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The Welsh dog training school used by celeb chefs, supermodels and millionaire footballers

A tiny village in Carmarthenshire has become a must visit destination for footballers, movie stars, supermodels, Michelin-starred chefs and aristocrats.

Difficult to even spot on a map, the village of Talog might not have much to offer at first glance.

But that hasn’t stopped some of the world’s richest, most recognisable stars landing helicopters at a farm nearby, carrying precious canine cargo.

They travel from miles around to visit The Dog House – one of the most prestigious dog training centres in the UK and dubbed a “health farm” for dogs.

Pictured is founder, Mark Thompson
Pictured is founder, Mark Thompson (Image: Robert Melen)
Mark Thompson in the centre's training room
Mark Thompson in the centre’s training room (Image: Robert Melen)

Business founder Mark Thompson has been in the business for more than two decades.

He is understandably coy about his celebrity connections.

But he will admit that past guests include “footballers” some “really nice” actresses, fashion models and celebrity chefs.

And he says one celebrity racing car sportsman was particularly disgruntled to be turned down when the centre was full.

Mark’s team have even housed the dogs of royalty – British as well as foreign.

For those without access to a helicopter, a specially adapted vehicle can pick up dogs from around the country – on a weekly run along the M4 to London.

 The specially designed van which takes dogs to and from the centre.
The specially designed van which takes dogs to and from the centre. (Image: Robert Melen)
(Image: Robert Melen)

While inside the dog bus, the pooch can expect the calming sounds of gentle classical music piped into the vehicle.

When they arrive the accommodation has underfloor heating, a walkies is followed by a warm shower and a high-powered blow-dry.

If a little pampering is in order, there’s always a stop at the in-house grooming parlour.

The Dog House’s own range of food was crafted by Michelin chef Michel Roux, a regular client.

And if dogs fancy stopping off at a staff pavilion they can enjoy a movie.

That’s if they can get through the door in the first place. There’s currently a wait for training of four to six months.

But Mark insists this is not a doggy hotel – and millionaire owners also have to get stuck in.

 Sian Richards in the rural landscape of the farm, walking some of it's residents.
Sian Richards in the rural landscape of the farm, walking some of it’s residents. (Image: Robert Melen)
Staff member Natalie Begley grooms Wilson
Staff member Natalie Begley grooms Wilson (Image: Robert Melen)
The Dog House in Talog
The Dog House in Talog (Image: Robert Melen)

He insists training is not just for canines – human partners need to join in the sessions, even if they are celebrities, or it’s “pointless”.

There is no room for diva dogs either.

“They are treated in an exemplary, caring way but they are treated like a dog,” he said.

“They’re not allowed to charge into a house with muddy paws, not allowed to chase bark, jump or show any undesirable behaviours.”

A typical day involves walkies first thing in the morning, around midday, late afternoon and again late evening.

One of those walks is “cardio-vascular” and lasts up to an hour and a half for a fit adult dog.

Dogs are given frozen dog food in rubber Kong toys – which is particularly good for animals with separation anxiety, as it keeps them busy.

Most food is given in puzzles, rather than a plain bowl, as it stimulates the dog to work for their meal.

Lucas terrier Charlie tries out the obstacle course
Lucas terrier Charlie tries out the obstacle course (Image: Robert Melen)
Clients come from miles around to The Dog House
Clients come from miles around to The Dog House (Image: Robert Melen)

There is even an obstacle course – complete with jumps and a seesaw – which helps with human-dog bonding and agility.

But the key to The Dog House’s success is the training.

Mark and his team of nine can turn a puppy from an over-excitable shoe chewer to an obedient companion in just three weeks.

Pets are given rewards – including dog massages and food – for behaviours including walking on a loose lead, being good with other animals, being controllable and responding to recalls.

The attention to detail has led some well-heeled customers to book their own holidays around availability at The Dog House.

And one client even sends her dog to the countryside retreat every few months just for the grooming… and a holiday.

Each dog leaving after a stay is given a report, detailing such information as their behaviour and recommendations for health and diet.

But moving to Carmarthenshire was not an obvious choice for Mark.

Brought up in a private zoo in Wiltshire surrounded by aardvarks, llamas and zebras, he was always used to being around animals.

But he built up his initial client base in London, and was initially nervous to mention the rural location.

He said: “When we first moved here my friends thought I was totally mad to go so far west, when the clients I had were from London.

Founder Mark Thompson with staff members Natalie Begley (left) and Sian Richards
Founder Mark Thompson with staff members Natalie Begley (left) and Sian Richards (Image: Robert Melen)
One of the centre's peacocks
One of the centre’s peacocks (Image: Robert Melen)

“My neighbours here thought I was totally bonkers.

“I was actually quite worried. We had a redirection number and on a lot of our literature we had a London address.”

But he said most his clients love the idea that their dog is going to the “wilderness”.

But even after 22 years and three dog bites (one when he was 10 years old and all his own fault, he insists), Mark still loves the job.

“The great thing about working with animals is you’re constantly learning.

“The dogs that come here are constantly teaching you.”

If all this feels a little too doggy, Penrhiw cottage on the edge of the farm is available for hire for owners and non-owners alike.

And an app is also available, giving valuable advice to owners with more modest means.

Article on Wales Online

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