Running away to join the Circus | Deborah Collella (the Dog Nanny)

WORDS BY DEBORAH COLELLA | @_DOG_NANNY | THEDOGNANNY

Last summer my dog Edward and I attended The Incredibly Clever Canine Circus on Hampstead Heath in London. We adored it. From the striped circus tents and vintage bicycles to the seemingly never ending supply of sausage treats, we both had the most marvellous time and it deepened our already strong bond. 

The tricks that Edward learnt included sitting up to beg, jumping through a hoop and unrolling a yoga mat with his nose. Although these accomplishments might not seem very useful for normal life, what we were actually doing was working on his sit, stay, focus and ability to follow instructions, all of which are necessary behaviours for a family dog.

We loved Deborah's circus so much we performed with her at the Good Life Experience festival in Flintshire last September with some other friends of ours shown in the photos below. In celebration of 250 years of the circus, we asked Deborah to tell us why the circus means so much to her and why it's the most fun dog training class around. Annabel

In recent years the Circus has become associated with an American, PT Barnum. Whilst he is perhaps the most famous Circus impresario, the circus is, in fact, a quintessentially British tradition that this year celebrates its 250th anniversary.

In 1768 Philip Astley, an enterprising ex-Cavalry officer, started putting on public horse-riding displays on a patch of waste ground in Lambeth, near Waterloo station.  He rode around a circular ring on horseback performing all manner of tricks and - “ta da!” - the very first circus was born.

Philip quickly expanded his shows to include acrobats, jugglers and, of course, clowns, and enjoyed a lucrative career. Wild animals were only introduced to circus performances later and their presence has thankfully all but disappeared due, in no small part, to the disapproval of audiences. 

These days, the only animals that perform in reputable circuses tend to be horses, dogs and the odd chicken that is usually found in the Giffords Circus, the famous village green style circus that tours the Cotswolds and London every summer leaving behind awe and delight in equal measure.

Deborah Colella Dog Nanny
Deborah and Edward

My own interest in Circus stemmed from an early career as a children’s nanny but has now become central to my vocation as a dog trainer, or to be precise, The Dog Nanny. Every dog owner knows that dogs love to have fun but we tend to forget this when we need to give our dogs a little training and approach the task as if they were going to class. My mission is to put the magic back into dog training so that dogs learn faster in a more relaxed environment, and training is more fun for owners and dogs alike. 

And what better medium than Circus, one of the most joyful and creative forms of art ever invented. I’ve met many dogs whose main aim in life seemed to be that of clowning and these dogs are naturals, but the surprise comes from the shyer dogs who come out of themselves in the playful environment and prove to be excellent performers and avid learners.

In true British fashion, we train out of doors which allows the dogs the space they need while simultaneously helping them learn to maintain focus in the face of the many distractions of the typical London park.  We pride ourselves on being inclusive to all canine-comers, regardless of age or prior training experience: divas, devils and drama-queens are all welcome and whether your dog is a great dane or a dachshund, is ten months old or ten years, there is a space for him or her in our circus.

Working to foster creativity in the dogs that join us, we encourage them to find inventive ways to interact with their owners using a huge range of equipment from hoops to beanbags to our vintage child’s car and truck, and with the environment as a whole. You will be astonished and delighted at how clever your canine companion is, given the right stimulus and encouragement. Annabel’s dog Edward was one of my first recruits and excelled in virtually any trick that involved looking super cute and his sit-pretty will go down in legend as probably the most adorable ever.

The result is not only a good dose of doggy training and a deeper bond between dog and owner but also the reinvigoration of a traditional art-form, reimagined for the modern age.

If you feel like it might be time to run away with your dog to join the circus, the Summer 2018 Incredibly Clever Canine Circus classes begin on the 14th of August on Hampstead Heath in North London. Do visit the Canine Circus website for the full details and we look forward to welcoming you soon.

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