BGTs Ashleigh Butler praises pooch for taking to stage after Pudseys death

And of course Star Paws was first in line to be put through our paces in an exclusive tricks and training session.

Ashleigh, who won BGT in 2012, has been training dogs since she was five, and loves spending time with them.

She says: “My mum’s a dog trainer so when I was born I was thrown into it as it was something I was natural at.

“It’s such a special bond that you just don’t have with ­people. You will come home and walk through the door and every single time, no ­matter how long you’ve been away for, your dog’s happy to see you.”

The 26-year-old admits winning BGT completely changed her life. But sadly Pudsey is no longer with Ashleigh after his death in 2017.

She has trained crossbreed Sully to take Pudsey’s place and become her main trick dog, and he comforted her through the loss of Pudsey.

Ashleigh says: “The first time I performed with Sully without Pudsey something changed in him and he rose to the occasion – it was strange.

“Sully helped me a lot ­because he’s quite sensitive. He might not have known what had happened or what was wrong but he was ­definitely there for me.

“Dogs are way cleverer than we give them credit for.” Ashleigh, from Northampton, reveals Sully is currently ­filming for an upcoming ­movie. However, he hasn’t ­always taken to the limelight.

“When Sully was younger, he lacked quite a lot of ­confidence,” she explains. “He was quite sensitive and noise reactive.

“There was a point where I thought, ‘He’s never going to get on a stage or be able to perform.’ It’s something that I’ve had to really work hard with him on.

“Now he will go into most situations and cope absolutely fine – that’s a big thing for me.”

Like for most people, the last year-and-a-half of ­lockdowns has had an effect on Ashleigh’s day-to-day life as well as her career.

She says: “It was difficult for me because I’m a person that needs a goal and a focus to train towards, then obviously I lost that.”

But it did give her the chance to go for long walks with Sully, as well as her other pups – Eliza, Zula and Vi, plus new addition Nacho, who is 13 weeks old.

She says: “What was really important was spending time with them and getting out of the house.”

Covid has seen a huge surge in people buying puppies, with research finding more than three million households have acquired a pandemic pet.

So there’s no better time for Ashleigh’s new book ‘Happy Puppy, Happy Dog’ to be released.

Aimed at children and ­families, it covers all the basics you need to know about bringing a puppy into your life, from what to do before you get a dog to how to pick a breed that suits your lifestyle.

There are also lots of fun tricks to teach, and even a guide on how to read a dog’s body language. Ashleigh says: “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Covid and a lot of people going out and getting dogs was the push I needed.

“There’s loads of different training techniques that I use with my dogs in there – basic things like crate games, boundary games and also tricks. There’s something for everyone.

“A lot of children – and even adults – don’t know how to read dogs’ behaviour.

“That’s a big part of the book.”

Ashleigh, who hopes to compete in Crufts next year, says it’s all about building confidence, making sure the dog is happy and finding out what motivates them. She says: “Every dog is completely different. Sully loves his toys but I can’t use them when training him to do tricks, ­otherwise he obsesses and can’t concentrate properly.

“I also have to be calm when I’m training him because he’s crazy enough as it is.

“They learn in different ways and want different rewards, so it’s adapting my training and methods to each dog.

“My younger dog Vi prefers to work for toys – I get more concentration out of him that way. Sometimes I even use a slipper as a reward because he loves them!”

●Happy Puppy, Happy Dog is out now

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