The recent movie, Show Dogs has brought our canine companions back onto our cinema screens once again, but dogs have been playing a starring role since the dawn of cinema. In fact, it was a collie named Blair who first popularised the name Rover, after his success in the 1905 film, Rescued by Rover. Today, hardly a year goes by without a dog themed movie appearing at the local multiplex, from horrors like Cujo, to double acts like Turner and Hooch, from rom-coms like Marley and Me to films that are just about the dogs, such as the live action 101 Dalmatians, or the touching A Dog’s Purpose.
Dogs are frequently used as side-kicks, such as Toto in The Wizard of Oz, as heroes, such as Lassie, or just as comic relief, such as Uggie in The Artist. We are so used to seeing them on screen that we take them for granted. Yet training dogs to perform on-cue for the cameras is no easy task. Supplying highly trained dogs for the film industry is big business, and with the dogs earning pretty good salaries. Moose, who played Eddie in Frasier, earned $10,000 an episode. That may be a fraction of Kelsey Grammar’s $1.6m, but still an impressive amount for a 25 minute show.
Trained dogs for the screen
Movie dogs need far more than basic dog obedience training. Naturally they need to move and stop as directed, they also need to be trained to bring out a range of anthropomorphic ‘emotions’ on screen. Specialist dog trainers know how to get their dogs to respond in the desired way, from sad to ecstatic, by mirroring their voice and body language. Although it can take months or even years to fine tune that relationship and rapport.
Hollywood dog trainer, Teresa Ann Miller, explains how it works: “To get him to look sad and lost, what I do is just talk very slow. ‘Put your head down and leave it and just watch,’ and he will sulk his head down a little bit,” she says. “I’ll just talk to him in that tone and then I’ll tell him to ‘speak real easy’ and he might give a little bit of a cry.”
So what does it take to get your pet on set? First of all, your dog needs to be the perfect pet, like those produced by A&T Trained Dogs, with excellent dog obedience training. Without this, even the most attractive of dogs, with the biggest personality, won’t even get considered for a dog food commercial, let alone Hollywood stardom. Once you’ve got the basics, you’ll need specialist dog training, similar to the services supplied from A&T Trained Dogs, to give your animal the skills that directors need. The n, and only then can you approach an agent. Yes, even dogs have agents in the movie world, and you won’t get far without one.
Of course, even if you are successful, your dog’s moment in the spotlight is more likely to be a hobby than an income source. Most four-legged films stars pick up less than £100 a day. That said, they may still get you to Cannes, where the famous film festival awards its annual Palm D’og to the best on screen. Previous winners have included Uggie from The Artist, Baby Boy from Behind the Candelabra and Banjo and Poppy from Sightseers.