Heelwork To Music

The Bow

Heelwork To Music (HTM) is where handlers devise a routine to suit their chosen piece of music. Each routine can be anything from 2 minutes and 30 seconds to 4 minutes in length. Heelwork To Music is split into two different styles:

1. Heelwork To Music: Mainly heelwork to music.

2. Freestyle: Anything goes.

Each dog and handler are judged on three elements, which are each allocated a mark out of a maximum of ten, these elements are:

Content of routine: The different variety of moves a dog has been trained to perform.

Accuracy & Execution: How well each movement is performed and how they ‘flow’ together.

Interpretation: How the handler has interpreted the music & how the routine fits the music.

Heelwork To Music is judged by a panel of three judges, with each judge covering all the three above elements as to end up with a mark out of thirty, an average is then taken and this is the final mark taken. Anyone receiving a 25 or above should be over the moon.

Although the curly is not as ‘flashy’ or as ‘stylish’ as other breeds competing he certainly commands attention wherever he goes.

There are some advantages of training a curly in HTM, they include a deeper bond between dog and handler (due to the many, many hours of motivational reward based training) which can be seen by all. There is a lesser fear of losing marks because of the dog barking when being enthusiastic and energetic.

But most of all a sense of humour needed by both dog and handler! (Also maybe a disadvantage)

The most satisfying moment is when the dog starts to ‘dance’ even before the music has even started. A dog that is happy and enjoys what he is doing will always put in one hundred percent.

Northern Mutts ‘N’ Music Association Open Heelwork To Music Show, Sunday 26th May 2007

OK so we have the (obvious) Border Collie, the Bearded Collie, the Crossbreed, Spaniels, the Border Terrier and even the German Shepherd Dog…. BUT a Curly Coated Retriever….well…

On Sunday 26th May 2007 ‘Spike’ (Kelsmere Kumera) was entered into his first Kennel Club HTM Show Northern Mutts ‘N’ Music Association in Co. Durham. After a few displays and demonstrations, we were soon entered into our first proper KC competition. Once we’d sent off our entries there was only a month to finalise our routine, when most competitors know exactly what they’re going to do. I had only decided on the music…. which was to be Total Eclipse Of The Heart by Bonnie Tyler, so the pressure was on.

Believe it or not, most of the training is done without the dog. As a routine has to be devised to choreograph to the music you have chosen. This involves listening over and over again to the same (by now annoying) piece of music, learning all the ins and outs. Then the hard part, getting the dog to do what you have written on paper when he is supposed to do it and the timing of how long he has got to do that move before the music changes. Much patience is required on both sides.

There was now a week to go and I was still ‘tweaking’ (pretty much starting over) the written routine. Spike knows what commands go with which move so it was a matter of them ‘flowing’ together. Another very important factor that has to be taken into consideration is that the dog has to ‘fit‘ the piece of music, there are just certain pieces they don‘t like and it shows when they work. HTM is 100% praise based as in competitions there is no food allowed. So he must want to ‘dance’ to please you. Bribery not an option!

Weaving through the legs.

We had entered in two classes, KC Freestyle Starters, and later on in the evening Anything Goes. There were eleven entries in each class. 96 overall. I had brought Spike into the hall to acclimatise him. Everyone is allowed in the ring for a practice (all at the same time) No-one is allowed on him or her any toys or treats not even on their person. But I had chose not to go in the ring. I worked on the weave throughthe legs and on the counting for 2 minutes outside on the grass. We then watched the other competitors, by the time it was our go I was nervous as everyone so far had completely different routines to what I had and the dogs had worked well. We stepped into the ring; you have a few seconds to get settled so I praised him up to get him going.

The music started and we were off, Spike had gotten to know the routine as well as I had so we both helped each other out. When I was working him it was like there was only us there, and the rest of the hall was empty (despite there being nearly 150 people watching and not to mention the panel of judges scrutinising every move) we were alone. I had really enjoyed myself and Spike as well; he was full of bounce and giving 100% effort. Now the waiting began. ‘’All competitors back to the ring,’’ commanded the show secretary. Placings were read backwards. She got to 5th we were still there, I was thinking brilliant we might manage 2 points at our first show, no 4th came and went, then 3rd and then 2nd (surely) YES we were 2nd!! 6 points. & only 0.19 marks from 1st. We were delighted he worked beautifully.

The Anything goes class was much later on, we were 3rd in the running order. This class was open to every one of all abilities i.e. competitors qualified for novice etc. Spike worked well again but he wasn’t quite as good as he was in the morning, I watched the others and was amazed by the standard and ingenuity by some. Quick as a flash we were in the ring for placing, 4th came and went as did 3rd, brilliant 2 seconds I thought, but 2nd came and went….that left FIRST… I couldn’t believe it..

We’d WON… Spike obviously thought he’d put in the most work as he proudly carried his rosettes and trophy back to the car. Of course afterwards he was spoilt rotten, and slept all the way home under the quilted duvet! I was very proud of him and he knew it.

And that was our introduction to KC competitive HTM. That neither of us will forget.

Theresa James & Kelsmere Kumera (‘Spike’)


Freestyle Starters Excellent: Kelsmere Kumera FS St Ex

HTM Starters: Kelsmere Kumera FS St Ex Htm St P-Beg Ex

 Photo’s courtesy of James Swan (Cygnet images)