We all love to have a dance from time to time, but did you know you could dance with your dog? Nicola Cole from Southampton has set up her own programme to teach the basics of inter-species strictly come dancing. Nicola believes this activity boosts the bond between pet and owner as well as being a great form of exercise and an outlet to improve mental health.
Read on for her tips and you’ll be pirouetting with your pooch in no time!
Why Dog Dancing?
Dog dancing has endless benefits for both dog and owner. Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are on the rise. Studies have proven that spending time with our pets has a positive impact on mental health. I have had some very dark times and my dog Fred has really saved me. I always feel better after a fun training session with Fred.
Likewise, our dogs need mental stimulation like we do. Dog dancing provides just the right kind, it works their brains and is a physical activity. It is also positive based reinforcement training in which they are doing their favourite thing, spending time with their favourite person- you!
It is mine and my rescue dog Fred’s journey that inspired me to set up ‘Strictly fun dog dancing,’ an online program teaching the basics of dog dancing.
Here are my top tips for starting your own fun journey with your best friend!
- Find out what motivates your dog. Treats are the best choice. Experiment with types and textures. What does your dog regard high value and what does your dog regard as low value? The treats need to be easy to break up, drop down and easy and quick for your dog to eat. Cut up sausage is a good option. Fred will work for his kibble which is nice and easy to use.
- How are you going to mark the behaviour? Your dog needs to learn when they first perform a new trick that they have done the correct behaviour. So, you need to ‘mark the behaviour.’ In my program I go into detail about how to use a clicker. But you could also have a marker word, such as ‘YES.’ However you mark the behaviour, you must always follow it up with a reward, so they understand they have done well.
- Keep sessions short and sweet and always end on a good note. You want to keep sessions positive, working on no more than three tricks each session. This prevents over-excitement which can lead to frustration. If you are struggling with a new trick, then end on one your dog knows well so you have ended the session positively. You want your dog to enjoy this activity as much as you do, and they won’t enjoy it if they are frustrated.
- Up your creativity! What films, music, TV theme tunes do you love?
Costumes and Props
When you have thought about what tune you would like to compose a dance routine to, think about costumes and props. Costumes for you, don’t dress up your dog! Then you need to get your dog desensitised to the costume. Have the costume lying around for them to see, wear the costume around the house, while doing housework or watching TV. Give your dog calm praise for being calm. Don’t put your costume on straight away and then start your training session, you may scare your dog! Fred and I love The Beatles, we also have a Back to the future routine with Fred on a skateboard and a Harry Potter routine using brooms and a wand!
- Be creative but keep it safe. Make sure you always work on a non-slip surface. When using props for your dog to climb on make sure they are sturdy and safe for your dog to climb on.
Lots of the tricks involved in putting together a routine have many other benefits. Not only are they great for dog dancing they are also good life skills for your dog.
How To Use Touch Techniques In Dog Dancing?
Touch is great for your routine. You can move it up a level getting your dog to touch your hat, your wand, your walking stick or whatever prop you are using! Touch is also great to teach sensitive, nervous dogs because it helps to build their confidence. You are giving them choice, getting them to touch your hand of their own accord. It is also a great go to trick if you have a reactive dog. If you are out and about and see a potential trigger coming. (In our case with my rescue dog Fred, the other day it was a man carrying a great big canoe!) I can take Fred to one side, do the touch command and he knows it so well, he will touch my hand or my foot and be distracted and rewarded while the scary big canoe goes past!
- Have your treats at the ready.
- Hold out your hand. Be patient with your dog, let them figure it out.
- As soon as dogs nose touches hand, mark, reward and treat. Repeat five times.
- After the fifth time, when they have touched your hand, add in the word ‘Touch,’ and treat them.
- Lots of praise when they have got it right.
- Practise every day in short sessions, using the word ‘Touch.’ Once you can see your dog is confident with this, you can progress onto teaching them to touch any props you are using for a routine and also mix it up, getting them to touch your hands and feet.
Above all, keep dancing and have fun with your dog!
Have You Ever Tried Dog Dancing Before?
If you’ve every boogied with your pooch, let us know in the comments below. For more great activities and ideas that you and your furry best friend will love head to Dog Furiendly.