Article from ZooToo.com/PetNews
By Margo Ann Sullivan
Portsmouth, R.I. — The dancing dog is not a circus trick anymore. Sometimes called Musical Freestyle, Canine Freestyle and Heelwork-to-Music, Dancing with Your Dog has gained worldwide recognition as a team sport since competitions started some 15 years ago, says Patie Ventre.
Ventre, founder of Brooklyn, N.Y.’s World Canine Freestyle Organization, estimates at least 2,500 people and their dogs compete worldwide. The sport is so new, rules are still developing, but the main goal is to “showcase” the fun for the handlers and animals, she said.
“A smiling face and a wagging tail,” she said. “You need a dog smiling at both ends.”
At the competitive level, the dogs and handlers are rated on their routines, their timing, the musical selection and even the costumes.
“We judge the team — 50 percent for the person and 50 percent for the dog,” she said
But dancing also attracts dog owners looking for a relaxed obedience class, says Kim Cipolla, a trainer at the Portsmouth, R.I. Potter League for Animals. Dogs enjoy the choreography routines more than learning commands like sit, stay and roll over, she said. For example, Sukah, her 1-year-old German shepherd mix, jumped up when she heard the music start the beginner Dancing with Your Dog class.
In half an hour, Sukah had learned a new move — dancing on her hind legs — and perfected her bow, her spins, and her circles.
“You train both the human and the dog and encourage a team mentality,” she said. “The whole class and the whole philosophy is you and your dog are partners.”
Most dogs with basic obedience training will follow the handler’s lead automatically, she said. Treats are not allowed at the competitive levels, but for the beginner class, Cipolla encourages them. She broke out a baggy filled with hotdog bits after a difficult little Peke-a-poo turned up her nose at two bags of dog chews. By rubbing the hotdog onto the hands, the handler was able to coax the dog to nose her palms. The command — “touch”–followed, and the dog learned to move or lean into the direction of her partner’s hands.
That move can fill out a dance, Cipolla said. “You have four moves, you have a dance.”
Meanwhile, Jackie, a 3 ½-year-old Boston terrier, jumped up on her hind legs and used her front paws to slap owner Sandy Sheehan’s hands. Jackie did her homework before returning to class, and the dog had the dance down pat.
“Jackie’s a natural,” Cipolla said, as the team eased through a routine, which included spins, walking forward and backward and touching (paw to hand).
The routines can be exhausting, but older teams and handicapped teams can also enjoy freestyle, Ventre said.
At the beginner class, Gabby, a 15-year-old Peke-a-poo, didn’t want to stay off the dance floor when her owner tried to rest her. Gabby likes to walk in circles anyway, so the dance move fit in with her playtime style.
“She’s a Sassy Senior,” Ventre suggested, referring to a special adult division for people age 65 and up and dogs 9 and older. Everyone can have fun with this sport. A new Handi-Dandi division serves people and dogs with disabilities, she said. The junior division is for youngsters up to 18.
The dances look convincing, but scientists doubt the dogs are really moving to the beat, according to Aniruddh Patel, neurobiologist at San Diego’s Neurosciences Institute.
“Dogs and cats get excited and jump around, but not rhythmically,” he said. “It’s a very distinctive response humans have,” Patel said. His recent study suggests rhythm only develops with speech, as the brain forges a link between hearing and the motor centers.
Of course, that’s still only a theory, and dancing ability is not exclusively human, he conceded, after studying Snowball, a cockatoo with a dance routine and a YouTube following. For the experiment, Patel changed the tempo, speeding up and slowing down the music, but Snowball met the challenge and gamely hopped along. He concluded some birds and parrots, which learn to imitate sounds and vocalize, also can keep time to music. Dogs, horses and cats, though, don’t imitate sounds closely.
But if any dog owners think he’s wrong and can show some video proof their dog is dancing to the rhythm, he’d love to reconsider, he said. That’s how theories advance, he said.
Cipolla doesn’t have any evidence dogs respond to music the way people do.
“The dog is following the handler’s lead,” Cipolla said. “So as long as the handler stays with the beat, the dog will.” But she’s confident music means something to her dogs.
“They recognize it,” Cipolla said. Her 11 ½ -year-old Angel, also a Shepherd, understands music signals “fun things are about to happen, and it’s time to focus.”
Dancing with your dog is not about learning dance steps anyway but about communicating with your dog, Cipolla said.
Posted under In the News
This post was written by dwagner on June 19, 2011