My dog Kompis is officially a star. She has had feature roles in two movies (www.puppymovie.com and www.doggieboogiemovie.com) and minor roles in a couple others; played Toto in live theater for several weeks in 2006; and appeared on TV over a dozen times.
Why does she get to do all this fun stuff? Well, because she’s cute, of course, but what dog isn’t? The main thing that makes her good TV and movie and stage play material is that she knows how to relax and listen.
Dogs that are too easily distracted or too hyper aren’t likely to make it in show biz. Yes, they need energy to look lively for their scenes, but their most important quality is concentration. Kompis once had a “play dead” scene where she had to lay on her side in a simulated sandstorm on a beach without moving for over a minute. I’m not sure I could have done that! But this little trooper always listens to my commands and will stay put wherever and whenever I ask.
For movies and TV, scenes can be cut or altered after-the-fact, making it very easy for a dog to look like a star when she really didn’t do much. Live theater, of course, is different. A dog actor has to do everything on cue instantaneously or he can blow it for everyone. And theater dogs have to be oblivious to the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the audience while they’re up on stage. That takes a lot of sustained focus.
All show biz dogs have to have the patience to sit and wait for their commands. In film especially, scenes often get reshot many times. Poor Kompis spent hours in the arms of Calico Cooper (Alice Cooper’s daughter) for her role in “Puppy.” During rehearsals for The Wizard of Oz, she got past her fear of the screaming children on stage and eventually grew to love them.
Whether casting for film or for theater, directors look for dogs that are highly trainable. Getting your dog to do tricks is good, but more important is having him totally under voice control and getting him used to being handled in every way possible by every type of person. He also needs to be able to focus on you no matter what is happening around him. All of this starts with a strong focus on in-home training and then exposing the puppy or older dog to all types of adventures throughout his life.
Here is what local movie producer Romanus Wolter says about selecting the dogs that appeared in his film, “Doggie Boogie.” “I search for dogs who love their lives and have fun no matter what they are doing. They have a special spring in their steps. It is important that the dogs connect with people through their eyes, almost as if they are looking into the audience’s soul. … Most importantly, I look for dogs who respect their owners and owners who respect them so that the shoot is easy and drama free.”
So dogs with good manners and great attention spans are the best suited for starring roles. Keep working with your pooch to get him to listen to you in all situations, without thrusting treats in his face. After all, he may need to listen from far away or to other people, as well as to you. He will definitely need to be an eager learner.
Regular training will make him a willing and stellar student as he discovers how much fun it is to learn new things, perform for people, and get the applause and praise that’s well due at the end of a hard day’s work. Making your dog a well-behaved pet will not only make you both happier, it just might take him one step closer to stardom!
Beverly Ulbrich has been the Bay Area’s “Pooch Coach” dog behaviorist for over 8 years, providing private and personalized counseling and obedience training. She was voted the best private dog trainer in the SF Bay Area in both the SF Chronicle’s Best of the Bay and Bay Woof’s Beast of the Bay awards. For more information or to contact her, visit www.poochcoach.com