A Beginner’s Guide to Heelwork To Music

You’re probably familiar with popular dog sports like agility and obedience, but have you ever heard of heelwork to music? This fun and exciting new sport is taking the dog sport world by storm, and we’re all for it.

If you’ve ever watched a heelwork to music competition, you’ve probably thought to yourself “My dog and I could do that. That looks like fun!” and you wouldn’t be alone. Heelwork to music is a great source of exercise for both pets and people and can be a wonderful way to bond with your pup. Right now, the sport is primarily popular in the UK, but it’s been making its way across the pond since the early 2000s.

This sport has been recognized by The Kennel Club in the UK within the past 24 years and has been included in the Crufts Dog Show for the past 12. So what is this new sport and why has it gained so much popularity?

The History of Heelwork to Music

Mary Ray, a prominent UK dog trainer, brought this sport into the spotlight in the early 1990s when she performed a demonstration of the budding sport at Crufts. Years later, the Rugby Dog Club was then the first kennel to add the sport to a competitive show at their 1996 show. To this day, the Rugby Dog Club show continues to be the pinnacle competition for those in the heelwork to music realm in the UK.

It wasn’t until 2005 that heelwork to music was included in the Crufts dog show by way of an invitational competition. In that inaugural year, Tina Humphrey won the grand prize with her blue merle Border Collie, Bluecroft My Blue Heaven. The next year, in 2006, the heelwork to music sport was finally thrust into the spotlight when the sport was added to the official Crufts lineup for its mainstage competition.

Heelwork to Music vs. Freestyle

As with all sports, there are different styles that competitors can compete in. Like in figure skating how a skater could compete in either singles or pairs, both are still ice skating, but each division has its own set of rules. There are two divisions of heelwork to music; the first is just referred to as heelwork to music, and the other is called freestyle.


According to the World Canine Freestyle Association, freestyle is defined as “Musical Freestyle is a choreographed musical program performed by handlers and their dogs. The object of musical freestyle is to display the dog and handler in a creative, innovative and original dance, using music and intricate movements to showcase teamwork, artistry, costuming, athleticism and style in interpreting the theme of the music. Heelwork-to-Music incorporates traditional dog obedience and the art of dressage with the inclusion of musical interpretation, dance elements, and costuming with an emphasis on non-standard obedience movements. Both Musical Freestyle and Heelwork-To-Music routines should create a visually exciting display which is enjoyable to watch and which is equally enjoyable to dogs and handlers executing the programs. Canine freestyle is a showcase that truly demonstrates the joys and fun of bonding with your pet.”

Heelwork to Music

The Kennel Club defines heelwork to music as “Heelwork to Music came originally from the discipline of dog obedience and uses the heelwork elements of that discipline. It requires a dog to walk/trot at heel in any of the eight prescribed heelwork positions and the handler to choreograph that heelwork to a piece of music. The dog must be in a heelwork position for at least two thirds of a Heelwork to Music routine. The remaining one third may be freestyle.”

Heelwork to Music Moves

Creativity is key when it comes to heelwork to music routines. The only guidelines for heelwork to music routines are that the handler and dog must be in a heelwork position for at least ⅔ of the routine. The last ⅓ can be just about anything you can imagine. The best way to understand the heelwork to music sport is to watch a demonstration. We recommend watching some of the most recent Crufts heelwork to music routines. You can watch the Crufts 2017 international freestyle heelwork To music competition winner here, and find the entire Crufts Youtube channel here.

Sustained close-in heelwork sequences: these combinations entail the handler and dog moving together in a sustained and prolonged parallel position in straight, curved, or circular patterns.

Moving or stationary close-in heelwork: these combinations are done with the dog and handler next to one another or together. These moves can include spins, turns, pivots, paw moves, or hand moves, and more.

Close-in connecting moves: these combinations can either be performed stationary or while in motion. These are the moves that connect other heelwork combinations together.

Getting Started in Heelwork with Music

The World Canine Freestyle Organization is the primary authority on heelwork to music in the U.S. If you want to get started in the sport, their website is the best place to start. After that, you can either look to local trainers or online resources for help mastering this new doggy activity. We wish you the best of luck in your new sport!