As a border collie from Stonehaven clinched a Crufts championship, Gayle Ritchie checks out some of Scotland’s most amazing dogs – and their proud owners.
Dogs truly are man’s best friend.
They love you unconditionally, they’re a fantastic antidote to loneliness, stress and depression, and the chances are your four-legged friend will greet you like you’ve been gone forever… even if you just popped out for five minutes.
As well as making us feel good and infecting us with their zest for life, dogs can do some pretty amazing things.
There are super-skilled ones who work for the police, those who excel at agility and scentwork, Guide Dogs, rescue dogs, and many other highly-accomplished canines who all deserve to be celebrated.
Here we look at the stories of some of Scotland’s most exceptional pooches and the incredible bonds they enjoy with their owners…
CRAZEE AND EUAN
Stonehaven dog agility trainer Euan Paterson and his sprightly border collie Crazee won the acclaimed Crufts Championship 2022 prize in March.
Six-year-old Crazee is one of the fastest dogs on the planet, giving Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt a run for his money.
And her Crufts wins, in which she became both agility champion and international jumping champion, are thanks to a lifestyle incorporating physiotherapy sessions, hydrotherapy pool swims and a special diet packed with vegetables and raw meat.
“When we’re looking at dog speed and agility, we talk about it in metres per second so Crazee is sitting at six metres per second; you don’t really get dogs going any faster,” says Euan. “I think she would probably be faster than Usain Bolt.”
It was while training his older dog Sweep that Euan fell into the world of dog agility and has never looked back, building both indoor and outdoor agility arenas at his farm in Stonehaven and launching his own business.
“The buzz I get out of agility is being able to really communicate with the dog,” he says.
“When you’ve got that really strong partnership and confidence where the dog really understands exactly what you’re asking her to do, it’s really good.”
Crazee’s sporting abilities were evident from eight weeks old when she leapt over her puppy pen to explore her new home.
From swimming and strength and conditioning to hill sprints and nutrition, her training regime reads like a world-class athlete’s.
“I treat Crazee like a human athlete, so she’s on a raw diet (consisting of raw meat with bone content and vegetables) and she takes joint supplements,” says Euan. “She has a thing for apple cores too, and cherry tomatoes.”
As well as Crazee, Euan and his wife Sarah have four other dogs who hang out in a room in the house with their own couch and chairs!
After walking the dogs for an hour, he does 10 to 15 minutes of training with Crazee.
“I’ll practice running agility courses with her or I might do some strength and conditioning work using inflatables and a wobble board to help with her balance and stability.
“I like to do hills sprints with her too as it’s really good for strength and stamina.”
Crazee also enjoys regular massages and swims in a hydrotherapy pool in Portlethen.
In her downtime, Crazee loves playing with her favourite toy and snuggles with Euan on the sofa.
“The buzz I get out of agility is being able to really communicate with the dog.”
The duo are preparing to represent Great Britain at the European Open in Belgium in July and the World Championships in Austria in September.
AMBER AND SCOTT
Dundee-based PC Scott McMaster and police dog Amber won the 2022 Police Scotland Regional Dog Trials in March.
The event saw officers and their police dogs taking part in three days of trials, with teams engaging in challenging exercises involving agility, tracking, searching, criminal work and obedience.
Scott and Belgian Malinois Amber will now travel to the UK National Police Dog Trials, hosted by British Transport Police and held in various venues in and around Swindon in May.
“We’re over-the-moon,” says dad-of-two Scott, 36.
“I got Amber in 2017 when she was 11 months old and we’ve built such a great bond.
“We got a decent score in the regional trials in 2019, pre-Covid, so I was excited to see how we’d get on this year.
Scott says: “There are three phases to the trials, and they involve searching through woods and rough terrain, and a scenario where someone is being potentially aggressive to the police dog handler and has a weapon. The dog has to defend and look after the handler.
“There’s also a simulated tracking of an absconder, or someone who’s evading the police, retrieving work, agility and gun and weapon attack scenarios.”
Scott puts the win down to hours of training and his relationship bond with six-year-old Amber.
“The trials are points based and, well, we got the most points so we won!” he says.
“I was actually really surprised when we kept getting the highest scores!
“But training never really stops. It’s not like a driving test where you pass and that’s it. It’s continual.
“And the bond between us is really strong.
“Amber is great in that she understands what jobs I’m asking her to do and knows the triggers, whether a person running off, or someone with a weapon. She’s intelligent and her breed is agile and courageous. She’ll fully commit to whatever I ask of her.”
So, does Scott consider Amber a “pet” or is it purely a working relationship? Does she get cuddles and is she allowed up on the sofa? He laughs: “Officially no! She stays in kennels in my garden and isn’t really supposed to come into the house! But there’s a huge attachment between us, a really great bond. I don’t treat her like a machine.
“Amber is always with me, and she’s a really affectionate dog, sometimes jumping up and pawing me for attention.
“As a police dog handler, you spend more time with your dog than your family – you take the dog to work, take her on holiday and on walks in your spare time. So of course you get hugs and cuddles!”
Dogs have been in Scott’s life for as long as he can remember, and as well as Amber, he has drugs detection Springer spaniel Gordy. “I was always interested in getting into the dog section when I joined the police,” he says.
“If you like dogs, it’s the best job in Scotland.”
Training never really stops. It’s not like a driving test where you pass and that’s it. It’s continual.”
PC SCOTT MCMASTER
He’s excited about the national trials in May, although he’s not getting his hopes up too high.
“It’ll be an experience! It’ll be great to see other handlers and dogs from across the country and while it would be nice to think we might be in with a chance, I just want to go along and enjoy the event.”
HANNAH AND PIXEL
When Montrose-based pet photographer Hannah Paterson started going deaf, she struggled with things she had previously taken for granted.
Thankfully her Jack Russell Terrier Pixel was an absolute godsend, helping her with all sorts of tasks.
“I got Pixel when she was 11 weeks old – she’s nine now,” says Hannah, 36.
“I started to lose my hearing in 2012 due to a disease called otosclerosis and by 2014 it had completely gone and I had surgeries to put implants into my head.
“When I went deaf I started to struggle with things that I hadn’t even realised would be a problem.
“I have two bone anchored hearing aids drilled into my skull, but I can’t wear these in bed, so I could no longer hear my morning alarm. I taught Pixel to wake me up when the alarm sounds by climbing on the bed and standing on my chest.
“Hearing outside can also be difficult if it’s windy and she’ll alert me to traffic or other people and bikes coming up behind us.”
Pixel can also alert Hannah to the fire and carbon monoxide alarms in the house. She recently had new alarms fitted which have a different tone so Hannah had to retrain her to respond to to those sounds.
“She’s an incredible little dog, intelligent, tough and fiercely loyal; she doesn’t know how much she helps me get through life. She just knows that she gets roast beef every day for doing simple ‘tricks’ but she’s always 100%, she’s never let me down and I owe her everything.”
In 2016, Hannah and her border collie Rumour were chosen to represent Team Scotland in a European dog dancing championship in Austria. It would’ve been the first time a Scottish team had competed at the annual competition… but three of the dogs became ill and forced the team to pull out.
Also known as heelwork to music, dog dancing combines obedience training, tricks and dance that allows for creative interaction between dogs and their owners.
DEBBIE AND ZOEY
Guide dogs can transform the lives of those with sight loss, and two-year-old black Labrador Zoey has completely changed Debbie Clark’s world.
Debbie has never had any sight – she is completely blind, with no light or dark perception.
“We only qualified as a partnership in November and Zoey has settled in brilliantly,” says Debbie, 40, from Dunfermline.
“Zoey is my second guide dog. Before then, I had to rely on people to get me from A to B. I didn’t have any confidence, independence, or the freedom that I have now.
“I’ve been very lucky to have two wonderful guide dogs, who have both given me all these things back. I can just go and do what I want to do now, such as go to work and visit friends. Zoey enriches my life in so many ways.”
HANNAH AND POPPY
Cocker spaniel Poppy – owned by swimming champion Hannah Miley – won the Scotland’s Best Dog TV show in December.
Poppy – who lives in Aberdeen with the former world, European and Commonwealth champion – saw off competition from four other finalists to be named top dog in the BBC Scotland series.
Along with their humans, pooches were tested on three key challenges – recall, agility and bond – before judges Kaye Adams, animal behaviourist River McDonald and Scottish SPCA veteran and dog trainer, Alan Grant.
While recovering from a shoulder injury, Hannah – who appeared at three Olympic Games and recently announced her retirement – focused on ways to train Poppy, including teaching her to pack her swimming bag, retrieving the items she needed and dropping them into her kit pack.
She entered the show after her physio sent her an advert and urged her and Poppy to take part.
Hannah, from Inverurie in Aberdeenshire, says Poppy’s training gave her a sense of purpose and “saved” her during lockdown.
“Without Poppy I don’t know how my fiancé Euan and I would have managed lockdown”, she says. (Euan, a sports videographer and photographer, had to take a supermarket job when his work stopped during the pandemic).
“I was often on my own while my arm was in a sling and mentally I really struggled because it was such an emotional and difficult time for me as an athlete. “I felt I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t go out and work, I couldn’t swim and I felt useless. But Poppy gave us a purpose when we felt lost and overwhelmed. She makes us laugh if we ever feel down.”
During training, Hannah even taught Poppy how to read. “I say ‘read’ in inverted commas,” she laughs.
“I have a couple of placards that say ‘sit’, ‘back’, ‘down’ and spin. If I hold one of them up she will do the command without me saying anything. I think by association she has figured out the word and which trick it is associated with. That took a while to do. And it’s quite fun to say my dog can read!”
Of the win, Hannah says: “I’m so delighted for Poppy. It’s like a proud parent moment.”
CREAM OF CRUFTS
Gordon Setter James and his owner David Alcorn from Crossgates in Fife swept the board at Crufts in 2016.
The duo won the grand final of the first ever Kennel Club Vulnerable British & Irish Breeds competition and then went on to win Best in Group for Gundog breeds.
Meanwhile Stanley, an English Toy Terrier, also from Fife, owned by Moira and Robert Bennett, won the Junior Warrant Winner of the Year competition final at Crufts 2020.
Bill Lambert, Kennel Club spokesperson, describes Crufts as a “real celebration of all dogs”, including the many activities we can take part in with our dogs, not just showing but also agility, obedience and heelwork to music, amongst many more.
“Ultimately, judges want to see the very best example of that breed – healthy, showing the ideal characteristics, and happy in the ring.
“Outside the showring, there are many ways for dogs to show off their talent and skill, much like Crazee.
“To succeed in agility takes a lot of training and dedication, as well as a strong bond between owner and handler – something Crazee and Euan demonstrated well in the arena.”
GREYFRIARS BOBBY AND JOHN
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Greyfriars Bobby, the faithful Skye Terrier said to have kept vigil at his master’s grave in Edinburgh for 14 years, until he died aged 16 on January 14, 1872.
Bobby belonged to policeman John Gray who died of tuberculosis in 1858. The dog became a favourite with local residents, who brought him food. The monument on Bobby’s gravestone reads: “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”