Dance into March with Wullie

The Vitalin 2021 calendar is proving to have uncovered some real superstars of the canine world and this month is no exception. Wullie, March’s Calendar winner, is not only a handsome Border Collie but also a Heelwork to Music (HTM) competitor.

Wullie’s Mum is Barbara, who has trained both her previous dog (a Cocker Spaniel called Dennis) and Wullie in HTM. Inspired by a performance on Britain’s Got Talent back in 2008, Barbara thought HTM was the perfect combination of some basic obedience training she had already undertaken with her dog and her love of ballet. What’s more, she discovered that there was a group that trained HTM just five minutes from her house and from there, she never looked back.

Training for Heelwork to Music

Interestingly, both dogs have been very different to train. Dennis was all about food and he would learn all of his moves and tricks for a small bit of sausage - he would go into the competition ring with sausage on his mind too! Wullie was also first taught with food treats but he is more interested in playful rewards, such as his toys, balls and tuggies. Being from sheepdog lines, Wullie just loves to work so he is easier to train for the competition ring than Dennis too. 

Prior to lockdown, Wullie and Barbara trained with a small group of friends who also love HTM in a hall, once a week. The groups help one another to develop routines and teach dogs new moves using reward-based training. Most of the moves taught are natural moves of our individual dogs, which are captured with a clicker then a command word is given to the move. For example, when Wullie walks backwards, if he does a spin, if he lifts his paw or if he jumps over an item, Barbara clicks that move, gives him a lovely treat, and then names it ‘back’ or ‘spin’ etc. Barbara then adds these moves together to create a freestyle routine. 

Developing routines

Once command training is developed, the second stage of HTM training is creating routines to music. A lot of the pleasure of HTM is picking music that suits the partnership. They spend lots of time listening to music and picking tunes for their next routine. Routines can include up to eight positions and the pair have to work as a team and move together in order to make it look good. 

Because of lockdown, they haven't been able to enjoy group training physically, so they have joined up with some friends to keep up the hard work via Zoom. They have been lucky enough to have some of the top Crufts competitors doing training workshops for the little Zoom group too. Training via Zoom has been fun but also comes with the limitations of training in my small living room – this is not so easy with a dog as large as Wullie!

Wullie is a very intelligent dog and he picks up the routines quickly and knows where and when to move to the music. Although this is excellent, it can actually be detrimental at times – if Barbara forgets a bit of the routine whilst in the ring or if she is not going fast enough, Wullie will bark. Unfortunately, marks are taken away for barking in the ring, so he really is too clever for his own good at times.

Competing in Heelwork to Music

Wullie and Barbara have competed in a few Kennel Club shows around the country and have collected a fair few rosettes for their routines. Going to the competitions is a very social thing for them too. Competitors all support each other, enjoying everyone else's routines during the shows and applauding who wins and who has improved.   

The Heelwork to Community isn't a very big community so they see each other regularly at both fun shows and Kennel Club shows, which they are all dearly missing at the moment. During lockdown they have been able to compete via a few video competitions including The Video Dogs Group, Star Paws Group, Friends of Swindon Dog Dancing School and Canine Freestyle UK.  These have been fun but trying to find outside locations where they can play music and experience suitable weather has been a challenge.  

Wullie and Barbara have created a great bond during their time training and competing in HTM and they continue to strengthen that bond as their journey continues.

Here are two links to videos of their routines, which earned Wullie both first and second place in the recent ‘Video Dogs Winter Competition’.



Get involved

If you would like to give Heelwork to Music a try, the Heelwork to Music Facebook page is a good source of information and can help you to look for a local group. The Kennel Club Facebook page also contains information on group obedience and future workshops and events happening once Lockdown is lifted.

If there isn't a group near you, there are some videos on YouTube by Mary Ray and Richard Curtis, that teach the basic moves of HTM. Simply search their names when on YouTube and you will get a lot of results!

Vitalin, the obvious choice

Wullie loves a delicious bowl of Vitalin after training and competing and will be the happy recipient of a Vitalin goodie bag, whilst he is Vitalin’s Pet of the Month. Visit our website to view the full range of our super premium dog food and luxury dog treats – perfect for a day of obedience training.