Meet Tia Wardell, Britain’s youngest online dog trainer. Every Saturday morning this inspired and knowledgeable 11-year-old has been online, teaching kids to do tricks with their dogs through her Canine Kids Club. Tia comes with a wealth of experience way beyond her years, and you may wonder how one so young can be this focused and articulate about training dogs.
The answer is found in her environment, growing up in the Wardell household in Hertfordshire. You see, her family dog isn’t just the beloved family pet. He is Fabulous Finn, the retired German Shepherd police dog who, when still in active service, nearly died saving the life of Tia’s dad, PC Dave Wardell.
You may remember the story from back in 2016. Finn was stabbed while he and Dave were apprehending an offender and the horrific incident made headlines, highlighting the need for new laws in the UK to protect service animals. After Finn recovered, he and Dave campaigned relentlessly, travelling the UK and even appearing on Britain’s Got Talent to create awareness. Thanks to their efforts and incredible support from the public, new legislation was passed and became known as “Finn’s Law”, making it a criminal offence to injure a service animal.
Earlier this month, we chatted to Dave about what he and Fabulous Finn are up to these days and you can read all about their next chapter here. Meanwhile, as the youngest online trainer in the UK, Tia is gaining a following of her own so, with her dad in the background, we set up an interview to find out how this bright young girl is making the most of all she has learned since she was a little pup herself.
How did you get into training dogs?
My dad and his dog Finn are my inspiration. Before they got attacked I wasn’t too interested in dogs although I still loved cuddling them. But after the attack, Dad was going around training people with dogs dealing with behavioural issues and lots of other stuff, and I went with him and watched. I took notice and decided to do it myself with all our dogs.
Can you tell us about your Canine Kids Club?
It all started with the 25 tricks before Christmas. We were in lockdown and everyone was bored so I wanted to create a bit of fun. It was a Livestream class with a trick every day before Christmas. Then people wanted more so that led to Canine Kids Club which I do live every Saturday, doing tricks, behavioural stuff and walking on leads. I plan to do it in a field with more people after lockdown.
At what age can kids start training their dogs?
I was 5 when I started - not training the dogs, just observing them. At 4 they can start watching their dogs and doing tricks with them. Actually, any age.
Are you getting a good turn out for your online classes?
I usually get between 30 to 40 people. But last week we did it on Finn’s account and I got over 24 thousand views.
What are your plans for Canine Kids Club going forward?
Canine Kids Club is all about me getting ready to become a professional dog trainer. I want to go around the world with my dog business, training people and their dogs. I’d also like to help charities with their rescue dogs. I want to help dogs that have problems and behaviour issues.
How are you preparing to become a professional dog trainer?
I have a whole box of dog training books that I nicked from my dad. I love studying dogs. At the moment I’m learning about their noses and I watch Nando Brown and Jo-Rosie. They teach me the importance of scent work. I watch Chirag Patel who is an amazing dog trainer. And Absolute Dogs, with Tom and Lauren. So, I’m watching quite a lot of people.
Your dad talks a lot about non-verbal communication with dogs, can you explain it to us?
It’s really about sitting quietly and watching the dogs, watching their body language and observing them as you’re going along - to understand them. With my little Frenchie, I’ve already observed that when her ears are back she’s either ready to play or she’s scared. I keep a book of all the things I’ve observed with our dogs.
Do you recommend keeping a journal?
Yes, definitely. I write down everything I observe.
How can we practice non-verbal communication with our own dogs?
Well, while noticing that their ears are back which you know might mean excitement or fear, you can then ask yourself what else are they doing? Are they bouncing around? That’s how I think of it. You can also watch them on their walks and whilst they’re eating. Are they bowing to other dogs? This might mean they want a play session. Sometimes our German Shepherd does it with our little Frenchie. She starts to bow and then she jumps out of the bow and starts playing. It’s indicating that they are about to play and that they want to play and that they are comfortable playing.
What’s your favourite aspect of dog training?
I love watching their body language, teaching them new tricks, and I love the cuddles with dogs after they have done something amazing.
We asked Tia for her Top 3 Training Tips
Tia’s Training Tip #1: Practice
Keep going, keep practising. Your dog is not going to know what you are talking about so you want to just practice consistently until they do.
Tia’s Training Tip #2: Repetition
You want to keep practising that same trick and then they will start to understand what you’re on about. Let’s say you are doing ‘sit’ if you keep practising they will understand what ‘sit’ means when you ask them.
Tia’s Training Tip #3: Calmness
You don’t want to be angry or frustrated with what they’re doing. You want to make it nice and fun so that when they do that trick they know it’s a fun trick, not a boring trick. Keep it positive.
You can catch Tia at the DogFest event in Hertfordshire which she will be attending with her dad and Finn. We can't wait to meet this wonderful family in person!