LARGO — In the world of dog sports, it's called "freestyle," but to those who attended the Upper Suncoast Dog Training Club's freestyle demonstration Saturday in Largo Central Park, the dogs looked like they were dancing — with their owners.
While their favorite music played, the dogs stood on their back legs and danced with their owners, jumped and twirled around them, or were held close while their owners swayed to the music.
"I like to say it's about movement," said Sandy Clark, the club's freestyle instructor. "It's a wonderful way to connect with your dog. Freestyle can be competitive, but we do community service, tweaking the music to the generation we're entertaining. It's like therapy. We take our love for dogs and training and make people smile."
And people watching Saturday at Woofstock 2011 did smile as the dogs swayed, rolled and rocked. What looked like just fun was actually a combination of obedience training and teamwork set to music.
Before taking a freestyle class, dogs must be graduates of a basic obedience class equal to the one Upper Suncoast teaches. They must know how to heel on a leash with good attention, "sit" and "down" on command, hold a sit-stay or down-stay for at least 30 seconds and be able to perform a reliable recall.
Upper Suncoast works with all kinds of dogs, including mutts. The club's motto, "Train, Don't Complain," is backed by a wide range of obedience and agility classes, therapy dog classes, a junior handler class for children ages 8 to 17, freestyle classes and a list of others.
Suzette Cook of Dunedin moved to the music on Saturday with Vito, her 8-year-old pit bull. Cook teaches obedience classes for Upper Suncoast.
"I started with the club in the '80s, left and rejoined 11 years ago," said Cook. "Vito's first song was the theme from Rocky. I like freestyle and he enjoys it, too."
One reason dogs might enjoy freestyle is because they get no correction from owners during performances. Clark said over time, dogs can learn to recognize their special song, though not every dog will respond to every song.
Both of instructor Clark's dogs, Twig and Cooper, participated in freestyle, but Twig went a step beyond. She took the stage and skateboarded, including navigating a small flight of steps.
Members of the Upper Suncoast club range in age from 13 to 81. Rose Rubing, 13, of Dunedin is the club's youngest member.
"I like freestyle, but my favorite thing is agility training," said Rose.
Noni Mayer of Largo moved to the music with her 9-year-old dog, Beej.
"The nice thing about this club is it's for all ages and stages. Any dog can do it (freestyle) with the right treats. Winning a competition is fine, but having fun with your dog is what it's about. Freestyle is entertainment and great fun."