Lola and I were lucky enough to take part in a dog activity weekend recently, allowing us to try out a variety of dog sports. We experienced a jamboree bag of doggy activities including agility, Competitive Obedience, Rally Obedience, Nosework, Flyball, Barrel Racing and Heelwork to Music (HTM), all run by Ichthus Canine Centre and hosted by the Northcote Heavy Horse Centre in Spilsby, Lincolnshire.
One of the leaders of the weekend, Christina Oxtoby, specialises in Heelwork to Music (HTM) and competes at an international level. I’ve always been resistant to this particular canine activity – too mentally scarred by images of handlers dressed in cowgirl outfits moving awkwardly to country and western music and rolling around on the floor. When I looked back at the history of the activity I was surprised to find that it originates in the world of Obedience. The story goes that the great Obedience handler, Mary Ray, was asked to demonstrate her dogs’ talents to an audience and devised a routine to fit the length of a particular piece of music. At that point the display consisted purely of various types of heelwork, but over the years the sport has developed to include more freestyle moves. Happily it is only the handler who dresses up; the dog needs no embellishment.
Like most dog activities, HTM requires that your dog has a basic level of obedience. She should be able to follow instructions such as ‘sit’ and ‘down’ and move around in heel position (at the left side of the handler). Using a good supply of dog treats Christina started us off with simple movements, getting the dog to turn in an anti-clockwise direction whilst in heel position. We progressed to a couple of different leg weaves and an attempt to make our dogs walk backwards away from us. This was much more my kind of thing! After telling Christina how I’d been trying to perfect Lola’s play bow since Christmas, she showed me a way of luring it which worked really well.
If your dog already has a few tricks up her sleeve you can build on them to develop an HTM routine. If she will ‘shake hands’ you can encourage her to cross paws by cueing this trick when she is already lying down. Lola can already jump through my arms, but I’d love to get her to jump up and vault off me. Christina’s dog does this beautifully.
I still have no plans to put what I do with Lola to music, but I am very encouraged to continue working on the individual moves with her. Getting her to sit up and beg will be great for her abdominal muscles and I plan to jump her over hurdles (gradually increasing the height) to build her overall strength.
A session like this is very tiring for the dog, so when all the handlers and dogs had reached their limit, Christina ended by showing us elements of her latest routine with her Border Collie Eze (Ezekiel). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-503TIqpkXU
If after watching the video you’d like to learn a little more about HTM, Good Boy Dog School in Barnet is hosting an Evening with Mary Ray on 31st October 2013.