Behind the scenes at WaggaWuffins Canine College in Bury
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 March 2017
Crufts is about to start, bringing back happy memories for Bury’s award winning dog trainer. Mairead Mahon went walkies
THEY say that if you want your son to go to Eton, you should put his name down as soon as he is born. The same is almost true if you want your pooch to go to the doggy equivalent in Lancashire.
Like all the best schools, WaggaWuffins Canine College in Bury has a very long waiting list. It might just have something to do with the fact that the ‘headmistress’, Jane Ardern, is the Kennel Club Trainer of the Year.
Recalling the magic moment her name was read out at Crufts, Jane says: ‘It was one of the most exciting things to ever happen to me, especially as it was my own clients who had nominated me. After a fairly rigorous interview, I made it onto a shortlist of five and was invited down to Crufts.
‘There’s no doubt about it, I was nervous, but so many supporters and clients came along, they gave me confidence. When I was announced as the winner, the applause was deafening but all I could think about was not dropping the award and, thank goodness, I didn’t!’ The only down side was her partner, Mike, could not be there as he was nursing a bad back.
Winning prizes was the last thing on Jane’s mind when she began training dogs in the early 1990s with a rescue dog that was a cross between a St Bernard and a Rottweiler.
‘It’s not always easy to train rescue dogs especially if they have been traumatised in some way and suffer from anxiety but it wasn’t long before I realised just how rewarding it could be. I enrolled on dog training courses while still working at my day job as a business improvement analysist. But sometimes you know you just have to follow your heart so I gave up my job to take a degree in Canine Behaviour and Training.’
She gained her degree – the ceremony was witnessed by two of her dogs – and her tutors were so impressed by her skills she was asked to go back to college as a teacher. But eight years ago she decided to go it alone after deciding there was a need for a dog training programme that relied on kindness, motivation and respect – and not just for the dogs!
‘As well as knowing about the psychology of dogs, I do need to sometimes understand the psychology of humans,’ says Jane, who also uses the click and treat method. ‘After all, I’m training the client to train their dog. I always remember how nervous I was when I began and that isn’t a bad thing when placing myself in clients’ shoes.
‘I know what it feels like to have the naughtiest dog in class. Sometimes, a situation can be helped by a human making subtle changes in their body language.’
Her methods obviously work as Jane’s small classes are always oversubscribed. Some of those who have a place are graduates of Jane’s prep school for puppies where, among other things, they learn how to socialise, keep calm and not to bite: useful skills for all of us! They may not have to pass GCSEs but they can gain an official Kennel Club Puppy Rosette and certificate.
When they get to ‘Big School’, they can develop all sorts of skills from gun work and self-control to mindfulness, recall and scent work and some dogs are trained to be helping dogs for people who may suffer from conditions such as arthritis. Such is Jane’s reputation that she runs weekend and day courses which people travel to from all over the UK, including professional dog trainers. Demand has even led her to offering on-line courses.
More unusually, Jane has her own entry in the Internet Movie Database, as she has worked as a dog handler for films, advertisements and photo shoots. One film, ‘Fetch’ called for a dog to run with a human arm in its mouth – made of latex, thankfully – but the dog was disappointed that it wasn’t real and took a lot of gentle persuasion to perform.
Jane Ardern with Drift the dog
Niki Sharp with Brooke the French Bulldog
Rachel Wall with her Tibetan Terrier, Harvey
Rolo the Cockerpoo on a placeboard which is used to train distance control and 'stays'
Jenny Kolodziejczak with Jade the dog
Brooke practises climbing over a stile
KCAI Dog Trainer of the Year 2015
‘Sometimes commercial clients don’t always realise that allowances have to be made for a dog’s personality. For one commercial, I was asked to ensure a dog walked nicely through a forest without stopping. Any dog lover will know this is a big ask for any dog who finds themselves in a wood but, in this case, the client insisted a beagle was used – not a good idea as they are the most curious breed around. Like all divas, the beagle made sure she got everything she wanted, in this case a good sniff around before turning in her performance.’
Jane owns five dogs, four working cocker spaniels and a Polish lowland sheepdog, and she transports them in an ancient Land Rover. Relaxation comes from walking them.
‘Lancashire has got to be one of the best places in the UK to have a dog, whether it’s a gun dog, a companion or a helping dog. Wherever we are, we are never more than a short drive from fantastic countryside. I love going to Winter Hill with my dogs and yes, I always make it to the top because owning a dog keeps you fit,’ says Jane.
But, when she does relax, where does she stand on the Great Dog in the Bed debate?
‘I admit when I was single, a dog slept on the end of the bed but now I’m not and, besides, I do have five, so I have a dormitory for them just off the kitchen,’
Perhaps dormitories could be introduced to Waggawuffins – after all it is the Eton for dogs.