TV dog trainer, Graeme Hall, is bringing his wisdom, charm and puppy prowess to his first ever UK tour, The Dogfather Live on Stage, which arrives at the Lowry in June. And the star of Channel 5’s Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly reveals he’s had to hit the road with a piece of his own canine advice.
“I’m excited and nervous,” he admits. “I’ve done a few book tours but it’s the first time I’ll have been on stage in front of such large crowds. I’m used to chatting to an audience but not a whole theatre’s worth! But as I always say to people with dogs ‘If you’re feeling a bit nervous do your best not to show it’ so that’s what I’ll be doing.
“And I’m really excited about getting out there. If you have a bit of fun and you go away having learned something about your dog then we’re on to a winner. I love meeting people and surprise, surprise I love talking about dogs,” he says. “Put the two together and you’ve got a theatre tour! And it might sound cheesy, but I want to help people as best I can. The theatre show, as well as being lots of fun, is a chance to do just that.”
A Master Dog Trainer with the Guild of Dog Trainers, Graeme has more than 10 years’ experience with unruly pups and a celebrity client list that includes footballers, comedians, actors and musicians. He makes regular appearances on BBC Breakfast and ITV’s This Morning, and is the author of two bestselling books (the latest being this year’s Perfectly Imperfect Puppy), as well has hosting his own podcast, Talking Dogs with Graeme Hall.
He specialises in providing fast but long-lasting fixes for almost any dog behavioural issue problem – his motto being ‘Any dog, any age, any problem’. And he reveals many dog owners also come to him to asking what their pooch is thinking. “That question comes up a lot and sometimes I get credited with having Doctor Dolittle-like abilities,” he laughs. “I’m certainly not telepathic but there are lots of ways, when you know what you’re looking for, to work out things like ‘Is he or she nervous or is it something else?’ For years on my website there was an article called ‘What’s my dog thinking?’ and that got more hits than things like the mechanics of how to lead-walk your dog or how to train recall.”
On his TV show, Graeme often jokes that he needs to train the owner as much as the dog. So what, in his opinion, makes a good dog owner? “First and foremost it’s about caring,” he explains. “You’re looking after a little being and it’s very similar to parenthood. You also need to be realistic because it’s quite a responsibility that you shouldn’t take on lightly. Then once you know you can give them a good home, I think it’s about having a bit of knowledge about how dog behaviour works, how you can change that behaviour and how to keep them happy.”
Graeme and his partner currently have three dogs in their Cotswolds home: a Boxer, a Staffy Cross Labrador and a Patterdale Terrier. Growing up in Selby, there were no dogs in the family home because his parents both worked and didn’t feel able to devote the time and care needed.
It was only later in life that Graeme brought home his first dog, a Rottweiler named Axel. His interest in dog training was triggered after he got a second Rottweiler named Gordon. “I thought, these are big dogs and they could scare people if they’re not well-behaved,” he remembers.
At this time Graeme worked for the Weetabix cereal company where he’d worked for 21 years. He was on track to become a management consultant but ended up switching careers, turning what was then his hobby into a business.
Graeme set up Dogfather Training in 2008. His TV career followed after the producers of Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly, came across his website, invited him in for a meeting and felt he was a natural to present the show. And after four seasons and counting, he still can’t quite believe it. “I still pinch myself about being on TV,” he says. “The other week I was at an industry event, bumping into all these famous stars, and they were coming up to me and saying: ‘Can I ask you a question about my dog?’ or ‘Can I have a selfie with you?’ It’s been an amazing journey and I’m very grateful for everything that’s happened.
“The TV show is hopefully educational but entertaining with it, and that’s what we’re aiming for with the live stage show. It should be a fun night and dogs are really funny. Anyone who’s a dog person knows that for sure.”
Graeme is bringing his same popular mix of humour and canine knowledge to the stage show. In the first part he will present his golden rules of dog training including tips for changing your pet’s behaviour, illustrated with real-life examples drawn and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Then in the second part he opens up the stage to audience questions, sharing his expertise via an audience-driven Q&A. “So, with the first half I know what I’ll be talking about because I’ve planned it, but I’ve no idea exactly how the second half will go because it will vary from venue to venue,” he says. “It’ll be ‘Over to you’ and it will be really interesting. I also think people like the little bits of humour that are in the TV show. I’m not a stand-up comic but it doesn’t mean we can’t have a laugh.”
Does he ever get stumped by the public’s questions? “Oh yeah, all the time. If you ever hear me say ‘Ooh, that’s a good un’ that’s me stumped and giving myself time for an answer. I’ve worked with more than 5,000 dogs now and if you ever make the mistake of thinking ‘I’ve seen it all and nothing can surprise me’ there’ll be a dog along in a moment to prove you wrong.”
As for whether dogs’ owners, like theatre audiences, are different depending on where you are in the country he ponders: “That’s an interesting question. There are certainly areas of the country where people are a little more reserved and may not show their emotions so much, but one of the important things is that you have to praise dogs when they’re good. Mostly that’s about the tone of your voice and the look on your face. Some of us are more heart-on-the-sleeve than others but a dog needs to see if you’re happy or if they’re in your bad books.”
Not surprisingly many people have asked Graeme if they can bring their four-legged friends along to the show. But while discussions are ongoing about whether dogs will be on the stage, there are unfortunately not allowed front of house on the night. “People can leave their dogs at home, but they can bring me their dog-related questions,” he adds. “Unfortunately dogs can’t be in the audience because some of the venues are several hundred seats or maybe a thousand and having hundreds of dogs all badly behaved in one room… I mean, I’m good but I’m not that good!”