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Puppy pilots: Herts dogs prove you can teach an old dog new tricks

PUBLISHED: 11:50 22 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:50 22 May 2016

Alfie concentrating hard as he masters the flight simulator at Flying School (Photo: Katie Laurie)

Alfie concentrating hard as he masters the flight simulator at Flying School (Photo: Katie Laurie)

Oxford Scientific Films Ltd

Tails have been wagging across the UK as two rescue animals from Herts joined a doggy dozen on a barking TV show teaching dogs to fly

The cast of Dogs Might Fly, including presenter Jamie Theakston (Photo: Eddie Botsio)The cast of Dogs Might Fly, including presenter Jamie Theakston (Photo: Eddie Botsio)

A TV series that attempted to teach dogs to fly an aeroplane might sound far-fetched, but that’s exactly what’s been captivating audiences on Sky 1 this spring – and two of the dog stars were from Herts rescue centres.

The six-part Dogs Might Fly saw a team of canine experts select 12 unwanted and abandoned dogs from across the UK to test their ability to reason, communicate and solve problems with the end-goal for the animals to take control of a real-life aeroplane.

The pooches that made Herts proud were Wilf, a 22-month collie cross from Glendee Rescue in Welham Green near Hatfield, and Alfie, a 23-month collie-lurcher from Royston’s Luna Rescue.

Wilf

Wilf wowed audiences during the training tasks set in the earlier episodes of the series (Photo: Katie Laurie)Wilf wowed audiences during the training tasks set in the earlier episodes of the series (Photo: Katie Laurie)

Glendee Rescue first spotted Wilf being given away on a local online group. Aware that new owners are often not vetted, leading to poor pairings, the centre offered to give him a rescue space with the aim of finding him a good home.

‘He stayed with us for a few months before the TV people came to assess if he was suitable to be used in their show. We were thrilled when he was selected,’ says Georgina Armstrong, who runs Glendee with her husband Steve. ‘He had a wonderful trainer take care of him during his time filming. He did brilliantly, especially in a problem-solving tests, where he was the first dog ever to be filmed completing a task in which he worked out he needed to move a table to reach a treat hanging from the ceiling. He made history doing it!’

‘We were lucky enough to find him a new owner before the show ended. He has moved to the West Country with a lovely family where he has the most wonderful outdoor life and a great home to live in.’

Alfie

Alfie had a shaky start in life, being passed from owner to owner via websites such as Gumtree or Preloved, until finally he was given to Luna Rescue Centre.

‘He’s such a sweetheart, but he was quite nervous when he was younger,’ explains Luna co-founder Natalie Howe.

She put Alfie forward for Dogs Might Fly, and after meetings with the production team to assess him he became one of the lucky 12 because of his quick intelligence. ‘He’s such a trainable little dog,’ Howe says proudly.

Alfie became one of the best performers on the programme, winning Star Dog in one episode and making it through to ‘flying school’ in the final show of the series. He was one of just three dogs to get their wings, and in the final nailbiting episode Alfie got to go up in a plane with specially-modified dog-friendly controls and give flying a go for real.

Although Alfie did his county proud, a two-and-a-half-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier collie cross called Shadow completed a figure-of-eight manoeuvre at 3,000ft, so it was fitting that Shadow ended up top dog. Before being selected for Dogs Might Fly, he was just 24 hours from being put down – a fate met by 5,000 unwanted dogs each year.

That is not something Alfie need worry about. He was so loved by the production team that one of the trainers adopted him. He now lives with her and her other dogs in Yorkshire, where she continues to train him. And he was not alone; all 12 dogs in the show were rehomed.

Howe says the impact of the series goes far beyond this lucky dozen. ‘The show was really brilliant because it highlighted the plight of rescue dogs and how much they can achieve with the correct training and in the right environment,’ she says. ‘It’s been a really positive thing, which is especially nice for us rescue centres when we’re all too aware that not every dog has such a happy ending.’ w

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