Canine Freestyle Training

maggies mom

Well-Known Member
Hi Everyone!

I haven't been on here for awhile and decided to check in and see what's going on. Been extremely busy with work, my horses, and the holidays and I'm sure everyone else has too.

I do have a question though and would appreciate any information. I have come across some videos of canine freestyle and I'm very interested in trying it. I have already started my Sheltie in some of the basic tricks such as: backing up, spinning, healing, and weaving between my legs and she has learned them very quickly. I have even selected a song for the dance routine. I have also contacted a canine club in the area and am thinking seriously of enrolling.

Does anyone have any experience or suggestions as to whether they were successful? It looks alittle overwhelming and I'm not sure if I can accomplish my goal.....but, I think it would be ALOT of fun!!!! Maggie is very energetic and enthusatic and I think she would enjoy it too. I was thinking of trying agility but I think this training would be more enjoyable.

Any suggestions or thoughts would be appreciated.


Experienced Member
I've been using freestyle and agility training to help rehab my shy dog from a fear regression last year after she was attacked by a dog in agility class. It was a new dog to class and shouldn't have been there. Not that either class is inherently dangerous but go to a trainer you can trust to provide a safe atmosphere for the dogs and screens them carefully. We moved shortly after that attack and I changed trainers.

Freestyle requires no equipment but it is helpful for agility to have some equipment at home or go practice on equipment during the week. Just going once a week without practice between makes things progress slower. I have some jumps and weave poles in my yard and plan to buy some more equipment after winter.

While taking a puppy class with the new trainer for our new pup I discovered she does a small freestyle class with 4-5 dogs. I thought this is great, my older dog loves doing tricks and just loves this agility and freestyle training because she's very smart. We worked out a plan and I do mini freestyle lessons at home to get her through fear episodes like the very windy day today. We're working up to attending the small freestyle class.

The freestyle video of the dog and woman that made me think freestyle was so neat has a great story behind it. It's an early video posted before freestyle became so popular and is part of the reason it did. The woman, Carolyn Scott had polio and a heart condition and her dog Rookie was a former fearful dog. I thought if she can overcome those odds I can do this. [media][/media]

My agility training mentor had a severe led disability and Shelties and did competitive agility. She inspired me to do things I thought were beyond me. I started my fearful dog in agility and we both ended up loving it and doing it for 3 years. She was very confident and enjoyed agility a lot. Agility was more stressful for me because you are training to go fast and compete against a clock. I personally prefer not to do timed competition I just like to have fun with my dog. Think about if you have a preference. A small (#students) class is a very good esp since the dogs will spend a lot of time off leash. The instructor will know the dogs better and you'll get more individual teaching time.

The freestyle class I'm starting soon after taking a while to get my dog back to not being so fearful is also taught by a behaviorist. This is a huge advantage b/c I know the class is totally positive training and the other dogs won't be problems. She also understands my dogs fear issues and how far she's come and her interactions with other dogs will be safe and monitored in this small class. Competitive freestyle is more about precision and creativity than performing preset rules and time limits. So it depends on what you prefer.

In a larger class you'll have to use more leash and have less individual instructor attention. We did agility for 3 years and it was a lot of fun. Why not try both and see which you like. Agility takes longer to train as an entire concept, and the courses are designed differently each time and organized in levels of difficulty; it has time deadlines. Freestyle is more relaxed and predictable but no less complex. You're practicing you own set of routines of varying difficulty not a changing unknown one like agility. Which challenge type do you prefer?

Both sports have an entirely different feel and but are both very fun. I suggest auditing a class of each. Good instructors will allow free audits without your dog and you can get a feel for what's going on. Next try a class of each with your dog and see which the pup enjoys better. Some dogs have a clear preference. Running and sporting breeds will really love the agility since generally it's more physical but freestyle can also be very physical if you make it so.

Agility has beginner, medium, advanced, and competitive levels and is generally more structured with all dogs in one class at the same level. Freestyle many times has a mix of all abilities in a class. Agility is usually set up where you take turns working your dog on obstacles or courses and rotating/taking turns with other class mates. Freestyle classes have many different formats where everyone can work on certain things at once and ask questions or get help then there is a routine practice where everyone takes turns. Check each out and see if you have a preference and if your dog does. Nothing says that you can’t do both. :dogbiggrin:

The last thing is the facility where the class is taught. It's much nicer if there is a lot of room and good safe professional equipment for agility. You also need grass and dirt and inside rubber floor courses so that dogs can train on different surfaces and avoid horrid weather. If you compete your dog will need to be proficient on all surfaces because often they can do it on a grass course but don't understand a dirt or rubber floor course at all unless they've been trained. This requires a larger facility and the classes are often larger. Most large facilities offer private lessons too and some have a free night where you can just show up and work your dog with the other people that show up.

Freestyle is usually done inside on a rubber but a nice grass course would be good to have too. I look for places that have a good bit of room and offer private lessons too. There's a trade off with big facility big classes but often there are several instructors per class so go see what's available. More instructors often have different tips which are very helpful. Just be sure for any training like this that the classes are positive reward based not punishment based. Dogs learn complicated things better when they are not punished and enjoy it more which ultimately is your goal.

People and dogs of any ability can do and enjoy both things. Just go dig into it and see what inspires you. :doglaugh:


Well-Known Member
Hi Maggies Mom,

I dont participate in this activity with my dogs and dont know much about it. However you may find this website a good starting point: particularly the training tips section (although it sounds like you have got most of these moves already). It's a UK association but some sections might give you some ideas/be useful to you.

Good Luck; I hope you and Maggie enjoy and that if you do go along to the classes you are considering enrolling that they are helpful to you. I know some fantastic shelties that compete in obedience and have seen/heard of some that are doing very well in heelwork to music too...they are such great little dogs :dogsmile: .

maggies mom

Well-Known Member
Thank you Snooks and Stormi for your advice! I really appreciate it.

Snooks, I do have a small starter agility set and she already runs through the tunnel so fast that it rolls across the living room floor as she's coming out of it. LOL!! I haven't had a chance to use anything else yet because it's winter here. As soon as it warms up....I will take her to a friend's house and we will have 5 acres to play on!!

Carolyn and Rookie is the video I saw that got me interested in the sport. In my opinion, they are DEFINITELY the best!! I wasn't aware of her polio and heart condition. That really inspires me to try this. I will take your advice and try both. The canine club I have been in touch with has invited me to come and observe. I am going to email them tonight!!

And Stormi.....I agree that Shelties are great little dogs!! Maggie is CONSTANTLY willing to learn and play. You can see it in her eyes!!



Experienced Member
Great start. I have much admiration for Shelties. There were lots of them in agility and rally. They excellent in both. I also remember a YouTube vid with a Sheltie doing free style in a little doggie tuxedo. So cute.

maggies mom

Well-Known Member
Thank you Snooks and Stormi for your replies!

Snooks, Carolyn & Rookie is the video I saw that inspired me to do this. In my opinion, they are DEFINITELY the best. I wasn't aware she had Polio and a heart condition.

I do have a small agility starter kit and Maggie already runs through the tunnel so fast the it rolls across the living room floor and she's coming out. LOL!! I haven't tried the rest of the equipment's winter here, but as soon as spring comes, I will be taking her to a friend's place and we have 5 acres to play on. I will take your advice and try both. The canine club I've contacted has invited me to come and observe and you have convinced me to try it.

Stormi, I agree....Shelties are GREAT little dogs. My Maggie is always will learn and play. You can see the eagerness in her eyes. I swear she smiles at me!!



Honored Member
Wow, good luck Maggie's Mom!
Snook, i LOVE THAT video, what attractive cues she uses, they go right with the music as if it is a dance move!! i study and study to see the very subtle differences in some of them, wow, is awesome.


Experienced Member
I compete in this sport, and we are pretty successful.

There are plenty of advices that I could give you, but first of all:
When you start to plan a routine, and you pick your music, NEVER do the whole routine with the dog.
1. The dog will learn the whole routine, which itself is not a big problem, but she will learn when the routine is over, so maybe she won't do what you want, only at the end.
2. She will get bored easily. If you do the whole thing, it might become boring for her, to do the same thing always.

At first, just plan the routine without a dog. Dance without the dog, until you can do the whole routine. After that, do little elements of the routine, like 4 or 5 tricks at a maximum.

i hope I helped a little. :)

maggies mom

Well-Known Member
Sorry for the double post. My computer sat for an hour "posting reply" and I didn't think it went through. Oops!

Thanks for the advice Szecsuani!


Experienced Member
Szecsuani after seeing your video I figured you were competing. Great video. Thanks very much for that advice, it is very helpful. My dogs are good at predicting things and would predict an end. If I cross my legs when sitting down of put the computer in my lap they learned I am less likely to get up and stop dog wrestling in the house. I had to retrain that by getting up each time. :dogwacko:

Did you train the weaves with lure or a target follow or how? I'm doing leg weaves now and my older dog knows them but it's not fluid. I started with lures and faded them a bit then upped them back to 100% then faded again but still no real flow. I do have some balance issues myself so I thought target following a toy or target stick might be easier.


Experienced Member
snooks;14321 said:
Did you train the weaves with lure or a target follow or how? I'm doing leg weaves now and my older dog knows them but it's not fluid. I started with lures and faded them a bit then upped them back to 100% then faded again but still no real flow. I do have some balance issues myself so I thought target following a toy or target stick might be easier.
I did it with luring. At first I started with really huge hand signals, and I still use them, but they are hard to see. Just a little movement of my hand.
I use very few verbal commands, I don't have too many ideas, so one cue has at least 3 meanings, so it must be hard for Pami to deal with me... :dogbiggrin::dogbiggrin:
But back to weaving. I used huge hand signals at first, for a pretty long time. When I knew she would do it anywhere, anytime I tell her, I started to fade the luring. I used the verbal command from the very first time I wanted her to weave. When she did the weaving for really small hand signals, I started to make the weaving more fluent. This might sound a little bit cruel, but when she didn't do it fast enough, just "closed my legs" (I actually don't know how to say it... I just walked forward, like she wasn't there). This way, she started to hurry a bit more.
At the same time, I was training the figure 8, so she can get used to this kind of moving.
I hope I helped. :)


Experienced Member
Thanks very much for the tips on the weaves. It doesn't sound mean it makes sense to close the path to the treat. Sort of like teaching doing things faster in agility, there is a window and you have to be in it.

We're going to practice with big dog today and try to teach puppy her weaves for the first time. :dogbiggrin:


Experienced Member
I posted a video of our progress so far in the training forum. With the big hand signals my 4yo was much more eager but she put this hop in after each one, I think left over from agility launch training. LOL She about grounded me and I look sort of Egyptian but it was great fun. Thanks so much for the tips, we're working on faster and more fluid. :dogwink:


New Member
I would really love to teach Tanner Freestyle. I've started teaching him "back", "touch", and "high five" all of which I hope will help with various freestyle moves. I don't have anywhere local to receive lessons so I'm on my own. I figure I'll start with teaching the various moves and then start putting them together....

It was the online videos of Carolyn that turned me on to this...I kept thinking.."dang, but Tanner would be adorable doing THAT!"


Experienced Member
There are no freestyle classes in Hungary, we just have a huge forum, and all the freestylers discuss everything related to freestyle there. :D
I think it's not good to go to classes, as you don't have to use your creativity there, they just tell you what tricks to teach, and how to make a routine, but you just can't use your fantasy.


Experienced Member
There are some classes I have been reading/hearing about that friends. Jackienmutts on this forum just got through with a freestyle class and LoneWolfBlue did a focus class both of which sounded really fun. Both the focus and freestyle they are taking part in sound like something that might be right up your alley.

I'm sort of doing it myself and realizing someone with more experience at this than me might make it easier. I tend to over analyse things and make them too complex when they could be simpler. :doghappy:

You could go to and look at the cocker rescue and national and state/local breed clubs. They might have good recommendations for trainers in your area. Or you can google your state and cocker spaniel club or resuce. This way you can get an idea of recommended positive trainers with good classes and reputations. Sometimes just getting new ideas sparks a lot of your own creativity and you find sort of what things you dog really likes to do.

If you start with individual moves and chain them start with some targeting. It's the foundation to getting your dog to go different places with nose and paw and much of freestyle starts there. Target sticks are good too for things like teaching a back up or follow through your legs etc. I'm looking for some good books but haven't had the chance to really dig through yet. I'll let you know when I do tho. :dogblush:

There are also a few groups that meet here that are just friends from other classes and rent some space to meet with their dogs once a week. You might check on line with meetup groups and dog clubs for an informal thing like this.