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From helping a couple who had to put their dog's lead on with welding gloves, to showing new owners how to choose the right pup for them ... meet NI's Dog Guru

Co Armagh dad-of-two Keith Mathews travels the world in his job as expert canine behaviourist. Here, he gives Stephanie Bell a fascinating insight into the vocation he started when he was just 12

He is Northern Ireland's Dog Guru, the man with the magic canine touch, whose skills have helped tame the most wayward of pooches. Whether it's aggressive behaviour, issues with walking, or house training, Co Armagh's Keith Mathews has developed his the techniques to transform your pet.

Keith now travels the world sharing his dog-training secrets after starring in his own BBC TV series, Good Dog Bad Dog, and appearing as a canine expert on The One Show numerous times.

What he doesn't know about dogs is not worth knowing, and as well as being a famous canine behaviourist, he is also a renowned gundog trainer and the man behind the internationally acclaimed Retriever Training - Guru Style DVD series.

Born and raised by a family of animal lovers in the Co Armagh countryside, close to Tandragee, where he still lives, the father-of-two says he was just a young child when his parents noticed he had a natural and unique mystical connection to dogs.

As a boy, Keith embraced his gift and studied books on dog psychology and training, although it was through his own observation and first-hand experience that he developed his own unique formula for training - known as Calmness Leads to Reward.

He has regularly packed out major venues with his humorous talks on dog behaviour, and his reputation has now spread worldwide, with much of his time spent travelling to train people in other countries in his techniques.

It all began when as a child, he started to experiment with his parents' dogs and then his own.

Keith was just 12 when he started his first obedience classes for wayward dogs and owners, which he held on Saturday mornings at the field in front of his parents' home.

Word about the remarkable and gifted young dog trainer began to spread around the country, and people travelled from as far away as Monaghan, Belfast and from all over Co Armagh to attend his Saturday morning obedience classes.

Keith says that he thought about nothing else but working with dogs from that time. "We always had at least two pet dogs at home," he explains. "It's hard to explain, but it's about how the animals react to you and the calmness you have around them and the energy you project.

"I was probably about 16 when I decided I wanted to make a career out of it, and my parents couldn't see how I could and I was determined to prove them wrong.

"Even when I was studying for my A-levels, I would be in the library looking for books on dogs and dog training and behaviour - and I read every book they had.

"I couldn't get enough of it and it was all I could think about. It was the time before computer games and Google, when you had to physically read books.

"I guess it was after my TV show, which was aired around 2008, when my career really took off, and now I travel the world training other dog trainers in my techniques."

As a young man fresh out of school, Keith, now 38 and father to Cody (15) and Cole (9), set up a number of canine-type businesses to continue to learn as much about dog behaviour as possible. He opened his own kennels when he was still a teenager and then a pet shop and grooming business in his home town of Tandragee.

But it was his unique ability to calm and train dogs where he really made his mark. His dog-training classes drew people from all over Ireland and, in 2008, he came to the attention of the BBC, which gave him his own series featuring his remarkable ability to work with dogs.

This led to a number of appearances as part of a panel of experts on The One Show, working with viewers who were experiencing behavioural problems with their pets.

He says: "It started with me going to the homes of some of the producers to help with their pets' behaviour, and then I had the series and the invitation to appear on The One Show.

"That's when I was called the Dog Guru and it has kind of stuck. Everyone thinks they have the worst dog in the world, and on the show you only had a very short time to work with them and make a difference.

"Since then, my business has taken me all over the world, from the US to South Africa and all over Europe. I have 26 bookings for next year already worldwide, and I am mainly now travelling to train other dog trainers up in my techniques. I will still do consultations when I'm home, but I don't run the classes anymore."

With Christmas coming and so many puppies traditionally making it into Santa's sack only to find themselves in a rescue centre a few weeks later, Keith has some timely advice for new owners.

He says: "When you bring a puppy into your home, you have to become a trainer. It's like a child and it needs boundaries and you have to be firm from day one.

"My advice is for people to get the help of a professional trainer early and do things properly from the beginning.

"It is also important that the dog's personality is right for you. If you go to a litter, they will all have very different personalities, and there is no point picking a high-energy dog if you are going to bring it into a family with young children.

"So many dogs end up in rescue centres after Christmas because people don't know how to train them, and it is so important to get that right from the start."

As well as his gift for training dogs, Keith is renowned for his skills with working dogs and is an International FCI A Panel Field Trial judge for Retrievers with the Irish Kennel Club and the English Kennel Club.

He has judged field trials and working tests in many countries around the world, including Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Scotland, Sweden and South Africa.

As a breeder, Keith's copperbirch labrador retriever line is one of the most sought-after Irish working lines in the world and has been the top-producing labrador retriever kennel in Ireland for the last decade.

He has also bred the Irish Retriever of the Year, the three times winner of the Icelandic Championship, the Australian Retriever of the Year, The French Retriever Champion and field trial champions who have been placed in the Irish Championship, as well as field trial champions who have qualified for the IGL British Retriever Championship.

Keith has bred numerous field trial champions globally, as well as more than 40 labradors who have gained field trial awards in several different countries around the world.

He has nine pet labradors at home, and his youngest son, Cole, is already showing signs of having inherited his father's gift with dogs and regularly wows the crowds with his skills at fairs across Ireland.

Keith says: "I can see in Cole even more of it than I had at his age. He is a natural with dogs and when I go to the game fares he will give the demonstrations now while I do the talking."

The most common problem that pet owners seek Keith's advice on is aggression in dogs, either towards other dogs or towards people.

Again, Keith says prevention is better than cure and early training is essential to ensure your dog doesn't develop a vicious side.

He explains: "Probably one of the worst cases I had was a couple who had to use welding gloves just to put their dog's lead on.

"Unfortunately, dog aggression is the biggest issue I would encounter. It can be down to breeding or how people manage their dogs.

"People tend to spoil their dogs and don't see the importance of training, so it can be a lack of management.

"It shocks me that people are bringing their dogs to me at maybe four years old, and they are telling me the dog has been aggressive since it was a puppy and they have tolerated it.

"It is better to sort out problems early on than trying to undo four or five years of learned behaviour."

However, in his years of working with animals, Keith has also witnessed a move towards more responsible dog ownership, with more people realising the need to train their dogs when they are very young.

He says: "An increasing number of people want to do the right thing, which is great and I can't stress enough how important it is to choose the right dog with the right temperament to suit you in the first place.

"Just because the puppies all have the same mum and dad doesn't mean they will have the same personality, and it is often the puppy that runs up to you first that is also the puppy with the highest energy.

"People buying puppies for Christmas really do need to make sure they have the right breed to suit their requirements. Then they need to spend time choosing a suitable puppy from the litter."

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