nervous dog’s confidence. When your dog learns a skill that is comparable to them having a job, which combined with the praise that is received during training, his or her confidence grows, which can help him or her in every area of life.

Canine Freestyle is a good way to stay active.

Canine Freestyle helps dogs and their owners stay active at paces that they are physically able to handle.

Canine Freestyle is a never ending creative outlet.

Canine Freestyle offers owners a virtually unending creative outlet; there will always be new songs coming out that you may want to choreograph a new unique routine to.

Do You Have To Be A Good Dancer To Succeed In Canine Freestyle?

No, you do not have to be a good dancer! Canine Freestyle is more about watching a dog and handler’s bond and obedience and trick skills. For example, watch Mary Ray’s Heel Work To Music Routine at Crufts Dog Show 2017 and The Texas Six Steppers performance to Uptown Funk; while the handlers move to the music and work with their dogs, the routines do not involve lots of intricate dance moves.

How To Get Started In Canine Freestyle

Canine Freestyle is easier to get involved in than you may think. Depending on your dog, you could even start today if you wanted to!

  • If your dog has not fully mastered obedience commands, begin there. If your dog has mastered obedience commands, work on trick training. This can be done at home; all that is needed is time, patience and high value treats.
  • If your dog knows some tricks and responds well to obedience commands, begin working on choreographing a simple routine to practice with to see if this activity is for you.
  • Consider working with a dog trainer to help you get started. For example, Karen Pryor Academy offers virtual Canine Freestyle courses that teach the basics you need to get started and allows you to work at your own pace.
  • Visit The World Canine Freestyle Organization website here to learn more about this activity, to find an event to observe and a local club to get involved in.

What Are The Different Canine Freestyle Performance Types?

The World Canine Freestyle Organization recognizes the following types of performances:

  • Musical Freestyle performances offer the most versatility to dogs and handlers; the only limitation is that the moves not endanger the dog or handler.
  • Heelwork To Music is a bit more advanced. Dogs and their handlers must remain in close proximity to each other, moving together as one.
  • Skits are like putting on a one act play with your dog; both of you must be in character and there should be a clear story line.

What Are The Canine Freestyle Proficiency Tests?

The World Canine Freestyle Organization conducts two types of Canine Freestyle Proficiency tests: “Heelwork-To-Music” or “Musical Freestyle”. Both tests are graded simply pass or retry. The proficiency tests do not award titles.

If you do not pass, you are able to re-apply to retake your attempted test at any time. There are no limits for retaking the tests. The tests never expire.

Canine freestyle teams must apply to take proficiency tests in writing, either via electronic mail or regular paper mail. Tests may be taken live or via video. There is a fee for taking the tests of $62.50 per individual test.

What Are The Canine Freestyle Titles?

The World Canine Freestyle Organization awards the following titles in competitions:

  • Bronze level, bar or medal.
  • Silver level, bar or medal.
  • Gold level, bar or medal.

Recipients who achieve bar tests receive bar pins, and recipients who achieve medal tests receive medals. All recipients are given Certificates of Achievement. For more information on titles, follow this link.

When participating in a live event, participants are able to speak with judges after their performance to be informed of their results, and to receive recommendations.

Tests may also be performed by recording a video of the performance and sending it to a judge. Results are then provided via one of the following methods: electronic mail, telephone or post. Results include comments from the judge and their contact information.


Canine Freestyle makes training fun and builds the confidence of dogs while strengthening the bond between dogs and owners. It is easy to train for Canine Freestyle at home and even in small spaces. Canine Freestyle also helps dogs and owners stay active at a pace that works for them. Start dancing with your dog today!