Steve Bailey has trained hundreds of dogs at his Canine Crusades behaviour therapy and daycare centre in Somerset, UK – a business he launched after using the money left to him by his late father to study canine psychology.
Though he has plenty of success stories, arguably his most impressive achievement is his work with Neo the border collie, who was an eight-week-old pup when Steve bought him from a local farm.
Working dogs by tradition, border collies like Neo have lots of energy and having a professional trainer for an owner helps put that to good use as Steve Bailey knew exactly how to keep his pet happy, channeling Neo's liveliness into coordinated slaloms and jumps.
The training paid off when he achieved a record for the Fastest 10 hoop/tyre slalom by a dog - 8.58 sec – and a place in the new Guinness World Records: Amazing Animals book.
Jumping through hoops isn't the eight-year-old dog's only party trick. He's also mastered the art of "wall running", a manoeuvre which involves jumping onto a vertical surface and running several steps with all four paws making contact with the wall.
Neo's agility skills have earned him the nickname of the "parkour collie".
Not only this, Neo has worked as a sniffer dog and has also been a sheep dog in the past.
We recently caught up with Steve to find out more about his record-worthy training regime.
Tell us a bit about Neo.
"I purchased Neo shortly after my farther passed away and I believe that this is why the bond between us is so strong. At the time it was as if he lived to keep me happy and that has continued to this day!"
"We did so much training when he was young that he seems to fully understand whenever I want him to learn something new and has no problem doing it.
"Of all the hundreds of dogs I've rehabilitated, trained and had stay at my day-care centre, there has never been one that I can compare to Neo, he is truly unique.
"He is the most intelligent and athletic dog I have ever met!"
When did you start training Neo to perform tricks?
"Neo was learning basic tricks from the very beginning. By the time he was six months old he'd learnt basic agility moves like jumps, hoop, weave, seesaw, and tunnel.
"At one year old Neo was at a fairly advanced level of agility and I decided to adapt his skills to "parkour" moves.
"I wanted to keep Neo occupied, with him having such a high energy and intelligence level, as well as a willingness and drive to learn new things."
How did you train Neo to perform the hoop-tyre slalom?
"This trick is a combination of a jump, hoop, and weave. Having already mastered these agility moves it was a case of putting them together.
"A target stick was used as a training aid. Target training is when a dog is initially conditioned to "touch" the end of a telescopic stick.
"This can be achieved by dipping the end of the stick in something irresistible to the dog (a smelly food reward). When the dog "touches" the end of the stick with its nose, the behaviour is reinforced/rewarded with a click of a clicker and some food.
"After several repetitions, the stick is extended and moved away from the dog into different places. The dog is again asked to touch (now having to move) and reinforced/rewarded for the desired response. Once target training is mastered, the target stick can be used to guide the dog onto obstacles or through the weave poles."
"For the hoop slalom the target stick was initially used to tell Neo which hoop I wanted him to jump through and which side to approach from, guiding him through five hoops, around the last hoop and back through the hoops, rewarding him for each correct run with a click of the clicker and his favourite treat (a ball).
"Once Neo mastered this, the target stick was removed and the start/finish line was introduced, which Neo had no problem with. I was still required to move with Neo as a guide to prevent him from moving too quickly and overshooting any of the hoops, which would lose time. I quickly learnt that hoop slalom was less about speed and more about technique to produce the fastest time."
What are your top tips for being a successful trainer?
"The most important thing to remember when training a dog is that it must always be fun for them as well as the handler. Positive reinforcement with accurate timing for rewards is critical.
"Never try to train something outside the dogs mental and or physical capabilities, breed, age, intelligence, size, weight – the individual must be considered first."
The debut edition of Guinness World Records: Amazing Animals is in stores now.