Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 12 seconds
Everyone has a story. Meet dog trainer Robert Stuhldreer whose dogs youâve probably seen starring at the Almedia theatre, in West End shows, in ads and films. Interview by Nicola Baird. Photos by Kimi Gill.
Youâd think it would be hard for a man and his five dogs to go unnoticed. But dog whisperer, Robert Stuhldreerâs pack are so well trained (and definitely better behaved than most one-dog owning families) that you hardly know they are there. At least thatâs how it is when Islington Faces meets Robert sitting on a Highbury Fields bench under the London Plane trees, watching his dogs relax in the sunshine on the grass.
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Robert has had dogs all his life. He was born in Oakham, grew up in Rutland and moved to Islington in the 1980s, now living off Holloway Road. His first dog (a springer spaniel called Randy) was born on the same day as Robert. Wickedly, Robert points out that if you combine your first petâs name and your motherâs maiden name you should get your perfect porn star name. For him itâs Randy Chambers – that said Robert and his dogs are in show business, not porn.
To start the interview Robert organises his dogs. Curious Grace (a Hungarian Pumi) is popped on a lead to keep her close, as is almost deaf Roxy (Border Collie cross). The others, Rose (Border Collie), Kin (Japanese Akita Inu) and Flora (Akita) settle down to wait for Robert to turn his attention back to the pack. Â All the girls (bitches in dog talk) came to him as seven-week-old puppies except Roxiywho is a rescue dog who by the time she was five months had already had five homes. âEven at this age (sheâs 14) she doesnât particularly care for men and she hates postmenâs wheels,â says Robert kindly. Itâs clear that animal welfare and considerate, consistent training are a huge part of the reason his dogs adapt to their showbiz life so well.
Itâs famous stage advice that you should never work with children or animals, but Robertâs main work put dogs centre stage. Kin has just finished a series of phone ads for One Plus Six. Rose, Kin and Flora all played a part in the West End immersive theatre, You Me Bum Bum Trainand last summer they were all on stage at the Almeida in Boystarring Frankie Fox. Heâs also worked with the Dacshund in the Vitality Life insurance ads.
âI tend to be called for primitive breeds, such as the Akita, Japanese Akita Inu, Japanese Shiba Inu, Huskies, Malamute and CEDs (Canadia Eskimo Dogs). These breeds are quite a specialist and niche area. âFor the novice or inepereinced owner these breeds can be quite a challenge to train,â says Robert who also loves to showcase these breeds to the general public. In October heâll be with Flora and Kin at the Kennel Clubâs Discover Dogs event. âItâs really good if people are considering certain breeds for them to come and meet a dog so they can ask about their size and temperament, and get some essential hands on experiences. Itâs much better than rushing in and buying a puppy then putting it up for rescue several weeks or months later which sadly happens quite often with Akitas.â
Places Robert and his dogs like in Islington
- I moved to Islington in the early 1980s. Over the past 20 years Finsbury Park has got a lot better.
- Highbury Fields is my regular walk. Sometimes I go to Clissold Park and Abney Park.
- I sometimes go to the Camden Head pub in Camden Passage which does nice food. Last meal there? Fish and chips.
- Living in London is far easier than living with dogs in Rutland where most fields are for crops or beasts and a lot of roads donât have paths beside them. Itâs far nicer being in London and having parks to go to.
Like any wise parent Robert doesnât have favourites, but Flora has an extra special role to play in his life as sheâs trained as a Medical Alert Dog. âI suffer from epilepsy. Iâm part of a fabulous organisation Canine Generated Independence (CGI). Rather than looking at what people can do for us the ethos of CGI is all about what can we do for ourselves. CGI assist with the training and qualification of assistance dogs with a UK-wide network of trainers. So, if I go out with one dog itâs Flora as sheâs qualified as an assistance dog and wears a red label stating that sheâs a âMedical Alert Dogâ.â
Floraâs so good at this role that sheâs one of five finalists up for the Assistance Animal of the Year. âIn 2017 I was in hospital being treated for cancer. I was with Flora in the waiting room full of people having chemotherapy. No one was talking, and she picked up on this. Demonstrating theory of mind, Flora sensed a collective need in the waiting room. Then she went and lay down in the middle of the room on her back with her legs waving in the air and singing the happy song of her people. People started to laugh and talk. Later the nurse said to me, everyoneâs blood pressure is normal today, you and Flora have to come back.â
She also recently won the Animal Award at the RSCPA Honours Ceremony held at the Royal Society. âFlora is the only Akita in the country registered and working as a Medical Alert Dog. Itâs very good for the breed to get positive coverage as usually when you read about Akitas in the news itâs can be negative, usually due to novice or irresponsible owners.
Many people think the only assistance dogs are Guide Dogs for the Blind (and the deaf) but assistance dogs can also use their brilliant sense of smell to detect minute changes in blood sugar levels and hormone related odour changes to provide warnings for people with endocrine or heart conditions, so they can get to a safe place, organise help or be sent to fetch vital medical supplies.
âIâm always being asked if Flora is âmy blind dogâ, and I reply âNo, she can see perfectly wellâ,â jokes Robert who wants to make sure that more people understand the many different assistance dogs at work in the UK.
Robert feels thereâs a certain logic to his change in career. âWhen I left college I joined the RAF. After six years I did my nurse training. My first job was in paediatrics – I have no interest in children so it was quite ironic to land a job in paediatric. Then I qualified as a psychologist, so it wasnât a huge leap going from working with medical people to working with medical dogs,â explains Robert. In general he trains his own dogs but wherever he walks with the furry quintet âpeople approach and ask for helpâ.
If you have a dog and have gone to the puppy training in Finsbury Park with Sue (held near Manor House entrance on Thursdays and Sundays) you might have seen Robert looking on at how Islingtonâs newest canines are getting to grips with recall, stay and ignoring the road sweeperâs brush. âThe best training advice Iâve heard is from Sue,â he says. âPeople donât realise how difficult it is for dogs to sit and not react. Once they can do that, they can go anywhere. The biggest compliment is when Iâm leaving a pub or restaurant and people spot the dog and say, âI didnât know she was thereâ.
Thatâs exactly how this interview was, with Islington Faces focusing on Robertâs story, completely forgetting there were five well-trained dogs close by waiting patiently to get back on their walk.
- Robert Stuhldreer is a dog trainer for film, television and stage. Contact him on email@example.com Tel: 07807 815 787
- Local public dog trainers include Sue who runs Alpha Dog Training in Finsbury Park,Â check times of sessions on the website or organise private sessions on 020 8809 6762
Over to you
If youâd like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com. Thanks for the suggestion of interviewing Robert and his dogs from Clarissa Hulse
If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at theÂ A-Z Â index, orÂ search by intervieweeâs roles orÂ Meet IslingtoniansÂ to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola