First Freestyle: Choosing Elements


Today we’re going to talk about what elements/moves/tricks to include in your routine.

USDDN is the only organization to list out specific tricks/moves in their judging guidelines; thus, many people use the Team Elements scoring section of the USDDN scoring system to create a routine that they then use in all venues. This is a good strategy, as it will result in a well-rounded routine with some variety.

There are seven elements recognized by USDDN. In USDDN judging, the judges will score whatever elements are performed, and keep only the four highest scores. So if you have a routine with all seven elements, the judges would score all seven and drop the lowest three scores, making the four highest scores your final score for this section. Novice routines are shorter than Pro routines, so you are unlikely to squeeze all 7 elements into a routine.  In fact, many pros don’t choreograph all 7 elements in a routine. A good rule of thumb for a novice routine is to try to include four or five of these elements.

  1. Two Different Overs – USDDN defines this as “the team performs 2 different over-the-body tricks: canine travels over the body, clearing the body of the player to catch a disc placed in flight”. This can be overs using your leg, your arm, your entire body, etc. In order to get two different overs, you could do two leg overs using two different disc releases. Or you could do a leg over and a body over.
  2. Two Different Vaults – USDDN defines this as “the team performs 2 different vaults: canine leaps off player’s body, touching the body, to catch a disc placed in flight. Player utilizes 2 different stances”. Just like with the overs, you could vault your dog off your leg, your hip, your back, etc. If you don’t feel comfortable vaulting your dog for any reason, you do NOT need to include a vault in your routine!
  3. Multiple Segment – This is “one multiple segment with a minimum of three consecutive throws in rapid succession”. An example of this is a juggling sequence.
  4. Dog Catch – This is “one dog catch with the disc in flight”. There are a lot of variations of this, and the catch could be part of an over, a vault, a fish, etc. Use your creativity! For more on this subject, see previous blogs Dog Catch with Sara Brueske  and Dog Catch with Chris Mashburn
  5. Team Movement – This is “Coordinated team movement ie: spin together, weave under legs, dog stall, etc.”. This can also act as an opportunity to add to the flow of your routine with a transition combined with a throw. To begin teaching a stall, see Back Stall. For lots of tricks ideas that can be used for Team Movement, see Cross Training: Tricks
  6. Passing Segments – This is “Consecutive throws where the dog passes close to the player at least twice in a straight line”. To add interest to this segment, you can use some different or unusual throws/releases.
  7. Directional Distance Movement – “The team performs tricks consisting of at least 4 consecutive throws whereby the dog catches discs in a plane of space at a distance from the handler, including such movements as zig-zags, circling outruns and the like”. For more on this subject, see Directional Distance Movement

Throws/releases – Using different throws or releases is an important element to consider as well. A good rule of thumb for a novice routine is to make sure you include at least three different throws/releases. Rollers count! In fact, rollers can be an excellent choice for a lower drive dog, or one who isn’t used to performing. It can function as a reward right in the middle of the routine. Most people will have mastered the backhand by the time they venture into freestyle, so that’s a good one to include. Practice a third throw or release as well, so you can get that variety in there. Often a forehand (also known as side-arm) makes a good choice, as it will facilitate a passing sequence to use a backhand in one direction and a forehand in the other direction. If you’re including overs or vaults in your routine, you’ll probably be using a pizza toss as well, which counts as an additional throw. For blogs on throws & releases, see The Pizza Toss with Danielle O’NeillBackhand Grip with Matt Bilderback, Forehand with Matt Bilderback, Staker with Matt BilderbackOverhand Wrist Flip with Matt Bilderback, and if you’re super athletic, Pop 360 Throw!

Transitions – Transitions are important too! A smooth and flowing routine is a joy to watch! Make sure you plan how your dog will move from one sequence to another. Examples of transitions are: a scoot (dog backs through your legs), a through (dog goes through your legs), a spin, or others. A transition move can cause your dog to collect to set up for the next trick. See Scoot! if you want to teach your dog a scoot.

Flatwork – Flatwork is when you move your dog around the field in different shapes. Flatwork can add to the visual appeal of the routine, and can help you set your dog up for catches, vaults, etc. Flatwork is most heavily emphasized in UpDog judging guidelines, but will add to the flow of your routine in any venue. Many people who have trained their dogs in agility will already be familiar with front & rear crosses.  It adds a little complication when you add the disc, but most agility dogs will pick it up quickly.

In a later article we will talk more about putting these moves together, but for now a good project is to list which of these elements your dog already knows.  If there’s a category where your team is weak, work on filling in those holes!

One final word on this subject.  This article has a lot of information & encourages you to put a lot of moves into your first routine.  If you follow these guidelines, and can perform each element well, you will have a very solid novice routine that will set you up well for an intermediate level.  However, there’s also a lot to be said for competing before you feel ready.  Competition has a different feel for both you and your dog, as opposed to practice.  Many people need several  (or *cough* many *cough*!) performances under their belt before they can perform the way they do in practice.  There’s nothing wrong with entering the novice division with a sparse routine, or even no routine at all, to ease you & your dog into competition.  Going out & having fun jamming in a novice competition is a great way to teach your dog that taking the field with spectators & a sound system & a nervous handler is super fun.  That’s laying a foundation you can build on for your dog’s entire career.  Nobody will judge you for taking the field & just having a good time with lots of roller rewards for your dog. So yes, work on these elements so you can continue to grow & build a solid routine.  But don’t forget the fun, either, and don’t take it too seriously!

For the rest of this series, see: First Freestyle: Choosing MusicFirst Freestyle: Editing MusicFirst Freestyle: Pre-Routines and First Freestyle: Building Sets.

Featured image is (c) Marshall Smith


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