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Just Another Day at Circus School

When you have a very smart, young, and energetic Pomeranian who lives up to his name of Robin Williams, it is wise to find an outlet for that energy. A positive one is preferred, as you can imagine.

Agility has always been first on my list. This was before I knew that Canine Circus School existed. There was one beginner agility class locally that we did through Fun Dawgs of San Leandro (Toni Lee Hoge, the trainer, is awesome!), but after that was over, there was nothing more advanced that I could find nearby. I was visiting one of my veterinary customers last year, and they had flyers for “Canine Circus School.” Right here in Oakland! I visited the school’s website, (also, to learn more and could not wait to get started.

There are four levels of Canine Circus School courses, and each consists of six weeks of one-hour classes. The cost/course is $260 (or $43 each class). I waited about six months to get in, because the school books up quickly, but it was worth it.

When I arrived at the school, it was like walking into an actual circus. The backyards of two houses are connected, and Francis Metcalf (Master of Hounds and Ring Leader at Canine Circus School) and his wife, Norma, have turned it into the coolest place: a circus oasis, so colorful, creative, welcoming, and fun. I could just go there and hang out. They have also built a training “arena” where each dog gets his or her own platform (a wooden box about 3 feet by 4 feet and 1 foot high or so), to work from during the class. Directions for the first class were to bring a very hungry dog, bring lots of yummy treats, and wear functional shoes.

Francis is a dog whisperer, and instantly, Robin (Captain Caveman, as Francis dubbed him) was in love with him. So funny. I had no idea what to expect the first day. How much can actually be taught in one hour? Well, I was blown away. It was amazing to see how much and how fast dogs could learn. The classes run for 30 minutes; you take a five-minute break and then come back for a final 25 minutes. About 45 minutes into the first class, admittedly, I was tired. A good and happy tired though. It was quite a work out for Robin, and myself — which actually was a good thing for us. I had the same experience in all the classes.

In the first class, we focused on what Francis termed as a “symmetrical foundation” (basic obedience). From the box, we ask the dogs to come, sit in front of us, go around us to the “heel” position and back to the box. We repeated this but this time sent them to the “heel” position on the other side. Treat rewards were given at every step. Just so you know, I soon learned that the treats I brought were nothing to Robin in comparison to the yummy hot dogs that Francis offered. Once Francis used Robin to show us an exercise, my treats were of no interest to him anymore. Francis had to give me some of his to finish out the class. In one fell swoop, we created a “picky” Pomeranian. Oh, and for the following classes, even though I had the same treats as Francis, Robin still preferred what Francis had. My dog was truly in love with him. Thank you, Francis! Ha!


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Jeanine Courser and Robin Williams, courtesy Jeanine Courser

From there, we did work around cones starting from the box. Once back to the box, we taught the dogs to spin in both directions, sit pretty (paws in the air), bow, put their paws up on our knees or back when requested, zigzag through our legs as we walked, high five, front feet off and on the box, and it goes on. All of these things are done together in a string of actions. Moreover, this was only course No. 1. We learned a ton, took what we learned home to Robin’s brother Foxworthy, and taught it all to him. We practiced and practiced so that we would be all ready for the second course. Unfortunately, Robin sprained his leg and could not attend course No. 2 when it came around, but he is fine now, and we are excited for the next one and for what we will learn in it.

Thank you, Francis and Norma, for an awesome experience. Looking forward to the next course. So fun. You will not be disappointed. I promise.

Jeannine Courser has been an animal health care professional for 30 years. When not practicing circus tricks with Robin Williams and Jeff Foxworthy or petting cat Tigger and kitten Eddie Murphy, she might be riding horses, hiking with dogs, writing, doing photography, painting, jewelry making, or soap making.

Main article photo by: Pat Mazzera