Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’

Karen Hauer is best known as one of the stars of the hit show ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. Last year she was partnered with comedian Chris Ramsey. The duo’s chemistry made them firm fan favourites and saw them reach the semi-finals. Karen told us it was a really fun series, thanks to Chris.

Dogs have always played a big role in her life. At home, Karen’s three rescue dogs, Marley, Betty and newest member of the squad, Phoebe, keep her and her partner, David busy.

We caught up with Karen in between rehearsals for her new show 'Firedance' with Strictly favourite, Gorka Marquez, to hear all about the dogs she calls the “apples of my eyes”.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Karen with Betty, Marley and Phoebe / Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

Hi Karen, thanks so much for chatting with us.

Hi! Thank you.

I can’t wait to hear all about Betty, Marley and Phoebe. Have you always owned dogs?

I grew up in Venezuela and my mom owned pedigree Dobermans. I should have been scared of them because they were so big but they were very lovely dogs.

Actually we had dogs, cats and parakeets. It was like a zoo (laughs), so I've always been very fond of animals.

But when I moved to New York, it was really hard to have one of my own. I was a kid, I was only 19, and I had gone from living in Venezuela to living in New York so it was a big change for me.

And then three years ago, I saw Betty and had been wanting a dog of my own for the longest time.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

How did Betty come into your life?

I came across this website and saw her picture. She was in Bosnia and her fur was matted, she had concrete on her skin and it was really just the look in her eyes. I was like, I need to have this dog. I need to help her.

So with the help of Wild at Heart, she came all the way from Bosnia. She got all the medical attention she needed and a puppy passport. When I first got her, I thought she was going to be smaller because she looked quite small in her pictures but when I got her she was literally like a miniature bear (laughs). She has a really long body and she's really fluffy.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

Betty is the kindest, sweetest dog I’ve ever met. I’ve never met a dog like her. She likes her own space and will only come to you when she's comfortable. She doesn't bark a lot. I've only heard her bark maybe 15 times in three years.

She’s very gentle, very good with kids and other animals, although she’s territorial if another dog comes into the house but she won’t snap, she just lets them know that this is her home and this is her couch (laughs).

She has a very sweet nature and she definitely knows how to make me give her extra treats.

How does she do that?

She just looks up at me, pats me with her paw and she sits down or goes all the way down to her belly. So when I’m having dinner she sits right by me and looks up at me. She’s very consistent, she stays there, she doesn’t give up because she knows I’m going to end up breaking and giving her a bit of food. I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help it, she’s my baby. I like to say she’s my firstborn.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

How old do you think she is?

I think she’ll be four soon.

When I took her to the vets they thought she might have had one or two litters of puppies before I adopted her. They also said that she had good teeth so they estimated her age.

She has a beautiful smile and crooked teeth on the bottom, like me (laughs).

After Betty came Marley. How did he become a part of your family?

Yes, that’s right. Marley came to us from Greece and we also adopted him from Wild at Heart.

A year ago last August, my boyfriend David was looking through their website and he saw a picture of Marley, who was three-and-a-half months old at the time and sent it to me

It was during ‘Strictly’ rehearsals and I remember looking at a picture of this little puppy and I literally sent them an email right away. You know, I just knew he was my next dog.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

Marley is very bouncy and he’s very playful. He loves the spotlight, kinda like his mama.

The lovely thing is that when he came to us, Betty really accepted him. When they first met, we took them for a walk together outside of the house and when we came back, it was like they had always been together.

Marley’s very obedient. He’s very well trained. Because I was doing ‘Strictly’ when we got him, David did a lot of his training while I was rehearsing because he was home a lot more than I was, so he got him potty trained and taught him to sit and give his paw.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

Marley’s very sociable. He’s the first one to say hello to people and, he’s a very good cuddler.

You know, he sometimes sleeps with us, which is not a good thing, but whenever I've been away from home and come home, I just want them all to snuggle with me (laughs).

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

He's just literally the best little puppy, but he barks a lot. He likes a good old bark which gets Betty all rowdy as well.

The nice thing is that Betty was a little bit overweight after I got her and we were adjusting her diet but having Marley around really helped and now she’s got a little shake to her walk (laughs) because they go to the park and they run around together. We love taking them out for a long, long massive walk.

My dogs bring so much happiness. Literally, it’s the best thing to see them every morning and when I come home from training and I've had the toughest day and I just want to sit down, they come and sit by my side. We’re both so grateful that we’ve found these little puppies that have changed our lives.

That’s amazing and so finally, let’s talk about Phoebe.

Yes, she's from Greece as well.

We saw a picture of her that Wild at Heart had posted online. Actually, my boyfriend David, and I saw the picture that they had posted of her at the same time, but we were in different places and then we both called each other up, and we were like, ‘I saw a dog’ and on three we both said her name, and it was Phoebe.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

There was a video of her too and it was the most heartbreaking video. She had just gotten an operation to remove her leg that was injured after a car drove over her and left her to die at the side of the street.

Sorry, it’s making me emotional just thinking about it.

That’s understandable. You know her and you must be picturing what happened to her so take as much time as you need.

Yes, so she was left on the side of the road until someone found her and took her to a rescue centre. They were going to put her down but someone said they knew an organisation, Wild at Heart, that could help pay for her operation. And they did. They saved her life. We fell in love from the moment we both saw her. We had to take care of her.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

She’s been with you for a few months now, how has she changed in that time now she knows she has a home and family of her own?

She's definitely flourished. She's a beautiful girl. I call her my little model. She's got such long beautiful legs. She’s a little princess.

We're very good at making sure that we give our dogs structure so they become happier in our home. We want them to feel safe and happy. So the fact that Marley and Phoebe already knew our routines and knew commands, like sitting down, meant it only took Phoebe a couple of days to kind of just catch on.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

She's a very very smart dog and again for us, it's all about making sure that they get their exercise, they get the right food and they're happy. It makes us happy to see them at ease and just free of any kind of burden that they had before.

How does she get along with Marley and Betty?

She gets along with them really well, there was no real settling in issues because we had a system.

Structure is very important for us so when Phoebe arrived we made sure we took them out of the house together on a long walk. At first, Marley was a bit reluctant, but after a day or two, he started getting a bit more relaxed and they’re now like ‘The Three Musketeers’ (laughs).

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

It's been a joy to get another dog, it has enhanced our lives even more. I’m probably going to end up with about 25 dogs (laughs).

Has it changed your routine much, going from a two-dog household to a three-dog family?

I think it was easier because we already knew our routine for Marley and Betty. We knew what to expect, in a way.

But having a dog that has three legs was definitely a little bit different and we spent the first month or two trying to figure out how to make life the best it could be for her. To make sure she wasn’t being left out while she gained strength and got her balance on three legs. But now it feels like it's second nature, you know?

When she first arrived we had to build her strength and also her diet has to be different than the other dogs, because now we have to make sure that we don't overfeed. Too much weight would make it more difficult for her to go around.

So at first, David had to carry her to the park while she was still gaining strength and trying to get her balance in place, so we bought this big backpack and he would carry her in this bag. We actually have a picture of it, it's the cutest thing ever.

We then let her run in the park before putting her back in her big backpack and carrying her home.

Slowly she started gaining her strength and now she outruns the other two (laughs), but we're aware of what we give her and how much exercise she gets.

Really, David and I are geeks (laughs). We’re very invested in wanting the best for our dogs. We want our dogs to be healthy and have a happy life.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Betty, Marley and Phoebe pictured with their Natural Instinct dog treats / Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

All three of your dogs are rescues. What drew you to adoption?

Full disclosure: we’re big adoption fans too. Last year we launched UK’s first-ever National Dog Adoption Day and we also run

Well, I’m pretty sure my mom’s dogs in Venezuela were all pedigrees but it was a different time then.

I remember when I came here thinking that there’s nothing wrong with buying, but it didn’t feel right to me with so many dogs out there that need a home.

I guess I was going through a time where I was thinking ‘what if somebody doesn’t want me?’ and, you know, ‘would somebody take me in because I was broken goods?’ and that’s what was going on in my mind.

At that time I felt like I needed somebody to rescue me and I thought what could be better than to rescue a dog and give them a second chance. And I think that's very important. There are so many animals out there suffering who just need love and, you know, that's what we need nowadays too. It’s too easy to judge.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Betty with her new hemp rope & beech wood mix dog toy from Smug Mutts / Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

I respect people's choices but it's so much easier to go out there and just help them and rescue an animal. I mean, seriously, I think I need to get a big house with a big garden (laughs) so I can rescue every dog and every cat. Funnily enough, I’m actually allergic but I’m not to my own dogs. I don’t know if it’s the mix of breeds, but I don’t sneeze around them.

Have you had DNA tests done on Marley and Betty particularly to work out what breeds they are?

I have. Betty is a mixture of German Shepherd, Husky, Brittany [Spaniel] and Terrier. And Marley is apparently a Poodle mixed with Kokoni [a Greek breed] with a couple of others mixed in too.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

Your dogs regularly show up in your ‘Your Body Challenge’ videos on social media and you share lots of inspirational quotes too.

Yes, you know sometimes you go through hard times and it’s difficult to stay positive and I like to use my social media to spread kindness and positivity because, you know, there were times in my life where I was struggling and having a hard time and I was trying to find places where I could find that light that I needed. It's all about self-discovery. Through fitness and dancing, and my love of dogs, rediscovering who I am.

I want to help people and first of all, make fitness accessible for everyone which is very healthy for you mentally and physically.

It's got me from being a kid growing up in the Bronx, New York, you know, having a really tough background growing up to now, having a good career that I love and pushing myself even more in a different country.

I think if you if you stay in the correct state of mind, you know, sometimes it is a struggle, and sometimes you just have to keep pushing, but I feel if any little thing I put out there helps one person or 20, whatever I can do to help, I will definitely do it.

The last series of Strictly seemed to be a really fun one for you with Chris Ramsey, and you did really well reaching the semi-finals. How did the overall experience rank for you in your Strictly highlights?

I'm not gonna lie, I think that was one of my favourite series ever.

Don't tell that to my other partners (laughs) but I really really enjoyed the series with Chris and I think it's because he was such a genuine person, and just easy and relatable. And just fun. He made me laugh so much and I think that helped me as well.

You know, throughout the years I’ve gone through a lot of changes and I felt like I was finally myself. It felt nice to be able to kind of just be with someone who didn't have any expectations, he just wanted to have fun and enjoy the Strictly experience just because it was just something nice to do so, you know, we didn't put any pressure on ourselves or anything like that. It was lovely.

I think the fans saw all of that too.

Yes, I think they saw us genuinely having fun. It was a delight.

This year’s partner has some high standards to live up to (laughs).

Yeah, the main thing is that they have to have fun with me. They know they have to know how to have a laugh.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

That’s a good philosophy to live by, isn’t it?

You know, enjoying life and enjoying things in life is a great thing to do. Everybody should practice that.

And your new tour, 'Firedance' with your ‘Strictly’ colleague Gorka [Marquez] kicks off soon, doesn't it?

Yes, it’s a very exciting adventure to be going on together. It’s a new partnership and a fresh concept which goes very well with our roots.

There are lots of fiery dances and the story behind it is fiery too. It’s about how we go through a relationship pretty much. I can’t wait.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

I always say that these are probably questions you won’t have been asked before - and probably won’t be again - so we can have some fun.

(Laughs) Okay.

If you were to swap roles with one of your dogs for a day, who would you choose to swap with and why?

I think I’d be Betty because she knows how to read people very well. She just sits back, you have to win her over. And I think that's a little bit like me (laughs).

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

How do you think she’d cope as you for a day?

Well, I mean, I don't think she likes exercising too much so I think it would be hard for her to cope with all the running around. Yeah, I think she'd be a little bit out of breath (laughs).

We ask all of our celebrities this question, it’s all in the name of fun.

Based on personalities alone, which breeds of dog come to mind when you think of these Strictly celebrities and why?

Craig Revel Horwood - (Laughs) I think he’d be a Bulldog, definitely. Snuggly but his face doesn’t move so he always looks like he’s in a bad mood.

Gemma Atkinson - She's like a beautiful Poodle. Elegant, but quite strong and powerful.

Chris Ramsey - Chris would be a Chihuahua. He liked to talk in Spanish when we were training. He was always asking me where the discotheque was in Spanish (laughs).

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’

And what about you, what breed of dog would you be and why?

I probably say a Doberman. Elegant but at the same time has guts and power. And I guess that reminds me of my mother too.

Moving onto our quick-fire questions, are you ready?

What song would you love to dance to on Strictly that you’ve not yet found a way to work in yet?

That’s a good question. I mean, some I like are probably not danceable to, like I really like 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen but I’m not sure what dance we could do to it.

Where is Betty, Phoebe and Marley’s favourite place in the world to be?

It’s definitely Cannizaro Park. There are some beautiful parts and an area we call ‘Squirrel Alley’ with lots of trees and so many squirrels. It’s an incredible place.

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Marley with his new Breathe Right dog toy from Chuckit! / Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

What do you think is the most important life lesson we can learn from dogs?

To be kind and forgiving.

If there are any times where Marley goes into my drawers and takes a pair of socks that I really like or a shoe, we don’t shout or anything, I just stop on the floor and he releases it and looks up at me and says ‘I’m sorry’ with his eyes and I then think it was probably my fault anyway for leaving the door open, which of course if that happens he's going to go in and take the shoe, so we both forgive each other (laughs).

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

Finish the following sentence, my dogs are...the apples of my eye.

This is always a tough question so you might need some time to think about it, but if you could ask your dogs one question and one question only, what would you ask and what do you think they’d each say?

Oh, good question. I’d ask Betty ‘is there anything I can do today for you?’ and I think she’d say ‘yes, can you please get Marley out of my bed’.

I’d ask Marley ‘did you really go into the room’ and I think he’d say ‘yes, mommy, it was me.’

Strictly’s Karen Hauer: ‘Dogs Teach Us to Be Kind’
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair for K9 Magazine

And what would you ask Phoebe?

I would probably ask her if she's happy. Yeah, that’s what I’d want to know because I think she’s happy but that’s what I’d want to know. And I think she’d be all like, ‘yeah, mom, I’m happy’.

Many thanks, Karen!


K9 Magazine's Thanks Go To...

Chuckit! – For their Max Glow, Ultra-Balls and Breathe Right dog toys

Smug Mutts – For their natural hemp rope & beech wood mix toys

Natural Instinct – For their selection of natural dog treats

Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair Photography

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