What is Musical Canine Freestyle?


Musical canine freestyle is a sport that is difficult to play for participants but very entertaining to watch for the audiences. The sport involves a dog and its owner or handler performing tricks, and these tricks will then be judged based on the routine’s execution, grace, and originality. Said to have originated in Canada, musical canine freestyle has grown to be a popular sport in several countries, including the Netherlands and the United States. To know more about this peculiar sport, here is an introduction to musical canine freestyle, wherein we will talk about how it is played, as well as a brief history of the sport.

How It is Played

Musical canine freestyle is usually divided into two categories that the handler and the dog need to perform. The first category is called “heelwork to music” or freestyle heeling, wherein the dog must stay close to the handler while performing basic heelwork tricks like moving to the front, to the back, or to the sides of the handler. The dog can move at any pace during freestyle heeling. Most musical canine freestyle competitions require the participants to perform heelwork tricks for at least two-thirds of the entire routine.

two dogs performing a trick

The second category is called “musical freestyle,” and it involves the dog performing tricks while matching the rhythm of the song or musical piece that is being played on the stage. During this section of the routine, the dog may still be able to perform heelwork maneuvers, but he or she is also allowed to perform entertaining tricks like spinning, jumping, rolling over, or dancing while walking on only two legs. Musical freestyle is typically the final act of the routine, and it is popularly ended with the dog jumping on the handler’s back or arms.

The routine is judged over three sections, and these sections are Accuracy and Team Performance, Content and Flow, and Musical Interpretation. Accuracy and Team Performance are judged based on how well the dog performed its tricks, as well as its coordination with the handler. Content and Flow is judged based on the uniqueness of the tricks and how they flow into one complete routine. Musical Interpretation is then judged according to how the tricks match the chosen song’s mood and rhythm. Each of these sections has a maximum score of ten points, which means the total maximum score that can be given to the routine is 30 points. To make the competitions fair, competitors are also divided by skill level, hence the reason why there is usually a beginner class and an advanced class in most tournaments.


Although most believed that musical canine freestyle originated in Canada, there are some people saying that it was just invented simultaneously in several countries in 1989. Dog trainers from the US, Canada, England, and the Netherlands started training their pets to follow musical and heelwork routines around the same time. Before the creation of musical canine freestyle, trainers would just train dogs to perform basic movements like sitting, staying, and lying down, but when the sport came to be, dog training became a lot more technical and creative.

Musical canine freestyle bears similarities to another obscure sport called musical kur, which involves horses and the rider performing a “competitive dance.” Musical kur is believed to have been an evolved form of dressage, another horse-related sport that utilizes less-creative and musically focused tricks.

The first musical canine freestyle group ever created was Canada’s Musical Canine Sports International, founded in 1991. Around the same year or the year after, other musical freestyle groups began popping up in other countries after the sport gained international popularity. Each country then started formulating their own unique twists to musical canine freestyle routines, with the United States being one of the firsts that utilized costumes in the tournaments. Interestingly, England focused more on attracting audiences on their almost perfect heelwork tricks rather than the costume that the dog and the handler are wearing.

In the present time, there are more than a dozen different musical canine freestyle competitions around the world, and these tournaments are typically organized by world-renowned organizations, such World Canine Freestyle Organization, Rally Freestyle Elements, and Paws 2 Dance Canine Freestyle Organization. The UK rebranded the sport from musical canine freestyle to “Heelwork to Music,” and the sport eventually became recognized by the Kennel Club, a prestigious organization that is handling worldwide canine affairs.

The set rules often vary from competition to competition, although all of them judge routines based on creativity and technicality. Beginner class participants are allowed to have their dogs on a leash, while the competitors in the advanced class are prevented from having leashes. Most participants would usually join the single category, where there would only be one dog and one handler on the stage. However, there are also other categories that can be participated in, such as the double category (two dogs and two handlers), or the “team” category (three or more dogs and an equal number of handlers).

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