9:10pm Saturday 26th May 2012
By Tom King
A NEW celebrity superstar has been added to the Essex firmament, and this one could be the biggest of them all.
He is more cuddly than Helen “the Queen” Mirren, has better hair than Russell Brand, and his mid-air athletics feats would give the average Red Arrows pilot post traumatic stress disorder. Qannik the dog, four years old and a Samoyed, has learned 150 separate tricks, including hiding his eyes, limping and skateboarding.
He recently appeared on the BBC TV programme Bang Goes the Theory, featuring as one of the four cleverest dogs in Britain.
Qannik, who lives near Belfairs golf course, Leigh, has just granted his first media interview. I felt proud and privileged, but also a bit insecure, since deep down I suspected Qannik had a much higher IQ than me. Would he humiliate me intellectually, like a sort of Bonio-munching version of Stephen Hawking?
As protection, I took my basset hound, Tessie, five, along to the interview. I thought her presence might put Qannik in a good mood. Also, Tessie is a big fan of celebrity culture. This is a dog who devours copies of Heat magazine, particularly if they’ve had gravy spilled on them. I thought she would just love to meet a big-time star.
Tessie’s presence also offered one way I might be able to outsmart Mr Cleverclaws. Could I, in the course of the interview, persuade him to provide a free consultancy? Through him I could get some free tips of the trade about stardom. I could then turn Tessie into a megastar, like him.
Qannik in person was a refreshing surprise. I half anticipated a big canine star would prove brattish and vain, like his human counterparts. Not a bit of it. Qannik turns out to be welcoming, amiable and full of fun. It was easy to relate to the feelings of Hannah Wilkinson, 34, Qannik’s spokeswoman and owner, when she described how she had first fallen in love with the Samoyed breed.
“I was on holiday on a beach in Cornwall and suddenly I met this great, bouncy, lovable teddy bear that was bouncing along the beach.” The dog belonged to a stranger, otherwise Hannah would probably have adopted him then and there.
Meanwhile, in the most suave and debonair manner imaginable, Qannik was sniffing Tessie’s bottom. She bared her teeth at him to show she was no pushover, but, like me, was quickly won over by his charm. The pair set off on a romp around Qannik’s back garden.
While they did so, Hannah filled me in about Qannik’s history. Many celebs have had a bad start in life. It can often give them an extra drive and determination to succeed. Qannik was no exception.
He had been born into the home of a well-known Samoyed breeder who died suddenly, while Qannik was still a four-week-old pup.
Qannik’s mother had been locked out of the house at the time when the lady collapsed, leaving Qannik and his five sibling pups trapped inside, alone and uncared for. A night and a day passed before anyone discovered what had happened.
By now, Hannah already had one Samoyed, Keido, but she came to the pup’s rescue. Rapidly recovering from his traumatic experience, Qannik began to exhibit signs of remarkable intelligence and responsiveness, even by Samoyed standards.
Hannah, a York University graduate, was working in pharmaceuticals, but had long dreamed of becoming a full-time dog trainer. She has strong convictions about training methods, which she wants to impart to the wider dog community. “Things work best when the dog chooses to do something, rather than being forced to do it,” she insists.
Hannah realised Qannik was the best possible testimonial for her dog training business.
The woman who trained one of the smartest dogs in England! How many people can put that on their business cards? The star himself reappeared at this stage, ready for his interview. The three of us began by discussing how his CV had developed.
Qannik’s career arc shows a clear case of natural ability and good looks finding their own level. Qannik won a contest to appear as the cover canine for the leading magazine Dogs Today and from there morphed effortlessly into TV work on programmes such as Blue Peter and Over the Rainbow.
Qannik now demonstrated a couple of the tricks from his 150-strong repertoire. First, he growled to order. I can do that. Then, however, he did something that has always eluded me. He skateboarded. No doubt about it, Qannik is definitely smarter than me.
Jumping cheerfully on to the skateboard provided by the management, he rammed a well-coiffed leg into the ground and took off across the garden. All the time, his tail was wagging, bearing out Hannah’s dictum that dogs have to choose to do a trick of their own volition – or perhaps, with his mechanical engineering skills, he knew how to use his tail as a propeller.
Now it was Tessie’s turn. Could she learn either of these tricks? Tessie, though, had made herself scarce. “Tessie,” I called. No response.
“Tessie,” I called again.
Qannik looked appalled. A dog who didn’t come when she was summoned by name? Who had ever heard of such a thing?
Hannah was more tactful, but the message was clear. Before Tessie started to think in terms of howling for Simon Cowell, there needed to be a bit of basic discipline in the household. Hannah and I agreed I would sign up for the first round of posture training. Tessie could come too.
I had, however, discovered something unexpected about Qannik’s path to stardom, something that blew a lot of the mystique away.
Tessie and I both noted that every time Qannik performed a trick, he was given a bit of sausage. Hannah keeps these tasty morsels in a bespoke sausage bag on her waist.
So, Qannik was only human after all.
However, I still wanted to ask him the key question, prepared in advance. “Tessie wants to become a TV star like you. What advice would you give?”
Instead of giving the honest one-word answer, “sausages”, Qannik gave a more fulsome response. Through his spokesperson he advised: “Always look cute like you do now. Show those big brown eyes. Keep that pretty tail wagging.” Tessie snorted and walked away. At least there’s one thing Qannik the wonder-dog doesn’t do well. He really needs to work on his chat-up routine.
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