Dog Dancing

Canine Freestyle: building a relationship with dogs through dance

Local trainer offers weekly classes in ‘goofy,' 'relaxed’ sport

Gay Harley with her border collie, Kes.   Matt MacNeil

From the moment Gay Harley saw it, she knew she had to try dog dancing.

“I saw it on YouTube,” she said. “Every time I saw someone dancing with their dog, it made me cry. It was just so powerful to see people with their dogs, with the music and see that connection.

Officially known as canine freestyle, dog dancing is a performance sport where handlers perform a routine to music that makes it appear their dog has memorized choreography. It incorporates elements of agility, conformation and trick training.

Harley doesn’t just take part in canine freestyle. She’s a trainer, certified instructor and has been teaching the sport for five years.

She received her Canine Fitness certification with the Animal Sciences Institute in 2010 to help her own dogs improve their fitness. Afterward she discovered dog dancing.

“It just so happened that freestyle helps with fitness,” she said. “As soon as I looked at freestyle, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my dogs.”

She currently holds classes at Nova Dogsport in Harrietsfield.

“It’s a really great relationship builder,” she said. “Once the music goes on, the pressure is off. You get a little goofy. I just love watching people have fun with their dogs.”

Janet Arbuckle, one of Harley’s students, trains with her eight-year-old sheltie, Devlin.

Even though she’s new to the sport, Arbuckle is enjoying the challenge.

And so is Devlin.

“He’s getting older. It’s good exercise for him; it keeps him fit,” she said. “Gay is awesome. She always keeps it positive and she will always design the course for what you need, and what your dog needs.”

Janet Arbuckle and her sheltie, Devlin, practice a few moves.   Matt MacNeil

Harley describes her class as a more lighthearted and less intense form of exercise than Agility, a sport where dogs race through an obstacle course.

Harley said freestyle is suitable for all ages and all breeds, including dogs with disabilities.

Part of Harley’s effort to let people know about dog dancing involves organizing competitions, like Monday’s “Fun Match Fundraiser” which will benefit the Atlantic Veterinary College in P.E.I.

“I wanted to do something where I could invite people to come and they could know that their money was going to a good cause,” Harley said.

Gay Harley (far right) with her Monday evening dog dancing class.   Matt MacNeil

Harley hopes to see Canine Freestyle become as popular as other dog sports, like rally obedience and agility.

“It’s great because there’s no pressure. It’s an absolute blast. If you like music and you like dogs, there’s nothing not to like,” she said.

Harley said she would love to be able to compete in a world dog dance championship someday.

VIDEO: This winning routine from the 2016 International Canine Federation dog dancing competition shows just what the judges are looking for.