Circus dogs

Very few modern circuses have canine acts, but things used to be very different. Dogs were also commonly used in music halls.

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Training is relatively simple depending on the breed. The Lagotto Romagnol, for example, is an Italian breed that has been used to find truffles for almost 130 years.


Dogs started to be exploited for entertainment purposes on the streets of big cities. They would be dressed in human clothes and trained to stand on their hind legs. They were then adopted by troupes of travelling performers. Most of these dogs were mongrels.

A Miss Dore presented the first Poodle tightrope walkers at the Paris Olympia in 1896, although clever canines had been trained to do tricks since 1850.


They were also taught to apparently solve maths problems and make astounding predictions.

Clearly, animal welfare was not an important factor in the training of such dogs. Brutality, deprivation and even starvation were among the barbaric methods used to get dogs to perform these tricks. It was in response to this problem that the Jack London Club was founded in London in 1929. The aim of the club was to stop all exploitation of animals, in particular dogs, in this way.

Progress was achieved at a rapid pace, as more and more trainers started to understand that they could get their dogs to do much more if they established a bond of trust with them, based on reward rather than terror. They soon realised that their dogs were happy to do what they needed to get the applause they craved and became sad and unhappy when they did not perform.

They had come to learn something that has become a central tenet in all types of dog training: that dogs only learn when they are having fun and feel they form a team with their handler.

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Teach your dog to count

The French dog expert Alain Dupont has developed a relatively simple method for teaching dogs to count.

The dog first has to learn to bark on command, triggered by a specific gesture that onlookers will not notice. When you want to give your dog a treat, command it to bark while raising your hand. When the dog barks, give it the treat and command it to be quiet, lowering your hand with the palm towards the dog. Before you know it, you will only have to raise your hand to get the dog to bark and lower it again to get it to stop.
Next time you want to impress your friends, you can get your dog to solve a simple maths problem – adding or subtracting, say – asking your question and discreetly raising your hand, to adjust a piece of clothing, for instance. The dog will start barking. All you have to do is count the requisite number of barks before lowering your hand again to silence the dog and give it its reward. There is one caveat, of course: you do need to know how to count yourself!

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