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What is Heelwork to Music (HTM)

Kennel Club Regulations applicable: L


Heelwork to Music competitions are for the purpose of giving handlers an opportunity to demonstrate skilful movements by their dog and to perform heelwork and freestyle movements in a combined manner that interprets the chosen music and reflects the dog and handler working as a team. Additionally, such competitions should have spectator appeal and allow reasonable audience response where appropriate, even when the dog is working.

The History of Heelwork to Music


We owe the being of heelwork to music in the United Kingdom to a group of close-knit people.  It all started in 1990 when John Gilbert asked Mary Ray to give an insight into her training and success in the guise of “An Audience with Mary Ray”.  John acted as the interviewer whilst Mary answered his questions into her training methods particularly relating to competition obedience.  During the event Mary was asked to give two heelwork demonstrations; one with her superb red and white collie “Red Hot Toddy” and the other with her elegant Tervueren, “Roxy”.  To spice things up John decided to play music whilst Mary worked her dogs.  Toddy was worked to “Eye of the Tiger” and Roxy was worked to “Take My Breathe Away”.  Even Mary admits that night she didn’t particularly work the dogs in time to the music but from there the idea of heelwork to music was born.  Mary repeated this audience with John again in 1992 and that year she was also asked to give a demonstration at Crufts.  This led to Mary being asked to give more and more demonstrations at very prestigious events including the Pedigree Chum Champion Stakes and the more demonstrations she performed the better she became at making the heelwork moves fit the music. 


By 1996, although Mary was still being asked to give plenty of demonstrations, heelwork to music as a sport was not developing so it was Mary’s friend, Peter Lewis, who suggested that it should become a competitive event.  This is where the first problem was met.  Peter applied to the Kennel Club for permission to hold a “special event”.  The organisers knew that they could not apply for a show licence as it was a canine sport that was unrecognised by the Kennel Club and therefore they could not obtain “special permission” either because, as stated by the Kennel Club at the time, they could not give permission for something to happen when it is not a sport within their jurisdiction.  So the first six annual events held at Coventry and hosted by Rugby Dog Training Club were classed as “demonstrations”.  This proved the turning point for the sport and the interest increased.

The first year the demonstration took place 40 handlers performed routines which mainly contained as it read on the label, heelwork moves to music however, some also took Mary’s lead and included additional moves in their routines such as leg weaving and the dog jumping over the handlers.  By the second year, which is when I first began in this sport, I clearly remember the routines had taken a turn from mainly heelwork to more and more additional moves which we today call freestyle moves.  As the years progressed it became apparent that the sport was splitting between those of us that performed “heelwork to music” and moves taken from our obedience training and those whose routines mainly contained freestyle moves.  The Coventry show organisers also recognised this and around the turn of the Millennium spilt the routines into two divisions; heelwork to music and freestyle.  This made for a better competition even though the sport was still not recognised by the Kennel Club and was still regarded as a “demonstration” event.

In 2002 the Kennel Club formally recognised Heelwork to Music as a competitive sport; in 2005 the advanced handlers who had entered the Coventry competition were asked to also compete at Crufts and in 2006 the top five heelwork to music dogs and the top ten freestyle dogs were invited to compete at the first ever Crufts Heelwork to Music competitions the United Kingdom had ever seen. 2007 saw the top 10 Advanced Heelwork to Music and the top 10 Advanced Freestyle handlers battling it out at Crufts in the Main Arena.

(The above text is an extract from “The Starters Guide to Dog Dancing with Gina Pink” published by Dog Sports UK.)

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