Britain’s Got Talent winner Ashleigh Butler has been training dogs since she was 5 years old and joined the YKC as soon as she was old enough. We caught up with Ashleigh to find out more, from how she got into heelwork to music to why she loves Crufts!
What made you get into heelwork to music?
I have been training dogs since I was 5 years old; I joined the YKC as soon as I was old enough and from there I tried pretty much every dog sport I could.
I have competed in agility pretty much my whole life, but I've also tried show handling, dog grooming, flyball, and then HTM. Pudsey was my first dog that I trained from scratch to compete in canine freestyle, and to say he was a natural was an understatement. We went on to win the YKC Crufts freestyle class several times, and he reached advance status in freestyle before entering Britain’s Got Talent.
What was your proudest achievement with Pudsey?
Of course I have to say winning BGT and everything else we went on to achieve after that, but also that we still carried on competing and winning in agility. He really was a multi-talented dog, and even with a demanding career, we still managed to win agility championship tickets and represent our country at the European Agility Championships.
How has your life changed since winning BGT?
My life has changed drastically since winning BGT; I now get to perform on stages across the country, travel the world doing what I love, and teach people with their dogs. I love that I meet so many unique and talented people, whether that's in the entertainment industry or the dog world. No two days are the same, and I feel privileged that I wake up every morning and look forward to the work ahead of me.
You’re now an agility pro with Sully, what made you get into agility and how has training Sully been?
My mum started training and competing with her dogs in agility when she was a teenager, so when I was born I was thrown into this crazy dog agility world and knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life. I love the bond and relationship that you and your dog create through this trust of running around an agility course together.
Sully adores agility and he really is a natural, however he isn't the easiest dog to train, whether that's agility or canine freestyle. He is a very sensitive boy and can shut down very easily/quickly so I've had to work very hard with him on building his confidence and building a bond and trust between us, so he knows I will never put him in a situation that will harm or scare him.
People don't believe me sometimes when I tell them what he's really like, they just see him running around an agility course having the time of his life! It makes me so proud that he started out as a scared little puppy and is now a Crufts agility champion and a dancing dog on stage.
What’s your favourite thing about Sully?
His craziness! He is one crazy hyper little monster, and acts like a puppy all the time, but he's also so loving and affectionate, has the biggest heart and personality for a small dog. Everyone can't help but fall in love with him, when they meet him.
Why do you love Crufts?
Crufts is the world’s biggest dog show, there really is nothing quite like it. Even people who know nothing about dogs have heard about Crufts. I love how Crufts brings all dog loves together, no matter what dog sport you compete in or what breed you love, Crufts has it all. To win there is just a dream come true and holds a special place in any dog lovers heart.
If you could be a dog for the day, what would you do and why?
I would love to be Sully! I'd like to have a day performing on stage and then a day of competing in agility to see things from his perspective!
What is your favourite breed of dog and why?
I have to say I love my crossbreeds, I love how unique they are, you never really know what you're going to get with them! I also have a year old Pyrenean sheepdog called Zula, and I have fallen in love with the breed and their quirky ways. She can be quite hard work though and they are definitely not a breed for everyone!
Tell us something people don’t know about you…
This is a tough one! I'd say a lot of people are quite surprised when they come and watch me perform on stage and in pantomime. I have always been interested in musical theatre and wanted to perform on stage, but never thought it would become a reality. Yet here I am, 7 years after winning BGT still doing the job I never thought I'd be lucky enough to work in!
What are your top tips for someone starting out in heelwork to music/agility?
Enjoy the ride, because trust me there are a lot of high point but a lot of low points! What I've found over the years is don't worry about how long it takes you to get somewhere. Sully is 6 years old and he still isn't mature and does some crazy weird things sometimes, but we have had so much fun along the way! Set yourself realistic goals, however small they may be, but make sure you enjoy the journey.