It seems like ages ago that I accomplished this goal. I briefly mentioned it in my monthly update of November, but I haven’t written about it yet:
No. 101: Attend a doggy dance workshop.
In fact I did write about it, just not on this blog. I was asked to write a review for the website of dog school ‘De Vrije Hond’! Last week they posted it on their website and today I will translate my review here for all of you who don’t understand Dutch. But if you prefer reading the article in Dutch, then click here.
I guess this review means I also progressed on another goal:
No. 6: Write for at least 5 different clients.
Dog school ‘De Vrije Hond’ is my third client!
So let’s see what I thought about this doggy dance workshop, shall we?
DOGGY DANCE WORKSHOP AT DOG SCHOOL ‘DE VRIJE HOND’
as published on devrijehond.nl.
A twist, a turn, a weave, then walk backwards and finish with a roll-over. All without food lures, in my opinion a necessity when training my dogs. On Saturday November 7th Rikku and I were proud participants of a doggy dance workshop at dog school De Vrije Hond (translated: The Free Dog). Our doggy dance teacher was Nathalie Klaassen.
Why doggy dance?
A workshop doggy dance had been on my wish list for years now. I discovered the phenomenon during an episode of the talent show Holland’s Got Talent. The moment I saw those dogs dance, I was sold. How amazing is it that dogs are able to learn so many different moves, be in total synchrony with their handlers or mirror their moves. But most importantly: the dogs had so much fun! I decided that if I’d ever had a dog of my own, I’d take him doggy dancing.
Since two years, I do have my own two dogs and one of them happens to love doing tricks. She’d be the perfect candidate for a doggy dance course! There were only two minor setbacks:
- In my area (Nijmegen, Netherlands) there are no doggy dance classes.
- It appeared I had to be one lucky dog to ever find a dog dance teacher who doesn’t lure with food.
The first obstacle could be solved easily. I was totally prepared to travel for a good quality doggy dance course. The second obstacle however, appeared to be more difficult to overcome.
Dog handling without food lures
Handling my dogs without the use of any food lures is very important to me. For the past two years I’ve been having lessons from Jolein van Weperen at dog school De Laar. For all exercises we use a hand cue, which is a movement with our hands without any food in it. The result: my dogs don’t beg, they don’t steal food from our table and they will still do what I ask of them even when I don’t have food with me. After so much effort of teaching my dogs it’s very worthwhile not to follow food, it would be plain stupid to participate in a workshop where that’s exactly the thing they have to do.
So I was looking for a doggy dance teacher who wouldn’t use food lures. Not an easy task, since luring is still the most widely used training method in doggy land. Until I met Hester van der Meij a while ago, the owner of dog school De Vrije Hond. She ensured me that in her workshop doggy dance no food lures would be used. I didn’t think twice and reserved a spot in her class.
Hour 1: The Basics
The workshop took place on a fenced field in Loenen aan de Vecht, located in the center of the Netherlands. Four handlers and four dogs awaited their fate as dance partners. This immediately resulted in a very calm atmosphere. All dogs had enough space to practice their moves and there wasn’t a moment where they sabotaged another dog’s training session. This was such a nice atmosphere for practicing new stuff. Our teacher Nathalie also played her part in this. She was very friendly, pleasant to listen to and explained everything very clearly.
It took quite a while before we were learning anything new, though. There where no criteria for entering the workshop, so Nathalie started with teaching us the absolute basics: following an empty hand, also known as the hand cue. Which was absolutely great, but Rikku is following empty hands for the past two years now (which is all her life). After a few hand touches and hand cues I tried to challenge ourselves a bit by asking her to do some other things that also involved following or touching my hand (for example rotating, or touching my hand while jumping in the air). I managed to keep it fun for Rikku, but she didn’t learn anything new that hour. I had hoped that Nathalie would differentiate a bit more if she noticed some dogs already knew the basics.
Hour 2: Learning tricks
The second hour (after a nice break with coffee, tea and cookies) was more interesting. Although we started yet again with an exercise Rikku already knew (the twist), this time Nahalie did adapt the exercise for Rikku. She told me to teach Rikku the twist while walking, instead of standing still. A completely different exercise! At last I saw Rikku’s brain at work. The lesson had started for real now. It became ten times more fun instantly.
Except for the twist in movement Rikku also learned a turn (while standing still and while walking), a weave between my legs, the figure eight between my legs, a circle around me and I tried learning her to walk backwards. That was so difficult! Usually the hand cue moves away from the dog, but this time it moved towards her. Rikku was clearly confused about this. The very first step she learned quickly though: keeping standing on a step platform until I said ‘free’. To put her rear legs back on that step, was a step yet too difficult for her. Not a problem, we should have something to practice at home anyway! Nathalie also gave me some additional tips, alternative ways to teach Rikku the same exercise. Which was great, because that way I could try out what would fit my dog best. I also loved that she took the time to check on everyone individually. This also had a downside though; we kept on doing the same exercise for a long time. I noticed that Rikku wanted to do something else after a couple of repetitions (or at least the same thing presented differently).
Hour 3: Exhausted doggies
We had another break, which was needed much by the handlers as well as the dogs. After the break Nathalie wanted to teach us the roll-over trick. She was very honest about the dangers of this trick and how to prevent them from happening. It turned out to be a very difficult exercise and for the first time I felt the need to see Nathalie do an example roll-over with one of the doggies. She did check in on us all to coach us, but it would have been nice if she’d showed us all the first step first. It didn’t matter much in the end, because Rikku decided she was done. She was totally worn out. On top of it all it had begun to rain, something she hates with a fiery passion. Rolling over was clearly not on her to-do list under those circumstances.
So instead I decided to repeat some other exercises we’d learned that day, tricks she could do easily and which she liked. Nathalie was completely okay with that, fortunately. She also noticed how exhausted all the dogs were and decided to end the workshop earlier than planned. She’d compensate us by creating a hand-out and videos of all the exercises, including the ones we weren’t able to do now. That was awesome, because we weren’t able to learn everything she had planned for us. I’m glad though, that she watched our dogs carefully and adjusted the length of the workshop according to their energy levels. Although I would have preferred this would not have been necessary, of course.
+ All tricks were taught without food lures.
+ Lots of individual coaching.
+ Small group, so enough training distance between the dogs.
+ Very nice, calm atmosphere.
+ Pleasant teacher, who explained everything clearly.
– I had hoped for more differentiation between the different starting levels.
– Each exercise took a long time.
– The workshop was to exhausting for the dogs, and had to be ended early as a result.
Both Rikku and I enjoyed the workshop very much. Rikku learned a few new tricks, which we practice daily now. I do believe the level of the lesson was too low for us, though. We already knew the basics, so it only started to get challenging after an hour. Since the third hour was canceled because of the energy level of the doggies, we only enjoyed one hour of the workshop to the fullest in the end.
If your dog hasn’t learned to follow an empty hand yet, this workshop level is perfect for you and I would definitely recommend it. Personally I’d love to do another workshop with a higher training level. That way we can start with new exercises immediately.
It would also be nice if the workshop would fit the dogs’ energy levels better in the future. I can imagine it could be better to have two shorter workshop days, instead of one long one. Two workshop days of two hours each, for example. That would be perfectly doable. To be able to practice at home in between workshop days would be an added bonus. I also shared these tips with Nathalie and Hester at the end of the workshop. They both appreciated the feedback. I hope there will be a second workshop soon. I’d love to participate again!