When Christina Oxtoby rehomed Great Dane Ruach he'd had no training and didn't even know his name. Fast-forward four years and this gentle giant is a future heelwork to music star whose impressive moves secured him an invitation to appear in the spotlight
Ruach, who's five and from Stamford, Lincolnshire, is the only Great Dane in the UK who does HTM and one of just a handful in the world taking part in the activity. Despite Ruach taking to the sport quickly, numerous people, although encouraging, didn't think he would get very far with his dancing career.
Dog lover and trainer Christina originally taught her first Great Dane, Caleb, HTM but he died from bloat before he got the chance to demonstrate how good he was. Deciding there was unfinished business, Christina set about teaching Ruach the moves not long after he arrived at his new home at six months old.
"Caleb loved it and people were really encouraging, but somebody very wellknown in HTM once said to me: 'But he'll never be a Border Collie'," said Christina, who's also a music teacher.
Ruach came into Christina's life after one of her dog training clients told her about a Great Dane pup who'd already lived in several homes and was being rehomed again. Although she wasn't looking for another dog, Christina decided there was no harm in visiting the pup.
"He had no recall, and didn't know how to sit, do a down, or his name," she explained. "The only thing he could do was give his paw, which seems to be a Great Dane default - if in doubt, give your foot."
When Christina contacted the Great Dane Adoption Society, in Boston, Lincolnshire, about Ruach, staff said they didn't know of any Dane breeders in the area.
"They thought he might have come from one of those two up, two down houses with breeding dogs in every room," said Christina. "He ended up being passed to a family who lived in a tiny council house in the centre of Grantham.
The child, whom the parents had a few problems with, used to pin Ruach in a corner and hit and kick him."
Christina, who taught herself HTM using clicker training after watching sport founder Mary Ray on TV, immediately rehomed Ruach. She began his training by rewarding him for paying attention and progressed from there.
"I started HTM training with Ru and he thought it was wonderful and a good game," she said.
For about three years Christina did training rounds with Ruach at competitions to get him used to the level of noise and the distraction of other dogs.
He's now at novice level in the sport and has almost accrued enough points to progress to intermediate. Ruach has mastered all eight of the different HTM positions and is also a whizz at a number of freestyle moves such as rolling over, paw crossing, twisting and turning, walking backwards, bowing, briefly standing on his back legs, and begging.
The doggy dancer is currently learning to put his paw over his face and to do a big circle around Christina. Swing-type music is the preferred genre to showcase Ruach's moves.
"It tends to be exactly in time and can be quite showy; when we put in the odd flashy move it suits him very well," said Christina, who also owns a German Shepherd called Asaph and Border CollieEze, who's at advanced level in HTM. "We also do it to music that I listen to. His freestyle routine is to 'Mercy' by Duffy; it was the music for Eze's old routine and I adapted the routine for Ru."
Christina started competing properly with Ruach about six months ago and it's only recently that she's started putting together actual routines for him.
Every new move that Christina teaches the dogs is initially learned at home. "Everything that requires less space they learn in the home; they'll work to earn their breakfast," she added.
When it comes to whether any Great Dane could excel at HTM, Christina said she thought it was down to the individual personality of the dog, although the Great Dane wasn't a breed that people initially associated with the activity. "Ruach picks things up as fast as my collie, Eze, but he picks different things up," said Christina.
"What Danes don't have is an awful lot of work drive; trying to keep them going through a four-minute routine with no treat or toy is really hard - that could be why don't "If my collie is in a lively frame of mind and hasn't been training for a week he finds it all very wonderful and exciting. Ru will too, but just for fi ve minutes and then he'll settle. He certainly wouldn't keep going for an hour of solid work. "At competitions I take him out of the van, do a couple of twirls, and then go into the ring as I don't want to wear him out. "People initially thought that he would just have a go at the sport at lower levels. When you fi rst go into HTM people ten to be supportive and encouraging as they recognise that it's good for dogs and good for the relationship with their owners. However, they assumed we wouldn't get very far."
Ruach has well and truly proved those who brushed him off wrong. His star qualities caught the eye of someone putting together a new HTM team on behalf of the Kennel Club for demonstration of the sport at Crufts. At this year's show the dazzling Dane performed a solo routine and took part in HTM demonstration in the NEC's main arena with a number of other dogs.