The "Faking It" Experience
By Rob Archer
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So there I was sitting at my desk on a hot day, working away in my new job, when the phone rang and someone called Louise Dibley called asking me whether I’d be interested in going on a programme called ‘Faking It’. I initially thought it was a wind up from one of my mates so I didn’t take it too seriously when, after a few odd questions, (one of which was whether I’d ever had any pets), Louise invited me along to an interview later that week.

I have always liked Faking It and I do believe in taking chances in life, so I decided to go along. All I knew at that stage was that the challenge would be ‘using my communications skills as a consultant in a different environment’. However, there were a lot of questions, and doubts: How would I come across on TV? What if I looked stupid or failed dismally? How on earth would I get time off work (having just joined the company!)

At the interview itself I met Louise but also Patrick the Director and Ros the Producer who would grow to be friends over the next few months. They were an excellent team and I trusted them immediately. I could feel myself warming to the idea. At the end of the interview they also told me a bit more about the challenge. It would involve a lot of time outdoors, it would involve learning a new skill, and….it would also involve dogs.

I knew then I had to do it.

As it turned out the firm I work for, Serco, were incredibly supportive of me, after I’d been dreading asking for the time off. They remained supportive all the way through in fact and I remain really grateful for this.

The Beginning

So the next thing I knew I was being whisked off to the countryside, to start a 4 week challenge ‘involving dogs’. I thought it might be sheep dog training, but didn’t really care what it was as long as I had my own dog to train. I have never been able to have a dog in my life, but I have always longed for one.

The next few days were a blur, and for a city boy initially from Birkenhead, pretty bizarre too. I met Kay Raven my first mentor, and a huge variety of dogs, which I loved, and I was immersed into a world I had no idea existed. I left my comfortable and familiar life far, far behind. And, of course, then I met Bobby.

I do remember feeling nervous before she came out of the van, but when I saw her I knew we’d get on. She had such energy, she was so friendly (to put it mildly) and almost completely out of control. This was going to be good…

Mary Ray

After a few days of obedience training with Kay they turned the heat up and off we went to the ‘Dogs in Need’ Show in Suffolk. It was there that I first saw Mary Ray and it was there that I first saw, to my horror, the scale of the challenge before the Bobster and me. Aside from the fact it was with dogs I can’t think of any other challenge which I would have wanted to do less than this. I hate dancing and I definitely didn’t want to dress up. I remember watching Mary’s routine and thinking that’s it, none of my mates will talk to me again, and I’m definitely never going to pull again…Still, at least I had the Bobster.

I was nervous when I first met Mary, mainly because everyone spoke about her with such awe. I remember going to her caravan and thinking it was like meeting a film star – she was clearly a big, big name in the world of dogs although I admit, I’d never heard of her! When I did meet her to my surprise she was really laid back and – bizarrely - very modest. I was relieved, but still nervous. I thought there was no way she would have time to help me much, and I thought it was probably a gimmick having her as mentor. How wrong I was.

Training

Over the next few weeks I spent nearly every minute of every day with Mary, Dave, their dogs and Bobs. I followed them around the country in my new caravan, often travelling with their friends from Rugby dog club, and staying in their house in the week.

Some people have commented about the lack of footage showing the training process. Let me help redress this. Training was pretty intensive, especially the second 2 weeks. Kay worked hard with me on some basic obedience, but from then Mary spent virtually all day every day training me and the Bobster. We got familiar with clicker training, working on ‘reading’ the dogs, teaching me about how dogs work and think, and of course developing the routine. It must have been hard to have a strange man in the house, and it must have been boring and frustrating having someone as clueless as me to train. I did have one advantage – I loved dogs and couldn’t spend enough time with them. So the training was never that much of a chore, although I have to say it was really, really hard work. I went to bed every night shattered, whilst people rang me and asked me if I was enjoying my ‘holiday’!

So day after day we worked, usually in Mary’s back garden, and slowly and surely I started to develop some basic skills. Looking back I realise how luck y I was. I mean, to spend over 3 weeks, every day, having a master class in dog training from the world’s finest dog trainer. Money can’t buy that sort of experience and I can see that whilst the odds were stacked against me and Bob at the start, those odds were gradually redressed by Mary’s dedication.

Great Gadsby

With a couple of weeks to go I was whisked off to Blackpool to Mike Gadsby’s kennels (not his kennels you understand, the kennels he owns) in Blackpool. One day a programme will be made about Mike Gadsby, because he is one of the funniest, most charismatic men in the world of dogs and of course one of the most successful. He had a unique contribution to my Faking It experience; I will never forget his scathing (and unrepeatable) commentary as I tried to show one of his dogs… But it was brilliant fun and a nice break from the training. Good luck Mike in the future and thanks to your and your gang for such a funny time.

I remember I was getting quite tense at the time about the lack of training time I was being given, and that I grumpily insisted before leaving Blackpool that I needed some time to train Bobster. I remember doing a long training session in the pouring rain whilst the RDF team waited in the car. It was one of the best sessions we’d ever had and I was enormously encouraged on the way back to Rugby. As well as wet.

Back at Mary’s we got back into our training routine and I continued to learn more about the dog world. By now I was getting into agility, and I borrowed one of Mary’s dogs, Taz , to do a few rounds. I think when I do get a dog I will get one like Taz and I will keep going with agility I enjoyed it so much.

The End…

So the big day eventually arrived. Whilst I was nervous I had decided that we couldn’t treat it too seriously as it would be wrong to put too much pressure on Bobster. But we gave it our best shot and although we weren’t particularly good on the day we somehow managed to fake it. The other contestants were all technically better than me, but perhaps Bobby’s charisma got us through. She has real star quality and it was just another example of how lucky I was.

Then just as suddenly as she arrived, she left. After all the excitement it came suddenly. I went home that night and felt pretty empty, though also happy to have got through and to have done OK. I also knew it was one of the experiences of my life, and one I would never forget.

From my perspective I was determined to do 3 things: I wanted to give it my best shot no matter what the challenge, and I think I did. I wanted to come across as someone who respected the world into which I was being submerged – all too easy to come across as arrogant city boy - and even though HTM is not something I would really do on my own, I think I did. And finally I wanted to strike a balance between taking it seriously and having fun. Again I think I did, most of the time. But the joy of the 4 weeks, and ultimately the success of ‘Faking It’ was due to other people, so to finish a few ‘thank yous’ are in order…

§ Thanks to the RDF production team – they were brilliant and Patrick, the Director, is a real talent who I think produced a really warm and genuine film which apparently is the most watched Faking It ever…

§ Thanks to Kay Raven and her gang (Lynne, Janice, et al) for their expertise, warmth and support. You were there all the way through for me and I’m very grateful.

§ Thanks to the folks at Rugby and Hinckley Dog clubs for welcoming me into their world and for helping me out so much. I watched the agility crew at Crufts and was proud of you all! (And good luck Aled at Twickenham!)

§ Thanks to Bobby’s owner for giving her up for 4 weeks. Ian, that was a generous thing to do mate. Thanks to the people who rescued Bobby too from her miserable existence. And shame on whoever owned her first…

§ Thanks to my employers Serco, and my friends and family who kept me going through the low points (and yes, there were a few).

§ Thanks to Dave Ray for putting up with me for 4 weeks. Thanks to the Ray dogs for allowing their routine to be messed up by a beginner!

§ Thanks to all the people I met in the wider Dog World for showing kindness, patience, humour and friendship to a sometimes lonely beginner and his rescue dog. The response not just during the filming but also afterwards (for instance at Crufts) has been quite overwhelming.

§ Thanks to Bobster. Throughout the whole 4 weeks, with change constant, lots of training travelling and boring filming to do, she remained the same: fun loving, even tempered, happy, cute. It was impossible not to fall in love with her. And to think she’s a rescue dog…

§ But perhaps above all, thanks to Mary Ray for the amount of time and effort she put in. She could have got away with doing far less, but she didn’t. She was there all day, every day and never stopped helping me. She never once worried about me ruining her beautiful dogs’ training, even though I treated them all as mates and spoilt them. Not only is she a superstar, with an unbelievable gift with dogs, but she is a really genuine and honest person, who is very modest.

She has a gift with animals which cannot be taught, but she is able to help others get the best out of their dogs. Her performance at Crufts was amazing, (again), but even more so now I understand what’s involved. I’m proud to know Mary, and one day I’ll bring her my own dog and will get her advice again. (Maybe one of Taz’s grandchildren?). You and Dave really do deserve all the success you get.

Since the show went out I’ve been overwhelmed by the response, and nearly every day there are moments from the 4 weeks I remember and smile about. I will never forget the experience, but I will also never forget the debt I owe the dog world, to my mentors, to Bobster and perhaps especially Mary Ray.

Thanks to you all.