April 30, 2009 · Updated 2:37 PM
Owners cut a rug with their canine pals
By Judy Halone
For the Courier Herald
Forget re-runs of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - the new kids on the block are in town, and they're stealing the dance floor.
Their custom-choreographed dance routines recently entertained members of the Greatest Generation at Enumclaw's High Point Village with quick-stepping slides and twirls. At the conclusion of the Beatles' "I Will," arranged by Enumclaw resident Craig Gammon, the youngest performer jumped into her partner's arms for a welcoming hearty applause and a tasty dog treat.
Enter the world of canine musical freestyle, a dog-lover's craze making its way across America. Known simply as "dancing with your dog," pets and their human companions practice, prance and perform with their four-legged friends after only a few rehearsals.
Lori McKenna, owner of Custom Pets Dog Training in Buckley, teaches the course to those seeking stronger bonds with their pets. Her dancing partner, Griz, is a 6-year-old, black Bouvier des Flandres. Although his European counterparts usually pull farm carts and guard herds, Griz is content to slip through McKenna's legs and dance in circles - for a treat, no less.
"He's my rescued pet. I found him in an animal shelter," McKenna said. With the lovable, furry dancer accustomed to attention, McKenna began her Highpoint Village show with a plea. "If Griz approaches you, please don't pet him. He'll forget all about dancing," she chuckled.
McKenna's attempts to strengthen the relationships between dogs and their families are a hit. Kathy Pruitt, a recent dog obedience and agility graduate participant, fell in love with the idea after observing her teacher in action. She's been dancing since.
"The first time I saw Lori dance with Griz, I watched the way he looked at her, and the smile she gave him throughout the entire routine. I was hooked after that.
"When the music plays and my dog dances with me, I feel such a closeness and bonding not felt at any other time. It's an amazing love connection that is hard for me to put into words," Pruitt said.
Pruitt refers to Peaches, a 2 1/2-year-old cockapoo. Her ivory fur sported a black bow tie for the recent performance. Treats were given discreetly during the three-minute routines, keeping Peaches focused on Pruitt's every move.
One dance routine changed unexpectedly when Peaches eyed Lucille Tjernell in the audience. The lovable dog quickly jumped into Tjernell's lap, demanding affection. Pruitt's attempts to redirect Peaches were futile; the dog's determination won out, bringing laughter to both Tjernell and her friends.
"I think she loves you," Pruitt suggested.
Peaches is Canine Good Citizen certified, making her the perfect crowd pleaser. She captured the audience's hearts, including resident Jean Fluss. "They say petting a dog lowers your blood pressure. Maybe mine will be lower after today," Fluss said with an enthusiastic laugh.
Any dog can learn canine dancing, McKenna said. She simply adjusts the choreography according to the animal's agility and age. For example, she uses simple steps to accommodate Griz's sporadic arthritis. She recently introduced verbal affirmations to a 5-week-old puppy.
Two-legged dance fans range in age from 6 years and up, with most in their 40s, McKenna stated. "But anybody can do it," she added.
Both McKenna and Pruitt encourage pet owners to step out and dance with their dog.
"It's something that I enjoy doing. It's very relaxing for me," Pruitt said. "When I have a stressful day, my best medicine is to put on the music and dance with my 'little girl.' It completely changes my stressful mood."
Canine musical freestyle will take center-stage this weekend at the Western Washington Fairgrounds in Puyallup. Saturday will bring a full day of performances and competition, including Griz and at least six of his closest canine friends.
But one dancer may have to postpone her performance.
"Peaches recently had a husband for the weekend. So if she's in the 'family way,' we'll have to skip it this year," Pruitt said.
McKenna can be reached at 253-891-3008 or on the web at: www.custompets.com.