Join us! Check out our SCHEDULE of CLASSES. We look forward to seeing you and your hound soon.
I just wanted to give an update. I have been busy pursuing my latest and ongoing interests such as: butterfly gardening, Old-time fiddling and flying R.C. sailplanes. Hobbies keep me sane so I can put my best foot forward when I teach Canine Circus School. Curiosity is life!
Also I’ve also been coaching some really talented trainers and decoys in French Ringsport. That’s a dog training sport that I learned how to do back in 1995 and got pretty good at. I don’t compete anymore, but it’s always an honor to pass on the knowledge I have accumulated on the subject.
As usual our private lessons have been a real blessing, getting to know people and their dogs is very grounding and when it has been a few generations of dogs we become like family. Anyway that’s me, now for you.
If you came here looking to sign up for Canine Circus School click here, but also watch the video below to get a sense of what the class is like. Remember, we have four levels and oftentimes the dogs you see in the videos are more advanced. Don’t let that scare you, in our Circus 1 class we start from the beginning.
Watch a video of Canine Circus School
Watch a video filmed over many private lessons.
Here is a video I put together from clips of Borte, Phil and Heather over a few years of private lessons. This is a fraction of the stuff we have done, of course we started with the basics and moved up to more complicated things. Along the way we worked through all the normal behavior issues that come along with raising a dog in a big city. If you are interested in private lessons send us an email.
When Heather and Phil first got Borte, her breeder referred them to Canine Circus School for private lessons. Why? Because a long time ago that same breeder took a chance on me.
She sold me a Malinois puppy when I was 20 and when I saw her again years later, that pup was French and Mondioring 3 (which are difficult titles to earn.) The breeder was Cheryl Carlson of Cher Car Shepherds. I was proud to see that connection come full circle. I remember Cheryl telling me as I sat in her office in Lansing, Michigan after I got my first instruction as a French Ring decoy. “Ya know Francis, when you’re 40 years old and you have been training dogs for 20 years it will all pay off.” It turns out that Cheryl was right and I’ve been fortunate to work with great people and their dogs in the Bay Area and beyond.
Watch a video of me training my dog.
If you would like to see me training my dog, watch the video below. It’s a demonstration of my dog (Schwartz) always bringing the biggest coin back first. So he is discriminating visually by size. You can see that I change the order of the coins to see if he is running a pattern or actually thinking about it.
This was just a weird thing I was curious to try. I had never seen it done before, although I have done many scent discriminations and perhaps inadvertently trained a visual discrimination, but I have never set out to do it. Again curiosity is life! Anyway I hope to see you in a class or around the town.
Canine Circus School provides learning opportunities for dogs of all ages. Training is a life long pursuit, we plant the seeds of an ecosystem of behaviors that will work together to cultivate a better dog. During every class we create a pleasing balance between repetitions and variations. Our drills get people and dogs focused and that benefits both the high energy dogs and dogs that are here to work through something.
Dog wisdom, garden wisdom.
There is an old saying about the growth of gardens. It came to mind as I was hacking away at our over grown Cecil Bruner rose.
“The first year the garden sleeps, the second year the garden creeps, the third year the garden leaps.” – author unknown
This saying reminds us to be patient when planting a garden (of perennials). That it takes three years to become the robust garden you imagine. The first year the plants build roots, the second year structure, and the third year the garden fills out and takes off because it’s well adapted.
It struck me that this saying can describe the phases of raising a dog to maturity. You just need to change the words a bit. “the first year your pup leaps, the second year your dog creeps, and the third year the dog sleeps.
Leaps, Creeps, Sleeps. Let me explain:
Leaps: In the pups first year he grows fast. Compared to humans, dogs grow and learn quickly. At age 15 we are barely able to take care of ourselves, most dogs have lived a full life. The stuff I thought I knew when I was twenty, I laugh at in my forties. From weening to about one year, pups have a kind of “diplomatic immunity” they can be jerks to older dogs without the risk of getting their asses kicked. Most older dogs seem to know a puppy when they see one and tell them off firmly but gently. This all changes as the dog gets past one year of age. The diplomatic immunity wears off and serious fights can quickly develop.
Creeps: Year 2 your dog will have reached his full height but not his full width. Physical growth slows down, but mature behavior is coming fast. Your dog has gotten past her first heat cycle and males have gone from humping your leg to lifting theirs. That’s what I like about the word “creeps” it can apply to both to slowing down and creepyness. At this point your dog needs adult training not just puppy kindergarten, because fights can develop and prey behavior may become serious.
Sleeps: The third year I call the thickening. Remember that sweet boyish/girlish face you used to have, now you look in the mirror and find a sea mammal starring back. That’s because you went through the thickening at 38. Your dog will thicken at 3 to 4 years old, but it will make him look strong and cool like batman, not like a walrus, which is one of the advantages of being a dog. During this time, trained behaviors become most consistent because background chatter is less of an influence. Another thing you might notice is that your dog will begin to be more conservative with his energy levels, sleeping more and expecting less. This sleeping phase is what most people are waiting for. Have patience it will come, just remember the saying: Leaps, Creeps, Sleeps
Thanks for sticking around to read my ramblings, I hope it gave you some insights on rearing dogs through the first three years. – Francis.
When the Arts collide.
We were thrilled when The Oakland Museum of California asked Canine Circus School to a be a part of the Roy de Forest retrospective, Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy de Forest. This exhibition is full of magical worlds swirling with fantastical scenes set in landscapes of colorful motifs and whimsical animals most of which are dogs. Lots and lots of glorious dogs. OMCA incorporated listening stations with interpretations of the work from different points of view; ranging from a horticulturist to ten year old sword swallower to a professional dog trainer.
Of course this is where our very own Francis Metcalf enters into the picture. Many may know Francis as the MasterofHounds and the Ring Leader at Canine Circus School. But Francis is also an artist and a musician. Francis was given a scholarship to study at The School of the Arts Institute of Chicago where he spent most of his time in the basement of The Art Museum of Chicago, sculpting and ticking endless hours away absorbed in the sound labs. In his off time he played bass in a group made up of fellow art students. Little did the fine folks at OMCA know that Francis and Roy de Forest have more than just a lifelong love of dogs in common, but also an insatiable love of art and the magical worlds where art and dogs intersect.
(pictured below lower left: Francis Metcalf in the OMCA studio, recording his POV of Roy de Forest’s painting, Country Dog Gentlemen pictured below upper right: Francis with Chomsky balancing a ball on her head and Balzac sitting pretty.) Also the Canine Circus School logos were drawn by Francis.
The painting below is by Roy de Forest, entitled Country Dog Gentlemen,1972. This is the the piece that Francis recorded his point of view.
We are proud to be a part of this first full career retrospective of Roy de Forest. We hope you can go and let yourself get lost in the magical world he created through his magnificent canvases. The exhibition Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy de Forest is at OMCA now through August 20, 2017.
Likewise, we hope you can join us at Canine Circus School: The Art School for Dogs at some point in the near future.
Check out Canine Circus School on CBS News Bay Area.
“We just got the idea of calling it canine circus school because something like the circus, it’s sort of an open platform,” explained Metcalf.
“It includes many archetypes. You could have the strong man. The lithe acrobat, the clown, the happy clown, the sad clown. So all these archetypes can fit in and we wanted to be a place where freaks and geeks were comfortable.”
We have new classes starting in April. Sign up here.
Freaks and Geeks welcome!
A great Big Howdy and Happy New Year to all! It’s been raining buckets of glorious rain thus far, which is bringing much needed relief to our nagging drought and giving us a longer break than usual at Canine Circus School. As January slowly shifts into full swing, we’re busy gearing up for the Winter Session to begin on February 1st. In the midst of all of our cleaning and prepping, we’ve run across props and mementos from classes of yore, such as cherished thank you cards and olde photographs of Canine Circus Schoolers.
We’re so grateful for all of our two and four-legged students who have joined us in the training ring over the past 5 years. This blog post is a simple one, albeit a very heartfelt one to say thank you to all of our Canine Circus School students. It’s such a joy, privilege and pleasure to work with you. THANK YOU for all the wonderful years, and cheers to many more!
We look forward to welcoming new students and seeing more of our awesome alums in 2017. We hope you can join us for Winter Session starting in February. Our training levels have grown–we have Circus 1, 2, 3, and 4! We still have spaces available, so please be in touch soon.
Last but not least, we are excited to finally share this fun post by the wildly talented Team Willow (as they are known at Canine Circus School). Bill & Nat are the dynamic duo behind The Labs & Co. The Labs & Co. specialize in dog photography, graphic design and branding. Read their post below about circus class from the photographers point of view and check out more of their beautiful work and website here. Enjoy!
A Day at the Circus
During a recent commercial photoshoot for Earth Rated (our new client, yay!), we were faced with the need to photograph dogs in a more studio oriented setting; simple, but engaging portraits in front of a color background. This is something we have done many times before, but for this project, we wanted to try something a little different, and we were lucky to find the perfect partners in mischief in our friends Francis and Norma, the brilliant minds behind theCanine Circus School.
We have been attending Canine Circus School with Willow for over a year now. ©The Labs & Co.
They say challenges help you step outside your comfort zone; and if we pulled this off, it would not only be a great exercise in flow, but also in pairing minimal equipment with a fun and fast paced process. Not to mention, render some great images for our client, as well as some great portraits for our classmates.
We have been students at Canine Circus School for over a year and having worked with Francis and Norma before, photographing them and writing an article on Canine Circus School for Bark Magazine, we were thrilled when they were game to collaborate again.
Schwartz holds the upper hand 🙂 ©The Labs & Co.
We talked to Francis about what we needed for our project, and it was him who suggested working in a portrait as part of our regular Circus 2 class. The flow and fast pace of the exercise, worked in with our other circus drills during class, would allow the dogs to get comfortable with a new exercise and the idea of an outdoor photo studio.
Clyde Barker, personality present in every strand of wirehair. ©The Labs & Co.
We set up the studio just outside the circus ring, in full shade, setting two color backdrops, one blue and one green with a platform box for the dogs to hop on. One by one, each dog and person team would work through their exercises:
From their platform box, around a group of cones, on to a “wardrobe platform box” where Norma would deck them out first with an Earth Rated bandana and later with a colorful circus collar. They would then hop on to the photo platform box, where Bill would take their portrait as they sat holding a stay, or did a trick of their choice.
Colin, aka “The General” looking elegant and goofy simultaneously. ©The Labs & Co.
This first couple of rounds to get our Earth Rated images were a blast, and once that was in the bag, we dedicated the last round to getting a portrait of each of our classmates, wearing their circus collars and using our beloved monster, our old Hasselblad; a medium format film camera.
Roxi and her incomparable smile. ©The Labs & Co.
Here was the fun part of the challenge, our Hassi is not known for speed, especially when focusing it manually. Pair that with a faster paced flow between quick-moving models and you’ve got yourself a workout! The fast pace and continuous flow, credit to Francis, made for more engaging portraits, loosening up the models and helping them practice important skills built during the course of class, allowing for creativity to take charge, laughter to ensue and some great expressions to be captured.
Max, maximum ham! ©The Labs & Co.
I think we all had fun, and the resulting portraits have been some of my favorite “studio” shots we have ever done. It goes to show, you can sneak in passion projects anywhere, learning that often, the best part of collaborating with someone is that that special something theybring makes the results far beyond what you had hoped to achieve; and that you can do a lot with very little gear. Not one studio light was used for these portraits.
Lucy, aka the adorable “Mantis”, looking like a Vogue high fashion model. ©The Labs & Co.
Thank you to our dear friends Francis and Norma, for letting us sneak this photo booth into a class; thank you to all our wonderful classmates (human and canine) for giving it all your wonderful energy, and thank you to our client Earth Rated, the catalyst for this fun project in the first place 🙂
Chong, a little guy, with a lot of seriously cute. ©The Labs & Co.
Norma got some great behind-the-scenes shots to share on their Instagram, check those outhere.
Isha waves bye for now! ©The Labs & Co.
We love it when you share our work, please be kind and give credit.
When I was a kid in the 1970’s my parents brought me to Washington Square park in Manhattan. There were people playing music, juggling, walking on tightropes, playing chess, riding unicycles, and just hanging out.
It made a big impression on me. Adults were doing fun things, not just kids stuff though, they were doing activities that took great skill. After I grew up and went back to New York in the 1990’s, I discovered that scene was replaced with guys with coiffed hair and tailored suits. Where were the beatnik banjo players, where were the Frisbee players, where was the magic?
The big cities are always magical places, the land where large urban populations grow is blessed with advantages such as protected harbors and connected trade routes. These areas soon give rise to winding market places and cobbled plazas where interesting things from around the world mingle with the thoughts of a well traveled citizenry. Like plants and animals, magic comes and goes based on the health of the environment. Once the environment that shaped an organism disappears that creature goes with it. I’m afraid magic has become scared and is hiding from us, nervous of the hum of industry and distracted by the glimmer of technology.
Because of this, certain people and animals have felt the urge to journey back to retrieve the magic we have lost along the way. You might be one who has felt the call. Often the first sign is that a beautiful thing has entered your life and captivated you. If it’s an old violin that your great grandmother once played then there are places to learn what that fiddle has to teach you, but if it is a dog that has captivated your heart then Canine Circus School is here to guide you.
Canine Circus School is located just seven miles from San Francisco in the East Bay. Like many of the best secrets we are hidden in plain sight. Once you enter our gates you will find a place that evokes a feeling of possibility, a place that suspends time just long enough to catch a glimpse of another reality. We built our school with the thought that the environment affects the learning process. Joseph Campbell’s, A Hero’s Journey is one of the inspirations for our landscape design. Campbell tells of the secret framework behind all great stories: first we feel a call to adventure, then we experience a refusal to follow that call, but our second thoughts fade away and we proceed with the adventure. Along the journey we pass guardians, meet teachers, confront our shadow self and finally return to the normal world with a new sense of power and knowledge. We have tried to manifest this sequence into our landscape design that leads to the ring.
Don’t worry we don’t discuss airy fairy stuff with you, the inspiration of the Hero’s Journey will reveal itself to those interested. The interpretation is up to you to indulge in or not, but one thing is for sure this postage stamp of land is built on truly magical soil nestled between the beautiful cities of San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland. An adventure awaits you behind our gates that will bring you closer to another species. Along the journey we will train you to amaze your friends and neighbors. By doing this you will help to repopulate the world with magic and make your dog smarter, healthier, and better adapted to the urban environment.
We hope you can join us. Here’s our current class schedule.
- Great for dogs of all shapes and sizes.
- No training experience needed.
- Learn a creative way to have fun training your dog.
(scroll down for list of classes)
-All Classes meet for 6-weeks of fun, held beneath the East Bay sun in North Oakland (on the border of Emeryville).
Canine Circus School has classes for every age, breed, and temperament, offering performance routines meticulously crafted by award-winning dog trainer, Francis Metcalf.
You can journey into the world of Canine Circus School through this backstories video.
Call us if you have any questions. 415 779 6550 or email
Please visit our policy page to see age requirements, vaccination and refund information.
Price and payment options: You will find prices for classes listed under each class description. To reserve your class, you have the option to pay online or to mail a check. We will e-mail you a check/or PayPal invoice if you wish to pay using a credit card.
How do I sign up?
- Scroll down to the list of classes.
- Find a class time and date that suits you.
- Fill out the new student form.
Watch our latest video. Nothing fancy, just a bunch of footage that ended up on our phones. The first half shows Francis and his dog, Schwartz, a little terrier mix he found roaming the streets of Oakland. The second half shows some nice moments we captured during our classes last year, including seminars in Spain and New York.
Our Circus 1 Class is where all new students begin their training at Canine Circus School. (You’ve never been in a training class? No problem.)
Circus 1 Class:
Our Circus 1 Class is where all new students begin their training at Canine Circus School. (You’ve never been in a training class? No problem.) In this class we teach you many of the obedience and trick drills that we do in our more advanced classes in easy steps that anyone can follow. A big part of Circus 1 is getting your dog used to working around other dogs.
To do this we start spaced at a distance, over the course of the six weeks we get closer and closer until the dogs are maintaining complete focus on their handlers while working in close proximity to other dogs.
Circus Class is much more than just trick training, Circus 1 is about becoming an excellent handler and teacher. We cover more real world scenarios than any obedience class. We build confidence to perform in challenging environments and set a great foundation that does not conflict with, but only enhances, other training disciplines.
Class times and dates for Circus 1:
- Tuesday afternoon class, 12:30 PM, starts February 2, meets weekly through March 8, 2016;
- Wednesday morning class, 11 AM – 12 PM, starts February 3, meets weekly through March 9, 2016;
- Saturday afternoon class, 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM, starts February 6, meets weekly through March 12, 2016.
(Classes are for dogs of ALL SIZES: big, medium and small dogs welcome! We have a Small Dog only class listed below.)
*New Students fill out this form to sign up. Once you’ve completed the sign-up form, we will e-mail you a check/or PayPal invoice to complete your registration.
Students wishing to repeat Circus 1, email us which class to hold or call 415-779-6550.
Small Dog? We have a class just for you. Learn how to teach your small dog to do anything you can dream of.
Circus 1 Small Dog Class (this class is for Small Dogs ONLY, up to 25 lbs.)
Small Dog Class:
- Saturday morning class, 11 AM − 12 PM, starts February 6, meets weekly through March 12, 2016.
* New Students fill out this form to sign up. Once you’ve completed the sign-up form, we will e-mail you a check/or PayPal invoice to complete your registration.
Students wishing to repeat Circus 1, email us which class to hold or call 415-779-6550.
Circus 1.5 Class:
In the Circus 1.5 Class our drills get faster and more complicated. The dog works with more independence from the handler and with more control. Graduates of Circus 1 and Small Dog Circus 1 who are ready for the next level of training can sign up for Circus 1.5.
Class times and dates for Circus 1.5
- Wednesday afternoon class, 12:30 – 1:30 PM, starts February 3, meets weekly through March 9, 2016;
- Sunday afternoon class, 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM, starts February 7, meets weekly through March 13.
This class is for students who have completed Circus 1 and first time your dog is taking Circus 1.5. The classes above are for both first time students and students who want to repeat Circus 1.5. The class costs $260 for new students/first time in the 1.5 Class; and $195 for repeating students of 1.5 level, 6-week course.
Click here to sign up NOW!Once you’ve completed the sign-up form, we will e-mail you a check/or PayPal invoice to complete your registration.
E-mail us if you have any questions.Once you’ve completed the sign-up form, we will e-mail you a check/or PayPal invoice to complete your registration.
~Scroll down for Circus 2 Classes~
BIG or small any dog can join Canine Circus School!
Circus 2.0 Class:
Circus 2 students must be approved by Instructor. Circus 2 Class is our advanced class. We begin to get our drills and team work to be performance ready. Dogs work in close proximity on advanced tricks.
Class times and dates for Circus 2
- Tuesday morning class, 11 AM-12 PM, starts February 2, meets weekly through March 8, 2016;
- Sunday morning class, 11 AM – 12 PM, starts February 7, meets weekly through March 13, 2016.
*This class is for both returning and new students. Repeating Circus 2 students pay $195; New students to Circus 2/first time in Circus 2 pay $260; 6-week course.
Click here to sign up NOW.Once you’ve completed the sign-up form, we will e-mail you a check/or PayPal invoice to complete your registration.
E-mail us if you have any questions or give us a call at 415-779-6550.
Your dog, big or small, rambunctious or shy, is in safe hands with Francis as your teacher. Read more on our press page
Below: Schwartz holding a vodka bottle in his front paws, which goes to show that you can take a dog off the street, but you can’t take the street outta the dog…. you gotta put it to good use at Canine Circus School!
Below: Some photos from the last few sessions:
We would like to say thank you to all of our amazing students, from the people we meet for one class, to the people who come back year after year. We are so lucky that you found us and it’s been a true pleasure sharing these hours with you.