Rules and how to calculate heelwork content

There are rule changes regarding the amount of heelwork versus freestyle which is required in the two official Kennel Club classes. In order to comply with Rule 17 a [1] – ‘The programme content conforms to the definitions for Heelwork to Music or Freestyle’, competitors should:

  1. Understand the definitions for the official classes as set out in the Kennel Club HTM Regulations Booklet.
  2. Know how to calculate the heelwork content of their routine and how much they should have for the length of music chosen.
  3. Be clear about what constitutes heelwork as opposed to freestyle.

There are still some programmes which fall below the MINIMUM two-thirds heelwork requirement (which can also be expressed as 67%). If the heelwork content is very close to this minimum, then there is no leeway should the programme not go to plan and the handler has to busk (or fudge it!) until back on track. Competitors must leave the judges in NO doubt that their programme meets the criteria, otherwise they WILL have points deducted.

The amount of heelwork is measured by the time spent performing the heelwork elements of a routine and NOT the number of moves the dog performs. There are two fairly accurate ways of calculating how much heelwork you have planned in a routine and how much you should have, in order to meet the two-thirds requirement.

1. Using a stop-watch

Run through your routine with the music but without the dog , or sit and listen to the music (with a plan of your route to jog your memory). Press the start button every time you begin any heelwork moves/sequences and release it as you start freestyle. At the end you can read off the number of seconds spent doing heelwork. It will be necessary to do this several times to check accuracy. All results should be close.

Next, calculate two-thirds of your music in seconds. To do this, first work out the total number of seconds the music runs for, multiply the answer by 2 then divide it by 3. The resulting figure will give you the minimum two-thirds of your music in seconds. Now you can compare the stopwatch results to see whether there is enough heelwork in your routine or whether you need to increase it.

Eg. a 2 minute 54 second routine is 174 seconds, so, 174 x by 2, then divided by 3 = 116 seconds. This is the minimum time you should spend doing heelwork, but, as mentioned before, it is better to do more, such as 70% which will be 122 seconds or perhaps 80% which is 139 seconds.

2. Counting the Beats

An alternative way of calculating the heelwork content is to record your music using musical notation (if you have a good knowledge of music that is!) or by using symbols or numbers to represent the notes. The following example shows 4 bars of 4/4 time i.e. 16 beats on each line. By highlighting all the beats where you are doing heelwork you can calculate the totals for each line or phrase.

4 4 4 4  -  12 beats of heelwork and 4 beats of freestyle
4 4 4 4  -  8 beats of FS and 8 beats of HW
4 4 4 4  -  16 beats of HW
4 4 4 4  -  4 beats HW, 4 beats FS, 4 beats HW and 4 beats FS

In this short example there are 44 beats of heelwork (11x4) and 20 beats of freestyle (5x4) making a total of 64 beats. So, 44 of the 64 beats are heelwork. To calculate the amount of heelwork , as a percentage, multiply the 44 heelwork beats by 100 then divide the answer by 64. This works out as 69% to the nearest whole number.

               44 x 100 = 69%

You can scatter any freestyle moves throughout the routine, concentrate them in one or two places or if you wish, do no freestyle in your programme. However, unless you choose the latter option you will need to record all of your music to be sure there is enough heelwork overall – tedious perhaps, but accuracy is necessary especially if your routine is sailing close to the wind.

Whichever method is used to calculate the amount of heelwork, it is important to understand what constitutes heelwork, so that freestyle moves are not included in the heelwork calculations.

The Development of Heelwork in HTM

HTM evolved from Obedience. The early routines were more like obedience to music – heelwork usually on the left or right, with turns, generally at normal pace and with a few additional moves added such as spins and weaves. As people became more adventurous and inventive so other moves, especially freestyle, were added and the content became more varied. It was however several years before Heelwork and Freestyle became two different classes.

The main differences between obedience and HTM are:

  • In HTM there are 8 different heelwork positions
  • Handler and dog can move in any direction within these 8 positions
  • Both dog and handler should move freely without impeding each other (not the exaggerated heel by feel)
  • The handler may use different footstep rhythms, dance steps and different paces
  • Freestyle moves can be included to help interpret the music
  • There are no compulsory moves or exercises – we can choose the pattern and content
  • We work to music
  • Handlers may be expressive

What is essentially the same as for obedience is:

  • The dog should keep a consistent position through each heelwork element, relative to the handler’s leg
  • There should be no surging forward, dropping behind, going wide or barging into the handler.
  • The dog should maintain a flowing rhythmic movement
  • Dog and handler should work as a team

A heelwork routine in HTM should not look like obedience to music. There are so many variations and opportunities for us to choose from, apart from the use of music. We should be able to choreograph something interesting (spectator appeal) and varied in terms of content beyond anything possible in obedience. We are able to use some freestyle as part of our programme to add yet more variety and to help interpret the music and the theme, style or story-line of the programme.

Whenever the dog moves out of a heelwork position, to spin or to weave under a leg into a different position, for example, that is freestyle. Such a move may take only a couple of beats but for slower moving dogs or more complicated transitional moves, four or more beats may be needed. This non-heelwork time soon mounts up, which is why it is so important to be able to calculate the amount of heelwork time accurately.

Popular freestyle moves such as spins, weaving, highs or crawling are NOT heelwork, even if performed in a heelwork position. Any moves at a distance from the handler, in front, behind or out to the side are all freestyle.

It is the responsibility of each competitor to create a programme which meets the rules and requirements of the class entered. There should be a clear and obvious distinction between Heelwork and Freestyle.

PnM – the unofficial classes and the PnM Members Handbook

The first event where separate classes were held for Heelwork and Freestyle was June 2000 hosted by PnM. This event also included two other classes – Dressage and Dances with Dogs, so providing four very different styles of working to music. Definitions and rules were laid down for each ‘division’ and PnM continue to offer all four divisions at most of their shows. Other societies have the opportunity to apply to PnM for permission to include PnM unofficial classes at their own shows (see events diary for upcoming shows).

Dressage showcases the natural rhythmic movements of the dog in time with the music. In Dances with Dogs the programme should be a recognisable dance on the part of the handler, and dog and handler should work together as dance partners.

The Members Handbook is updated regularly and a available on the Members Portal. It contains much helpful explanatory information about the four divisions and the Progress Award Scheme. This scheme continues to be a good introduction to our sport, a way of measuring progress with our dogs in a non-competitive way and a chance to ‘’have a go’’ in a new division. The Blue Book is also a useful source of ideas when planning a new routine.