New to heelwork to music?

Heelwork to music (HTM) is a relatively recent competitive activity in which participants devise routines of up to four minutes, set to music, and perform the routines with their dog. HTM is divided into two categories - heelwork to music and freestyle - and most competitions stage official classes in both categories.

What is heelwork to music?

The discipline is divided into two divisions: one is heelwork to music and the other is freestyle. The overarching title for the two divisions is heelwork to music, which is usually abbreviated to HTM.

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.

What is freestyle?

Freestyle, sometimes abbreviated to FS, simply means that the handler is not restricted to working a dog at heel. At least two thirds of the routine is made up of a series of moves in free positions and should reflect the timing, rhythm and phrasing of the music. The routine should have a theme, tell a story or interpret lyrics. Up to one third may be heelwork as explained above.

What do I need to know to take part?

Preparing your dog to be able to successfully compete will take time and dedication. It is essential that your dog is fully socialised and that you have effective control at all times, especially as your dog will be competing off lead. Thinking of taking part? Below is a list of things you need to know first. 

  • Any dog can take part in heelwork to music
  • Your dog must be registered on The Kennel Club Breed Register or the Activity Register
  • Competitors taking part in any event licensed by The Kennel Club must familiarise themselves with The Kennel Club rules and regulations beforehand. The Heelwork to Music Regulations booklet is available from The Kennel Club's publications department
  • Dogs can start competing in heelwork to music from 12 months of age and freestyle from 18 months of age
  • No previous experience is necessary, so request a list of heelwork to music clubs today!
What will the judges be looking for?

To give you an idea of what you should include in your heelwork to music or freestyle routines, judges mark all heelwork to music performances using the following criteria:

a. Content and flow - 10 marks

  • The programme content conforms to the definitions for heelwork to music or freestyle and should be varied, with no excessive repetition of movement, and the content being appropriate to the routine.
  • All movements should be appropriate to the structure and conformation of the dog.
  • The content should flow naturally and be formulated in order to create an interesting routine that makes good use of the ring.
  • Degree of difficulty of movements should be taken into account.

b. Accuracy and team performance - 10 marks

  • Movements from the team including heelwork should be accurately and smoothly executed.
  • The dog should work in a natural, willing and committed manner.
  • The dog should respond promptly and appropriately to the cues given. Signals from the handler should be subtle and form part of the handler’s movement.
  • The dog and handler should work as a team, presenting a captivating performance for the audience and judges, giving an overall appearance of harmony between dog and handler.

c. Musical interpretation - 10 marks

  • Interpretation of the rhythm, phrasing and timing of the music should be apparent; the choice of music should suit the team.
  • Choreography should be apparent with the story or theme being inspired from the music. The chosen music should be well represented by the choice of moves by both handler and dog.
  • Primary emphasis of musical interpretation should be on the dog’s movements although the handler may be expressive.
  • Handlers’ dress and any props used should be suitable and applicable to the interpretation of the routine with all the props integrated into the performance.
What moves are inappropriate in heelwork to music ?

The following moves are NOT permitted during any routine. If any of the following moves are used the dog and handler will be eliminated from the competition.

Dog balanced on handler’s shoulders
Whilst handler is standing

Dog balanced on handler’s upturned feet
Or any variation of this move

Hand stand
Where dog is independently balanced on its front feet, either moving or statically

Head stand (also known as tripod)
Or any variation of this move where dog is balanced on its nose and front feet with back feet off the ground

Forward or backward roll
Where dog is required to roll forwards or backwards

Dog Balanced on narrow object
Dog balanced on a narrow object such as a stick, beam or tightrope, or a similar object 

When can I start training my dog?

Preparing your dog to compete successfully will take a little longer than the formal requirements. It is essential that your dog is fully socialised and that you have effective control at all times, especially as your dog will be competing off lead. Taking guidance from a specialist at a training club is the best way to identify when your dog is ready to start training.

How can I find a training club?

Training will involve teaching your dog a series of different moves and poses. As you grow in confidence and the partnership with your dog develops, these actions can be put together to formulate sequences of moves. Once you feel happy with your trained moves you might like to select a piece of music and adapt the sequences to suit the rhythm and pace of your chosen track.

There are a number of training clubs across the country who are able to support you in this, many of which can be located via Find a Club.

My dog is blind. Can I still compete?
It is not advised that blind dogs compete in Kennel Club activities as it is not in their best interests. This specifically relates to dogs that have no sight whatsoever and does not apply to dogs with partial vision. Owners are reminded to consider the welfare of their dogs at all times.
My dog is docked, can I still compete?

The term 'docked' includes dogs which have their tails shortened for medical reasons after the relevant dates - these count as having been docked and therefore such dogs are not allowed to be shown/compete at events where the public are admitted on payment of a fee. Please see the Defra website for further information.

What types of heelwork to music shows are there?

There are two competition categories licensed by The Kennel Club:

  • Premier heelwork to music competitions
  • Open heelwork to music competitions

The Kennel Club competitions have prescribed pathways through the classes and there is a progression upwards if you and your dog gain the required wins/places/points.

What heelwork to music classes are there?

The levels for heelwork to music are as follows: starters, novice, intermediate, advanced and specials.

Next steps - attending your first heelwork to music competition

Once you have decided that you would like to give heelwork to music a go, the first step will be to enter a competition. Learn more about how to enter.