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Meet Alfie and Bella, the Pets of HSL

Did you know April is National Pet Month? Love them or tolerate them, animals have been companions to humans for thousands of years. What do you think is the most popular animal as a pet in the UK? I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise that dogs come out on top, by a country mile!

At HSL, when we are planning a photoshoot or a TV advert, pets are often brought into the process. If you’ve seen recent photography, whether on in a magazine advert, door drop or in the catalogue itself, you might have spied the beautiful cockapoos – Alfie and Bella. We think the gorgeous dogs bring something really special to the pictures.

Seeing as it’s National Pet Month, we thought it would be an ideal time to get to know them a little better. We spoke to Tracey, who is a professional dog trainer as well as Alfie and Bella’s human ‘mum’:

Getting to know them

How long have you been a dog owner?

I’ve been a dog owner on and off for 35 years. My first dog was a Jack Russell, a lovely loyal, boy who left home and disappeared while I went into hospital, only to return 3 days later when I came home! We never found out where he’d been in that time. In the years following, I had a number of other dogs before Alfie and Bella.

When did they join the family? How did you decide on their names?

After the kids had all left home and had lives of their own, I felt like I had a big empty space to fill! So I told the family I was getting another dog. My search started and after 6 months (going to see lots and lots of puppies) I picked up Bella on the 4th of January 2015.

I couldn’t decide what to call her so I asked all the grandchildren to give me some ideas. My grandson Liam suggested Bella, and I decided to go with that because she is ‘beautiful’!

When Bella was 2 we decided to get her a friend. I wanted another cockapoo because they are now my favourite breed. I started looking for another puppy and while doing so, I came across Alfie. His family no longer wanted him, he was 7 months old (clearly a Christmas dog) and I really felt sorry for him. We went to meet him and brought him home.

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What’s the naughtiest thing they’ve done?

The naughtiest thing Bella has ever done is destroy my lino in the kitchen! £280 and two months after fitting it, Bella had found a loose part and dug at it until she had pulled it up across the full length of the kitchen, it was ruined! She was 6 months old, I was at work and saw her on the doggy-cam, I could have cried.

Alfie’s naughtiest thing is when he emptied the entire contents of the kitchen bin all over the floor. Added to that, he also ate everything edible in there! Every scrap of leftover food, curry, bread; everything! He looked like he’d swallowed a football, his tummy was huge!

What’s the funniest memory involving your pet?

Alfie’s funniest memory is from when we were out walking on the canal one day. We got to a part where there was a concrete overflow on one side of the path and the canal on the other. Alfie loves to investigate so he jumped down into the overflow and was having a run round, next thing we know he’d disappeared! I panicked, then heard a splash, Alfie had decided to investigate the pipe between the overflow and canal and ran through straight into the canal! The look of shock on his face was priceless!

Bella’s funniest memory is her first trip to the beach. She ran down onto the sand and I’ve never seen a reaction like it! She was running round non-stop and burying herself in the sand. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so excited before or since!

What are their favourite toys/games?

Bella’s favourite toy is most definitely a ball; her favourite game is retrieving the ball.  She will do absolutely anything for a ball! Alfie doesn’t really have one favourite toy, but he loves soft toys. His favourite game is tug with them.

Training

When did you realise they had talents and could be trained well?

I’ve known Bella has had talent from a very early age – I started training from day 1 at 9 weeks old. She was ever so easy to train; in the first week I had taught her to sit, wait, retrieve a ball and lie down. Training never stops, even now at 5 years old! We always find something new to learn.

Alfie’s talents aren’t as great as Bella’s. He’d come from another home so I’d missed out on those crucial few months of training. It was difficult at first as Alfie had lived with people who were Scottish and spoke in a different accent to me here in Yorkshire.

I thought he must be deaf as he didn’t seem to understand what ‘sit’ was, even though by this age he should have been taught it. I then had a sudden realisation that he had to get used to a new accent! After a couple of weeks he started getting there and training became easier. Alfie tends to learn a lot from watching Bella.

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What do you use as treats?

I make my own treats for them, everything I make is fit for human consumption; healthy and free from nasties! I also use them for the dogs I walk and train. They love them – they only get them from me and will do anything for a taste!

Famous faces

How did Alfie and Bella become involved in photoshoots?

I got into photoshoots by chance really. My daughter works for a company that provides pet products. She called on me one day to say RAC were looking for a dog to go on the packaging for a couple of new products. She said I should put Bella forwards as she is beautiful and clever. I was a bit unsure at first but said I’d give it a go. She was chosen, so we went to the shoot and did amazingly well!

How many have they been involved in?

Since that first one Bella done more photoshoots for RAC, Hounds and Cath Kidston.

In the next photo shoot for Hounds, they wanted two dogs so I put Bella and Alfie forwards. I was a little unsure about Alfie as he’s not as trained as Bella, but they both got chosen and Alfie did well, so that’s how Alfie started.

They have both been involved in shoots for HSL and have done really well there – we absolutely love seeing all the pictures they’re in!

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Top tips from a dog trainer

What are your top 5 tips for any other dog owners?

  1. This is a very important tip for people considering getting a dog – do your research about breeds. Make sure you get a dog to fit your lifestyle, home and family, not just because ‘I like the look of this breed’. This is one of the reasons a lot of dogs are rehomed.
  2. Choose a good breeder, this is extremely important for the health and wellbeing of the dog. Never, ever buy from puppy farms or pet shops, these puppies will have problems in the long term.
  3. Train from day 1, get a trainer if needs be, but do your research; make sure they are positive trainers. If you train them yourself, only use positive training. Keep up with general training before introducing tricks; “give paw” isn’t something your dog needs to know. The important ones are: sit, wait, lie down, stay, settle, recall etc.
  4. Have fun, play, plenty of exercise, stimulate their brains. This will make a happy, contented, healthy best friend.
  5. Research and learn about canine communication! Understanding what your dog is trying to tell you paramount. If every dog owner could understand their dog’s body language and facial communication, dogs would be happier. For instance people think a wagging tail means they are happy- this is not always the case! For example, being able to understand when they are asking you to leave them alone– they are tired, it’s a calming signal. If you have a good bond with your dog, try doing a great big yawn in front of them, they my yawn back!

Alfie and Bella have absolute stars for us at HSL – keep an eye out for them next time you pick up a magazine or newspaper. You might even see Bella in our sponsorship of Tipping Point! Do you have a favourite picture of Alfie or Bella? Let us know on our Facebook page.

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