A Heelwork to Music weekend in Holland

Upon landing I was informed that this airport was the largest in Europe - and I was meeting someone there! However, this proved to be so easy - a well signed Meeting Point in red and white chequers from which we were instantly whisked away by a driver to the Martin Gaus Dog Training Centre, which was to be our base for the following three days.

The centre consists of boarding kennels and a cattery, a large purpose built dog-training hall with carpeted centre and large screen for using video footage. There is also a fully equipped lecture theatre for training those aspiring to become Dog Trainers. Martin is an eminent TV programme personality in Holland and this was reflected in the presentation of the facilities - perfection.


After a night in the hotel, we returned to the centre for the first of the two training days to be carried out by Donelda Guy - Donelda is amongst the top dog handlers for Heelwork To Music and I was there to assist when necessary, since there were 24 keen handlers, I was kept very busy. Handlers with a variety of breeds all interested in what they term as “Doggie Dancing” were very willing and able pupils. Their impeccable knowledge of the English language made it all so much easier for us to explain how they could improve on their existing skills. By the end of the first day - they were all so eager to get on to the floor individually and work with their dogs to the music - they each showed how much they had learnt and could now put into practice.

Winner of Open Class - Alexia van Mensch and Raisa the Siberian Husky.

The second day was “Competition Day”. I was drafted in to be a judge alongside Donelda, Martin Gaus and Jules O’Dwyer, who has lived in Holland for several years and is an advanced dog handler in both obedience and Heelwork To Music. The classes were split into levels of competence only - no different classes for styles. The Junior Class was first - and they worked very well. Sharisse Uytterhoeven with her three - year - old Border Collie won this group with a very fast and accurate routine.

The second class was the Beginners - those who had never entered before - this class had the largest entry of 34 and was won by a lady called Sandra Hurkmans and her nine-year- old Maltese Terrier. The dog worked so precisely and was extremely attentive of the handler - the content and musical interpretation scored highly with all judges.

The third class was called Open - this was for those who had entered a competition before. The standard of some this class was a little disappointing after the quality of the Starter class. However, those placed in the top three were excellent - there was a well-deserved win for Alexia van Mensch with her Siberian Husky as their interpretation of the music was so well choreographed and suited to the partnership.

Only two entries in the advanced class - but, due to the intense barking of one of the dogs - which detracted from the spectator appeal - the first place went to Cristine Mattheus and her two-year-old collie whose routine was very calmly executed with good moves carried out by her dog on just verbal commands.

Training Day with a variety of breeds.

There was fabulous entertainment from a lady dressed as a bee and her massive Newfoundland - although this was a singles routine, they brought four additional people, dressed as flowers into the ring all performing to “the birds and the bees”. The enthusiasm of the handler when the dog moved in the correct direction was second to none. The unlimited choice of music available gives scope to many different breeds to perform in this fabulous sport, which is proving so popular as dog lovers in many countries discover the benefits of Heelwork To Music


Our third day in Holland soon arrived - another very busy Training Day - the handlers numbering over 25 were mostly those who had competed the day before. However, Donelda still instructed them how to train and improve most of the moves, which she had chosen to cover on day one. There was a definite need to train the dogs to verbal commands and to move on from luring the dog into position with food or toys. Amongst the moves Donelda covered were spins, twirls, bowing, large circles, the dog walking backwards and weaving in all directions.

One to One instruction!!! I’m on the left.

Overall, from my days in Holland, I found that in the majority of routines the handlers had not considered how to use all the available ring space - unfortunately, they did tend to position themselves in the centre in order to show the spectators and judges every move that their dogs could do - without necessarily reflecting any of the music.

The handlers are also very dependent on food and toys for the dogs and since their rules allow these items to be carried during a routine in most of the classes, there seems very little incentive to “try” without. The carrying of bum-bags crammed with cheese and toys detracts somewhat from the spectator appeal and hinders the smooth movement through a routine.

We were able to show our “pupils” video footage of our own routines and when they realised what a difference moving to the music can make - I’m sure that their standard and partnership enjoyment of this fabulous sport will benefit.


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