The champion dog trainer with a game-changing method that can teach any dog new tricks
Award-winning dog trainer Ben Randall – who cares for dogs from everyone from David Beckham to Gordon Ramsay – has taken his own approach to training that has won him huge success. These days, he’s sharing the secret, and Paula Lester has visited her Labrador, Nimrod. Photos by Sarah Farnsworth for Country Life.
“Would you like a dog that sits and stays, comes back when called, greets people kindly without jumping up, and doesn’t bark or chew its litter? request Ben Randall. “Well, I can help you get it.”
It might sound like a bold statement, but it’s an incredibly appealing proposition, because for those of us who own a dog, there’s no greater source of pride than a companion who excels rather than embarrass. It’s an aspiration I’ve tried to achieve with previous dogs and a goal that when I got my Labrador puppy Nimrod three years ago I was determined to achieve. However, despite my best intentions, life – including busy work on country life and a lack of confidence in my own abilities (although I’m the daughter of a game warden and married to a retired game warden, my dogs have always been somewhat unruly) — quickly got in my way.
In the beginning, I was lucky to have the help of my family, friends and a talented local trainer. Nonetheless, I struggled to achieve the stability required in a reliable retriever, and somewhere between the various confinements of the past year, I almost gave up. Almost, but not quite, and especially not because photos and videos posted by a Herefordshire-based dog trainer kept popping up on my Instagram feed.
I had heard of Ben Randall before: he made field-trial history by winning the Cocker Championship for the first time in 39 years with field trial champion (FTCh) Heolybwlch Fatty in 2011 and 2012. I had never seen his positive, reward-based training methods — which use mealtimes to teach dogs patience, stability, and demeanor — in action before.
There was something that caught my eye about how his dogs were allowed on the couch at night, but when training the next day, they ignored all distractions to bring him fetches. And in April when Ben started the Gundog appWith short, easy to follow lesson videos, I knew this was the workout regimen for me.
“I know that sometimes dog owners feel pressured,” says Randall. “You feel stressed that all the lessons you’ve had aren’t working, but these methods will work because I’ve proven them to work with thousands of clients with all kinds of dogs all over the world.”
That’s not to say, however, that it didn’t take him a few years to find a way to train that would help even the busiest people with their dogs. Raised on the outskirts of Bristol, Ben, 46, has long had an affinity with hunting dogs, starting with Tess, a Lab he used to take with his father on waterfowl hunts on the Somerset Levels. Later, he spent his school holidays helping his uncle, a professional Labrador trainer. But it wasn’t until he was living and working as a field manager at Bristol Grammar School, where he was also a rugby coach, that he came up with his Beggarbush training basics.
At that time, Ben and his wife, Nikki, then a schoolteacher, kept a Jack Russell with labs and spaniels in their home on the school grounds, backing onto perfectly manicured rugby pitches.
“I would use them to train my dogs to retrieve on white lines,” Randall recalls.
“I once put a bowl of food under the rugby posts to teach my dog to run in a straight line because he could see the bowl.”
Then, he placed a bowl on either side of the posts, to teach him directional commands, from left to right, then by sending the dog towards a bowl, then by asking him to stop, before sending him in the opposite direction to the other bowl. .
“I thought, my god, that’s a good idea, then I developed it until, finally, I taught my dog almost everything at mealtimes at the age of six months. .”
He used these methods, along with the realization he had given one of his first cocker spaniels, FTCh Cheweky Housten of Beggarbush, too much freedom – by encouraging, rather than exploiting, his drive and natural instincts, which which made her difficult to handle – this led to Ben being so successful with his half-sister, Fatty.
Additionally, he and his wife bought a run-down kennel near Ledbury in 2009 and moved there with their sons Joe and Jack, turning it into a five-star establishment used by the Beckhams, Gordon Ramsay and the BBC news presenter. Kate Silverton, where canine guests stay in a calm and relaxed environment, just like at home. Managing the kennels and helping so many animals with all sorts of issues, from barking to leash pulling, has not only given him more time to focus on his dogs, but has also boosted the trainer’s confidence in his approach.
“I have studied human and canine psychology for over two decades and know that anyone can follow the foundations of Beggarbush because everyone has time to feed their dogs and have them sit patiently for they’re doing something else,” he said.
Those who follow Ben’s Facebook or Instagram accounts can see the effectiveness of these methods by watching the rapid progress of his yellow Labrador puppy Bonnie, who, at just 14 weeks old, is accomplishing extraordinary feats.
Although my dog, Nimrod, still has a ways to go to fulfill Bonnie’s promise, I am happy to confirm that he did not dishonor himself by chasing Mr. Randall’s chickens. In fact, I was bowled over by the assertive, yet caring and consistent manner in which this very intuitive trainer made him work so well. Within 15 minutes, Nimrod was walking on foot, leaping fences like a gazelle and delivering by hand.
We’re not perfect, far from it, and Ben fired us with a lot of homework, including not talking too much or repeating commands, as well as continuing to work on his delivery (with and without a dummy) and walking on foot. However, I am delighted that Ben thinks my dog has a natural and simple-minded ability to track all necessary exercises through the Gundog app.
“We can have a vision of the dog we want in two or three years,” Ben says. “But, if we want this to last another 10 years, we have to build a good foundation.”
For one-on-one training sessions with Ben Randall (@beggarbush on Instagram), for £80 plus VAT, visit www.beggarbushgundogs.co.uk ; unlimited access to Ben’s application costs £25 per month; for Dog Boarding Gold Service from £40 per day plus VAT, phone 01531 670960 or drop by www.ledburylodgekennels.co.uk
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