The French Bulldog world can sometimes seem like a small, small place – especially when there’s a Frenchie out there doing remarkable things. Testament to this is the fact that within three days, not one, not two, but five different people had emailed me to say “Have you seen the dancing Frenchie?”.
A Frenchie doing what? Dancing? This I had to see – and if I’d been in Warwick, Rhode Island on the first weekend in August, I could have, because that’s where they held the World Canine Freestyle Competition. Sarah Stoodley was there, with her French Bulldog, Jubilee.
From the Providence Journal –
Sarah Stoodley loves her sport, but not sharing it with others.
“I don’t tell my friends where I’m performing because I’m afraid they’d show up.”
Yesterday, the woman from Silver Spring, Md., a professional dancer of 10 years, performed in a ballroom at the Crowne Plaza. She danced, of course. And she did so with a dog.
Jubilee, a 2½ -year-old French bulldog, rolled over, bowed down and did several other choreographed tricks to music.
You have to have owned and trained French Bulldogs to realize just how unusual this is, and why it created such a stir in Frenchie circles. The dogs we love are a lot of things – funny, goofy and cute – but agile and athletic isn’t usually up there when they’re being described. It would take a special kind of person to decide to dance with a French Bulldog, and that’s just what Sarah is.
She kindly consented to an interview in which she shared more about herself, about Canine Freestyle, and about Jubilee.
Sarah, tell us a bit about yourself, and your background in dance.
I am 29 years old and presently in school for nutrition. I grew up in Maine with many different animals and have lived in Maryland for about 8 years now. I teach dance to kids and adults of all ages, and do school. Life is pretty hectic and Ju is my ride-along buddy, except when it’s too hot in the Summer. She is welcome at some of my jobs and is happy to sleep in her crate in the car when she needs to.
Tell me more about Jubilee.
Jubilee is almost 3 years old. I got her when she was just over 4 months old, after considering many different puppies, from Carol Watson of Libellule French Bulldogs in New Jersey.
We had a hard year last year though when she fractured her elbow in a freak break (nothing any of the 5 orthos we saw had ever seen before) while running in the yard. She had surgery to take out the piece of bone and reshape the joint and we spent most of the winter just resting, recovering and doing physical therapy. Given that, I’m glad she has 4 legs that function properly and we are still training and having fun. After surgery, my biggest goal was for her to be able to be a “real dog” and anything above that was icing on the cake.
I call her my “mental health investment”. She makes me happy day after day, and even when things go really badly, I can’t watch her race through the woods with her big old grin and not want to smile too. She’s quite a special little dog and my best friend before any titles or awards.
Had you owned French Bulldogs before? If not, what made you choose one?
I had not had a Frenchie before. I grew up on a small farm in Maine and had a variety of different dogs growing up.
Somewhere along the line I decided I really liked Frenchies. I honestly can’t remember the exact moment. It might have even been seeing a picture and doing some reading.
When I moved to Maryland, I spent several years with only my often grumpy shelter rescued cat, finally deciding I needed a dog again. I looked at rescue dogs, but never found the right one. I wanted one young enough and physically sound enough to compete in some performance activities, but also one that could co-habit with Smudge. Eventually I had to give up on finding the right rescue dog and look to breeder puppies. In the end I was considering two puppies who met my criteria of slightly longer faces, lighter bodies and the personality to attempt some obedience training! One was in Texas, and one much closer in New Jersey. Since I was able to meet Jubilee in person, I decided to pick her.
Tell us a bit more about Canine Freestyle. How did you get interested in it?
Canine Freestyle is often called “dog dancing.” It is a combination of obedience skills and attention, tricks, and fluid movement from both handler and dog. Our routine is on the cutesy side of the spectrum, something that showcases Jubilee well and sets us up to be successful. Pretty easy to be cute when she starts out adorable!
I am a professional dancer and teacher of ballet, jazz and modern. I teach students as young as 2 ½ and as old as early 70’s. I often say that teaching dance to two and three year olds and training a bulldog are remarkable similar.
Having seen Freestyle on video and heard about it in various dog circles, Jubilee and I fell into it sort of by accident. It just happened that the woman, Mary Jane, who taught our puppy K class, also taught a freestyle class. She invited us to join and we spent over a year working with her. I went back to school last year and had to adjust my own teaching schedule so that we could no longer attend her class. However, we kept working on our own, and also occasionally attended a training group for freestyle dogs at another club. I am also lucky to have a WCFO freestyle judge and competitor who is on our Flyball team (yes, Jubilee also does Flyball and will be racing her first race in September). My Mom also trains dogs and has a three year old Dobe. She has been working on an individual routine with Fiesta and she and I have been working on a pairs routine with both dogs. It’s hard, since she lives in Maine and I live in Maryland, but we practice on holidays and make choreographic adjustments over email.
Were you planning to do Freestyle with Jubilee when you bought her?
I was not planning to, I was considering obedience and agility, and fell into it mostly by accident. I hadn’t done it before, but consider it a sport where I can build choreography that is reinforcing for her and makes it much for fun that something more traditional where we have no say about what we present. And we feel pretty special since we are often the only Frenchie at competition events. We are happy to be out there proving that Frenchies can compete with the best of them.
Tell me a bit more about training a Frenchie for freestyle – any special tricks or training methods?
I train with a clicker and use that to capture and shape behavior. It keeps Jubilee highly motivated and eager to work. She is extremely bright and loves to work hard on new behaviors. And I have learned that on days where she goes to her “bulldog place” that I should find a good note to end on and try again later. She also loves to offer her most recently learned behavior. I had taught her to “sit pretty” right before I went to visit my family in June and my Mom and I were practicing our pairs routine. When Jubilee would go faster than Fiesta, she would add that trick every time she would need to wait. And the more I laughed the more she did it. Needless to say, she’s a bit of a clown.
What’s coming up next for you and Jubilee? Do you plan to keep competing?
Jubilee got her RN in the Spring and we hope to soon be showing for her higher level AKC Rally titles. We also attend Novice Obedience class and someday will be ready to attempt our CD. I joke that she enjoys backing more than walking forward and I wish we could get our CD in reverse. She is also struggling with stays, especially around big dogs and we are working hard to put the pieces together so we can get that title. We also do Flyball with 4 Dog Night and Ju is scheduled to run her first race in September.
And my Mom and I are entering a WCFO competition in Red Lion, PA in November. Hopefully we will qualify there and have get our first freestyle titles together with the mismatched pair of goofballs.
Where can people learn more about freestyle?
Our most recent competition was at a WCFO event.
Any upcoming competitions we can see you at?
-WCFO in Red Lion, PA on November 1st and 2nd
-Flyball Tourney at Howard County Fairgrounds in Howard County, MD on September 13th and 14th
Others TBA! Gotta see how my school schedule looks and feels once the Fall semester gets rolling. Oh, and also on an Animal Planet special on Freestyle currently scheduled to air on December 13th. She was a bit hit with them as best I could tell. They were filming the special at the competition we attended last week in Rhode Island.
Fantastic! Thanks, Sarah and Jubilee – and we look forward to hearing more about you both! I have a feeling you’re both rising stars.
If you want to get a look at Jubilee, the dancing French Bulldog, and her partner Sarah, check out this video that Sarah has on YouTube. Sarah and her mom plan on uploaded more videos of their routines in the future!
Sarah also shared some photos of Jubilee, and it’s obvious that she got beauty, as well as brains!