Training for Movies

Portrait young beauty dogWritten by Dean Miller, Club Canine

Did you ever wonder how those dogs you see in commercials, print, music videos and movies got to be stars? Sure, there are talent agencies that specialize in all sorts of animal wrangling but you would be surprised at how few dogs out there can do what producers and directors need them to do, especially when they change ideas on the fly. While I am certainly not running a talent agency for dogs, I have had more than my share of dogs, both personal and client dogs, get jobs in all these areas. I don’t go out of my way to train my dogs to do much in the way of “tricks” but the dog’s ability to follow basic commands and direction reliably and concentrate on the task at hand becomes the key to success for this type of training.

I was recently on a set for a movie being made from the book, The Delusion, by author Laura Gallier. We were shooting the trailer pieces which required the use of a dog. I was contacted by the author herself who had a friend present on a commercial shoot I had done earlier in the week for Reliant with a client’s Golden Retriever. He recognized how well the Golden was working on the set and knew The Delusion project was looking for a dog but was having trouble finding one.

The producers were looking for a dog that could bark on command, as if she was afraid of something and then hide under the bed. I told them I had a dog that could bark on command but getting a 70lb. dog under a bed might be a little challenging, especially with a two day notice. No time to train for anything, but I knew Lucy had a solid set of basic skills and I was going to have to trust in that.

The set (a small bedroom for our part) was crammed with a huge rolling camera boom, moving right at the dog, HOT lights and about 15 crew and cast. The logistics were challenging. For the dog, confidence is key for performance, achieved through building excellence in basics. ACTION! Lucy commenced with barking. CUT! A quick change in ideas. ACTION! Equipment issues. CUT! Quiet on the set! ACTION! This went on for several hours while they got the perfect shots/scenes, excellence all around. The crew and cast loved Lucy and we look forward to being part of the film in the future.

Lucy had to remain focused and committed to her job. This wasn’t just a game; this was work, like coming when called under distraction. She had to be disciplined, remain next to her human partner in the scene and not advance forward much toward the camera when barking. Understanding staying close to the handler upon approaching distraction, like when out walking, is essential. Barking and not advancing goes against the dogs’ nature, just like a dog adhering to boundary lines, NOT charging out an open door after distractions, both of which are examples of our “basics”. Lucy also had to run and hide under the bed on cue which we were also able to work our way through with some basic instruction.

That’s how it goes in this industry and we have had much success at getting these parts as our dogs have solid basics in obedience to an AKC standard. I had 6 dogs in the Lady Antebellum Lipton Tea shoot and a recent referral from the director called and said, “Hey, I heard your dogs are so well trained, they can write cursive”. Yep! Just the good old fashioned dying art of BASICS done right. While it could land your dog the leading role, its real purpose is to save their life.

The link to the trailer can be found at