Francis Metcalf’s Canine Circus School

Call or text: 510 289 7718


Obedience – Trick Training – Behavior Problems – 28 years experience

Specializing in: Shy Dogs, Small Dogs, Puppy Training, Basic Obedience, Off Leash Obedience, Aggression, Bull Breeds, Belgian Malinois, Ringsport Coaching, Trainer Education

In person private lessons – Tele training – Group classes – Seminars

Francis and Balzac

Francis Metcalf is an innovative trainer who uses his breadth of knowledge and creativity to get the most out of any dog.  His unique approach deconstructs training so that it’s easily learned by both dogs and people.  Francis has won national level competitions in French Ringsport with his Belgian Malinois and has certified as a decoy in both French and Mondio Ring. His American Bulldog, Gubby, was the first of his breed to compete in Mondio Ringsport, a project motivated by Metcalf’s love of Bullbreeds. Francis’s 28 years of experience have led him to develop a unique method for the evaluation and education of dogs from diverse genetic backgrounds and temperaments.  The Metcalf Method was born from his desire to bring the nuances of great training to all dogs and handlers.


A Guide to Dog Personalities By Francis Metcalf

 rabbits2During your life as a dog lover you may encounter certain canine personalities that are different than the ones you have become used to. This may leave you thinking thoughts like “my last dog didn’t do this”  or “I don’t remember this being a problem.” You might find that your normal approach isn’t working or that you’re having trouble communicating. It’s not that you’re a complete novice, you’ve had lots of dogs but recently you’ve encountered issues you weren’t prepared for.  If this describes you then you might benefit from some coaching to help you navigate a different canine personality. That’s where someone like me comes in. My life’s path has put me in front of more dogs than most. That happened when an obsession for dogs turned into a career.

You have to observe lots of dogs, test them, train them, and compete with them to arrive at certain insights. One insight I arrived at was with the help of something I read in an obscure book many years ago. Since then I’ve lost the book, but the knowledge remains, expanded upon, and now I’m passing it on to you because I think it will help you better understand canine personalities.

The book I have in mind, by G. Straatman and  J. Jons, is about the Royal Dutch Police dogs or KNPV.  In it, 41vvstuymvl._sx334_bo12c2042c2032c200_the authors report on a system of evaluating litters by dividing them into 4 personality types. By using this system over many years I’ve gained a short hand method that allows me to adjust my training to get the best out of these canine personalities.  I can observe a dog from across the field and evaluate him instantly.  I know how to present myself so he likes me, and I know what he probably won’t like.

This system was originally intended for selecting working dog pups but I use it for reading adult dogs. I’m transmitting it to you so you can learn to decode dog personality yourself.  This will help you make the most out of the dogs you encounter throughout your life.

The 4 types: 

We can reduce the myriad of dog personalities to 4 types or categories:  Leader, Follower, Aloof, and Shy.

The system classifies pups in a litter on a spectrum of boldest to shyest. Once you’ve seen a few litters through this lens you’ll begin to have an understanding of the best and worst possibilities of each type. To do this you’ll need to follow the careers of the various dogs you evaluated as pups. This is where a working dog discipline is helpful, that way you will regularly see dogs trained and tested.  Of course it takes experience to be able to read a dog in seconds. But even without a working dog background, if you observe dogs, soon enough these personalities will show themselves.

Actually no type is perfect, it’s your job as a handler to even out the rough spots. You need to know how to tip the scales to make the dogs you work the best they can be.  I have an expression; “Show me a perfect dog and I’ll show you a liar.” That is to say the person  blinded to their dogs flaws often gets a comeuppance.

“Show me a perfect dog and I’ll show you a liar.”

The Leader: The top dog.  These are the stallions, often kept for breeding or placed with experienced trainers because their uninhibited nature requires a skilled hand to manage them. A handler who emphasizes control is a good placement. The Leader personality
timg_3422hrives with an authoritarian approach as long as you win them over first. Otherwise, you risk rebellion. The more sensitive the breed the more likely the Leader personality will balance out a delicate temperament.  Although you could end up with a sensitive dog that acts like a tough guy.

I used to prefer the Leader personality because I admired their strength and independence. But after owning some of these fabled hard dogs, my curiosity about them was satisfied and I went searching for more trainable animals. 

Did you ever hear someone say: ”That dog is testing you”? This statement is more judgment than helpful instruction and too many trainers use this tired trope for just about anything.  However, some dogs do test you. All dogs want to better their circumstances but Leader personalities push boundaries directly.

Follower:  Most successful competition dogs are Followers. Followers perform well in tests and generally are the best overall pups. They are known to be bold/ but biddable–img_3423an excellent combination. The trouble with the Follower enters when his valiant eagerness starts to annoy because he overdoes it.  These interactive dogs are often termed “affiliative. ” They love to nudge you and say “Do something with me.” Just as Leaders and Shy dogs are here on earth to be teachers,  Followers are eager students.  They want to believe in us.  When someone says this dog “wants to please,” it’s most likely a Follower.



Aloof: When I first read about this way of evaluating dog personalities, my young mind img_3426had little room for anything but Followers or Leaders.  I read that Aloof personalities were perfect for older trainers. Now that I’ve gotten older, I love this category just as Jons’ book predicted. 

The Aloof personality is less social and can get nervous and defensive if pushed. Because of this outlook you can confuse reserved for well mannered.  A quality I like about the Aloof is that they do not grovel for your attention, and they try to keep  their composure at all times. Aloof dogs make great demo dogs, because they will ignore the outside world and focus on the handler.


Shy:  Everyone knows not to pick the shy one, that is the the common advice at least, and img_3425I’m not going to dispute it.  It can be a burden to always buffer stressful experiences for your Shy dog 24/7, 365.  Shyness is an abundance of caution, if you throw caution to the wind you end up dead.  We need a little shyness to balance out boldness, but too much shyness can be a problem especially in an urban environment.  However I’m not here to judge a natural survival strategy.  All around us there is shyness and many dogs and handlers have learned to work with it.  Some have even turned it into an advantage by capitalizing on the Shy dogs natural responsiveness.  

Shy dogs are best with someone who desires to nurture.  You might be a hard ass but another thrives off nurturing. A by-product of training a Shy dog is enjoying a dog that is loyal and easy to control– in most circumstances.

The shy dog needs to be drawn out of its’ shell, whereas a leader dog needs to be pushed back in. Drawing a dog from its shell may be a joy to some and torture for others.  I do it for a living, and I can tell you, that’s where you show all the patience and skill you’ve spent years developing.

Creating Balance.  

When left in its own echo chamber, any dog personality can spiral into a self-reinforcing

Being shy works so being more shy offers more relief. Being aloof works so being an introverted crank works better. Being a leader works so being a bossy prick works better.  Being a follower works so being a bratty busy body works better.

You need to work with your dog in its strongest suit but provide the antidote to his img_4802excesses.  What I mean by this is while your leader dog may be the apple of your eye, after all he is so bold, but if you don’t provide checks to his leadership he may become a little tyrant.  Your Follower might be the “best boy in the world” but along with that comes being an attention seeking brat if you don’t work on his independence. Your Aloof personality dog might have you tricked into thinking he is very polite and obedient, but if you push him out of his comfort zone, he will become nervous and defensive. Your Shy dog is perfect off leash, but unless you have guided him through the times when the world floods him with panic you never know what could run him off.

Encourage a Shy dog to break the rules.  Encourage a Leader to follow you. Encourage a Follower to be independent. Encourage an Aloof personality to be gregarious. Bring the Leader down a notch. Set the Shy dog up to have emboldening experiences. The Follower can be patient, the Aloof should learn tolerance.  The best dogs are made by people who are aware of their dog’s deficits and work toward a balanced personality. 

Personality combos.  

The four personalities are reductions of complicated canine characters. These personalities are actually complex blends. Not only in a linear way from boldest to shyest but also non adjacent traits can be present in the same animal.  For instance a Leader most of the time but with a Shy component.

Dog’s aren’t fairytale heroes. Like us, they’re flawed. I have evaluated litters where the bravest pup (the Leader) in the nest becomes the shyest pup in a new place and the Follower pups become the new Leaders because they gain strength from each other.

When you have a dog that’s a combination, embolden the component of the personality you have more use for. For instance, my dog Schwartz is a Follower with a Shy streak.  Encourage him to be headstrong and he barely seems Shy; inhibit him and after a while the Shy shows through. Today, it’s hard to believe that Schwartz was ever Shy–but an experienced dog tester could unravel him in seconds.

Old shoe new shoe.

A new dog can be a shock. You forget how you trained the last one and feel friction img_5819“breaking in” the new one. That’s normal. But a new dog with a new personality type can leave you scratching your head. Question yourself about the differences between the personalities of your past and current dog. If your last dog was a Leader and your new a Follower, watch your bossiness. If your last dog was Aloof and now you have a Leader, learn assertiveness.


Here’s something I’ve encountered:  A breeder gets a call from an unknown party and sells them a dog on the Shy spectrum. The owners do a great job raising the dog, so next time around the breeder gives them the pick of the litter AKA the Leader.  This owner is now dealing with a whole new personality type, and can feel overwhelmed.  With a Shy pup you can do nothing but nurture and habituate.  A Leader pup needs boundaries otherwise he will soon be bullying you, in an innocent but pushy way.

How to adjust your training for each personality type.

:  Win them over by being a source of joy. Be their partner, then their guide. Do slow routines with an emphasis on control. You don’t want to fight against the Leader personality, you want them devoted to your cause, so make them think it was their idea.

Follower: Followers are interactive and forgiving; they want to work with you. Play games with them. Do fast, friendly routines together.  Keep a nice ratio between repetition and variation in your training. Too much of one or the other and the dog gets bored or confused. You determine “nice-ratio” case by case. As I tell my students, “Train the dog in front of you.”  Meaning: Not the dog you had a few minutes ago. Meaning: not the dog you wish you had, but the dog sitting before you now. When you train the dog in front of you with vision unclouded by hopes, you tend to make the right decisions.

Aloof: Let them come to you. Watch your gaze, your reach, and your stoop (i.e., bendingimg_9367 forward to interact with the dog).  If you must stoop down, bend at your knees. Not your waist. Lower yourself without going over the top of the dog.  I call this “staying in your tube.” An Aloof dog will not want to be physical with you immediately. If they sidle up to you with a hip, they’ve accepted you.

Shy:  Show no intention; just ignore and let the shy dog come to you.  Stay in your tube. Don’t show frontal eyes. Front facing eyes are the eyes of a predator. Look anywhere but directly at the dog and watch the dogs movements in your peripheral vision. Do not hold still; instead, gently shift your weight and your gaze in a friendly, casual way, as if you were whistling a tune.

A Shy dog may experience stress from either social or environmental sources.  For example, being stared at (a social stressor) may bother him more than a fluttering tarp (an environmental stressor) or vice versa. It’s important to parse out which source of stress your dog is dealing with and create a training plan that puts him at ease in these conditions.

You Should know:

Most people should select a dog in the middle; not the Leader and not the Shy dog. Most people can train a Follower, but you need more skill to deal with the ends of the spectrum.  All four of these personality types routinely end up in the shelter and they all can develop behavior problems.



Poison on a slow drip.

They say water is the universal solvent, It can carve a canyon through rock.  Similarly, your interaction with your dog on a day-to-day basis will slowly change him, for better or worse. Naturally, we want it to change him for the better, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  If your handling habits undermine the dog’s confidence and your dog has a deficit in this area, his confidence will drop.  If your handling habits reinforce confidence with an overconfident dog, there is potential to create aggressive behavior.


Still water runs deep.  

No talk about evaluating dog personality would be complete without reminding you not img_7699
to confuse physical activity with drive. Drive is an in born urge to perform a set of behaviors. Physical activity on the other hand can be undirected, the dog could be physically active but not committed to a set of objectives like we see when a dog is in drive. A lazy dog can have a high prey drive and a hyper dog can have low prey drive. A high energy dog can have low drive and a sleepyhead can wake up and find a river of drive when exposed to the right conditions.  As the saying goes, still water runs deep.


Curiosity is life.   
img_6596That yearning to know a little more about something, to me, is like a religious experience.  But when you reduce something to 4 variations, you can flatten it, compress all the dynamics out of it. You can begin to talk in judgmental and callous tones about the way other beings navigate this world.  Or, instead you can build on these observations and use them to cultivate more understanding of the whole dog.

When I was younger I didn’t intend to get experience with Aloof or Shy dogs because I was narrowly focused on dog sports and performance. But these dogs exist, and in the process of learning about all dogs, I learned about the personality types that differ from the beloved Follower, and that made me a better trainer. I hope you take this road map of dog personality types and familiarize yourself with these different ways of being, especially the lesser understood ones.  We all know that the only thing two trainers can agree on is what the third one is doing wrong, but no matter what your training philosophy is, I hope you will find this writing useful for the betterment of all dogs.

Thanks for reading,

~ Francis T. Metcalf

img_4866Photos are from the book Prince and other dogs II “A passport to tenderness” By Libby Hall.  This little book of old photographs is beautiful, you can order it here.  {Thanks to our rad Canine Circus School students, Rachel & Chong, for giving us this book.}

You can order the book An Introduction to the Royal Dutch Police Dog KNPV Training Program by J Jons, here

 Join us! in the ring for Circus class.

Check out our Class Schedule here. All personality types welcome.

If you’re having problems dealing with too much personality or want help with specific training needs and goals, please be in touch for a private lesson.

Canine Circus School August – September 2018 Classes. Join us!

 click here to see the 2018 Class schedule.

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.

Canine Circus School on KPIX CBS News, Bay Area


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 Heartfelt Thanks from Canine Circus School, Oakland, CA, Earth, Year 2017.

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!


2017 rings in our 6th year at Canine Circus School, and we are supremely thankful for being able to do what we love, in the best place on earth, with the coolest humans and hounds in the universe.   Thank you!

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

Posted on May 2, 2016

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.

To learn more about Canine Circus School, make sure and check out the article I wrote on Bark, visit the Canine Circus School  website and social channels and hope to see you around in class!

Norma got some great behind-the-scenes shots to share on their Instagram, check those outhere.

To learn more about us or find out about working together, get in touch and let’s chat!


Isha waves bye for now! ©The Labs & Co.

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