You can get a masterclass in dog training from expert Steve Mann
Steve Mann is trying to find out how many dogs he has had in his life. Professionally, of course, there were thousands. Perhaps the most distinguished dog trainer in the country, he has worked with countless four-legged customers of every breed, size and temperament.
For the past 30 years, Steve has trained dogs to work with security services in the Middle East, poaching trackers in South Africa, and as therapy dogs for traumatized veterans. He’s also taught a number of celebrities how to handle their dogs, from Fiona Bruce and Brendan Cole to Selina Scott and soccer player Theo Walcott.
Graham Norton came to him with a specific problem: when he went for a walk with his dog in Hyde Park, he always had to go to the ATM to take out a supply of tens because his dog was guaranteed to run into the middle of people’s picnics.
Graham scurried after, handing out apologies and compensation. Lorraine Kelly was ashamed to have Steve on her show and her puppy Angus fooling around on the floor.
Steve Mann, who directs the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers, offers dog training master classes to those who subscribe to the BBC’s Maestro series. Pictured: Steve with his dog Pablo
Steve has also written a number of books, including the UK’s best-selling guide to puppy training. Easy Peasy Puppy Squeezy is a bible for dog owners, and sales have soared during the pandemic as we all went insane.
“Dog ownership has never been higher,” nods Steve. “There are two and a half million more dogs in the UK than at the start of the pandemic.”
Steve heads the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers and says every dog trainer is in demand in the UK. “We had a tsunami of inquiries. All trainers work at full speed. They can charge whatever they want. ‘
Steve’s newest company came at the right time. He has teamed up with the BBC’s Maestro series, offering dog training master classes to subscribers.
It’s an interesting addition to the online course series that already has a number of experts offering video-based instruction and advice in their fields, including Gary Barlow for songwriting, Julia Donaldson for writing children’s books, and Marco Pierre White for cooking.
Steve’s videos cover everything from how to keep your puppy from biting his ankles or tearing the sofa down to dealing with sudden problem behavior in older dogs.
“Old-style dog training was so much about dominating your dog. This is not my way at all. It’s about a partnership, you work with your dog. ‘
Obviously he’s biased, but Steve thinks the whole world of dog training should be a little less strict. We may come from the days of the formidable Barbara Woodhouse, but not enough, he says.
Steve said there has never been a good TV show that celebrates dogs and the trainers never look beautiful (file image)
“I don’t think there has ever been a good TV show about dog ownership,” he says. “I would love to see a Jamie Oliver-style Naked Chef show that only celebrates dogs. All shows revolved around “problem dogs”.
He’d want to lead this show, of course. “Well, it’s probably my ego thinking, ‘I could do better,’ but it’s true. Dog trainers never get good clothes or good music on TV. You will never look beautiful. ‘
He is baffled why we don’t have TV shows about dog training and argues that we need them more than cooking shows. “Not knowing how to train your dog will cause you more problems than not knowing how to cook flambéed whatever.”
So how did a boy who didn’t even have a dog as a child become an avowed dog lover? “I think the fact that we didn’t have a dog made it even more of a Holy Grail thing,” he says.
Graham Norton’s pet would raid picnics
“I played with other people’s dogs in the street, but when I was about seven or eight years old a dog training club started and that was it.”
He had lost his heart – to the dogs, the trainers, the whole crowd. “I would go with you, either without a dog or I would take a neighbor’s dog with me. I would be there early to help put the tenons up.
“I would help put that stuff away. I was obsessed. And the trainers – they were gods to me. They were like superheroes or astronauts. ‘
At the age of 16 he took dog training courses himself and at 18 he had started his own business. “The more experienced I got, the more I questioned how coaches did things. I wanted to do it my way. ‘
On TV with Lorraine Kelly and her pup Angus
One of the big problems with dog ownership is that there is no agreed-upon way to train a dog. His approach is to understand why a dog behaves the way it is.
“What does he or she really get out of it? I often hear people say, “My dog is naughty or stubborn or whatever,” but dogs don’t have a moral compass. They don’t bark or jump to annoy you, they do because they’re getting some of it in return. You have to find out what that is and replace it. ‘
He has funny stories from owners who tried and failed. His favorite is the man who smears mustard on every surface of his living room to try to prevent his pup from chewing on the furnishings.
But what about his own dogs? He estimates that there have been 16 of them in his life. He lives with his wife and 18 year old son (‘who is very different from me because he grew up with dogs’) on a farm in Hertfordshire.
Britain has 2.5 million more dogs than it did before Covid
There are currently five dogs, mostly rescue animals because he works with rescue organizations. All have their stories. There’s Nancy the Chihuahua who was picked up from the South Mimms gas station where she was abandoned.
Then there is Pablo, his Staffordshire Bull Terrier, who stars in his Maestro series.
“The dog attendant picked Pablo up 12 years ago and said, ‘You need to see this dog,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not looking for another dog.’ He was bitten by fleas and mangy, but on Monday he ran towards me in the kennel, and on Tuesday the dog keeper saw me walking by with Pablo and I had put a sweater on him. That’s it! ‘
Steve said he was in ruins after taking Belgian shepherd Carlos on a one-way trip to the vet
There’s also Summer, a Lurcher / Jack Russell cross, Spider, a black whippet, and Ash, a German Shepherd who was found at a campsite with 50 other dogs, some in terrible condition. “Ash still has bald spots on her legs where the chains used to be. The hair never grew back. ‘
Steve can tell you stories about pretty much every dog he’s ever loved. There was Brody, who had lived in a car and wanted to “get into every car we passed” for the rest of his life.
On the wall behind him is a picture of Carlos, a handsome Belgian Shepherd. Carlos was the king of dogs, “strong, confident, brave. He was special ”.
Steve used it to demonstrate advanced techniques for the military. A few years ago, while he was writing his bestseller, Carlos was diagnosed with heart disease.
“You’re going to make me cry now,” Steve says as we get to the inevitable topic of what happens when you lose the dogs you loved. Yes, he made the one-way trip to the vet with Carlos, and yes, he was torn to pieces afterwards.
“I always am,” he says.
“It never gets easier. You cry, your throat is a quarter the size of it when you try to speak. But you should be heartbroken. If not, after sharing your life with this dog, something is wrong with you.
“Those who work with me know how I feel. I came back with Carlos and they had removed his collar, leash and harness.
“I couldn’t look at her. But after six months I took it out again. Now I have the collars of all the dogs I’ve lost in the area, sometimes with pictures of them. ‘
He doesn’t mind admitting that he likes to sniff Carlos’s old collar. “That smell – gold dust! You will be immediately transported back, not to the vet’s waiting room, but to the happy times when you went for a walk. ‘
You might expect him to judge newbies who have stepped on the puppy train in lockdown – and who may now be faced with getting back to work. While there is already a major problem with abandoned dogs, he emphasizes that owners simply need support.
‘People said to me,’ We have a puppy. I know we shouldn’t have done it. ‘ But who should I say who should or shouldn’t have a dog? The past 18 months have shown us that we need dogs.
“You got us through there. But when things go back to normal, it is time to repay the debt by preparing them to face life. We owe them that. ‘
Steve’s BBC Maestro Dog Training Course is now available. Visit bbcmaestro.com/courses/steve-mann/dog-training.