Working to Wizzy's strengths

Working to Wizzy’s strengths


By Ann Evans

Photos: Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography



If you’re a dog lover and watched or visited Crufts last week you probably enjoyed the amazing Heelwork to Music routine performed by renowned dog trainers Mary Ray and Richard Curtis.


A year or two back, photographer Rob Tysall and myself visited Richard at his Lincolnshire home where he chatted to us about the sport of Heelwork to Music – or dancing with your dog. Richard is one of the UK’s leading Heelwork to Music/Canine Freestyle handlers with many Crufts championships under his belt.


I was keen to know whether anyone could train their dog to do some of these moves and whether it’s an activity that any breed can enjoy. Richard who has produced a number of DVDs on the subject and the first hardback book – Dancing with your Dog, a step by step guide all of which are available from his website, offered some great tips as well as demonstrated some moves for us with his dogs, Betty a Chihuahua Pomeranian and Wizzy a border collie standard poodle cross.


Richard Curtis and Betty

Richard Curtis and Betty

“You can train any dog to do some of the moves so long as you have some basic control,” said Richard whose work takes him all around the world. “It doesn’t need to be high flying obedience so long as your dog will stay with you and has an interest in toys or treats.


“However, not all dogs will be comfortable with all the various moves, so know your dog and don’t go for any unnatural moves.If you have an older dog don’t do things that will tax the dog physically. Older dogs can still do walking moves, so they could walk around a cane and weave. However, you wouldn’t want them jumping through arms and legs.


“As for pups, there are plenty of things to be teaching your puppy for the first year to 18 months of its life, but doing tricks is not one of them. The most important thing for a pup is to have attention and attitude and not spend the first six months of its life doing twists. You need control and a good relationship. Sow the seeds, but no jumping or hind leg work. The pup should be at least one year old before you try to get them doing moves or even two years old especially with bigger dogs.”


“Each individual move will only take the dog a few days to get. So about five minutes twice a day and your dog will know it. When a dog knows a move you don’t need to keep practising it – that’s the worst thing you can do. Once the dog can do it, do something else otherwise it will get bored.”


Enjoying his work

Enjoying his work


To begin with you could try a twist, or giving paw, or leg weaves with you stationary; or teach the dog to walk backwards. Work with your dog’s strengths which might be balance or reversing and utilise things like the dog’s size.


“Initially you lure your dog with food which is easy as it will follow your hand with the treat in. You then need to get the dog to do the move without the lure of food, to know it will get its treat after its done the move. So you also have to develop vocal commands, physical moves and body cues that it recognises. That’s the way you produce the magical performance of the dog dancing.”


Of course, teaching your dog various moves is one thing. Putting them together into a routine is far more challenging. Richard added: “For me, communication is very important, I talk to that dog a lot.   But at higher level competitions I don’t want the judges to see me telling the dog what to do. At Advanced level it wants to look like telepathy.”



  • Suitable for all breeds.
  • Dogs must be at least a year or 18 months old before teaching them tricks/moves.
  • With patience and teaching by reward any dog should be able to do some moves.
  • Work to your dog’s strengths, no unnatural moves.
  • Failure will most likely to be down to poor communication on the handler’s part.


Hand signals tell Betty what's expected of her

Hand signals tell Betty what’s expected of her

More information on Heelwork to Music:


More about Richard Curtis and his events: