Disco pups: Dogs take to the dance floor at Assabet

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By Jennifer Lord / Daily News Staff
Friday, October 21, 2005

Must Love Dogs - Dancing with the Dogs | Doggie Freestyle | Disco Pups

Teacher Bryna Davidow, right, instructs Vicki Hagopian, front, of Hudson with her golden retriever, Tyler, Jenann Self, center, with her Shetland sheepdog, Booda, and Susan Paul, rear, with her border collie, Katie, during dog dancing.
(Marshall Wolff photo)

Katie is, by anyone’s definition, a good dog.

She knows when to heel, sits when told. She not only fetches her toys, she also knows she has to pick them up and put them in the basket at the end of the day.

And when Aretha Franklin plays, this border collie knows how to boogie.

Katie and her owners, Susan Paul and daughter Elizabeth Crehan of Northborough, are new converts to a growing craze: canine musical freestyle or, in popular terms, dog dancing. Wednesday nights finds them at Assabet Valley Regional Technical School in Marlborough, where trainer Bryna Davidow teaches them to spring, weave and cha-cha to the musical beat.

“She’s a very focused, high-energy dog. Anything I can do to stimulate her intelligence is a plus,” said Paul as her daughter and Katie stepped sideways across the floor to “Chain of Fools.” “And it’s fun — you can just see she’s enjoying herself.”

Davidow added dog dancing to her repertoire about a year ago, much to the delight of her dogs Teddy and Bella, both mixed breeds she adopted from a shelter. As a professional dog trainer, operating in Framingham under the name Must Love Dogs, she realized that teaching a dog to dance is just like any other lesson in obedience, once the movements are broken down into steps.

“It’s fun — that’s the main reason why I like to teach dogs, because it’s fun and I get just as much fun out of it as the dogs and their owners,” Davidow said.

Check out canine freestyle events on television or the World Wide Web and you’re bound to see elaborate moves performed by dog and owner in matching rhinestone outfits. That’s not what you’ll see in Davidow’s class.

Plump little Gracie, a 6-year-old beagle, was eager to perform for her owners, Teri Cooper and Isa Silva of Boylston, but it was hard to see her true motivation: love of the dance or love of the roast beef they used to reward her performance.

“We thought she’d be a real natural for this,” Cooper said. “Gracie is always up on her back legs. She’d get on her back legs and twirl, so we’re hoping that’s one of the moves.”

On this particular night, the big move the class had to master was the dog weaving between the owner’s legs as the owner strode across the floor. Vicki Hagopian of Hudson demonstrated with the aid of Tyler, her golden retriever.

Hagopian was inspired to teach her dog to dance after seeing a demonstration on television. Tyler, she stressed, doesn’t fit the usual blond airhead stereotype of goldens.

“The freestyle was mesmerizing,” she said. “Tyler’s a good boy. It’s something I knew he’d be able to do, and enjoy.”

As salsa music played, Booda, a Shetland sheep dog, looked up at his owner Jeann Self with his mouth in a doggie grin, teeth bared and tongue lolling.

“And spin!” Davidow called out. The dogs spun, eyes locked on the treats their owners were holding. The owners echoed the command, “Spin! Spin!”

Since Booda is just over a year old and eager to please, Self, a Marlborough resident, thought he’d take to the sport well.

“I actually saw dancing with dogs on Animal Planet,” she said. “I had danced for years, and when I saw it I knew I had to try it. It helps with obedience — the more you do it with them, the more they want to please you.”
Ann Mitchell’s poodle, Tovi, has added dog dancing to an already busy schedule. He’s a frequent visitor to the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester’s pediatric unit and a nursing home in Cambridge, where he works as a therapy dog.

“His chief activity is that he loves to kiss,” Mitchell said as Tovi demonstrated the move. “That’s his raison d’etre. I don’t think he’ll be demonstrating dancing while he’s at the nursing home, but he seems to be having fun.”

Bryna Davidow’s dog dancing class is offered through Assabet Valley Regional Technical School’s continuing education program. To contact Davidow, visit www.must-love-dogs.net