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Famous Film Dogs: Your Dog A Star

The 2008 Academy Awards are history, with recognition of superb film entertainment. But have you ever wonder how canine actors and actresses are chosen and trained? Here’s how they do it:

In Marley and Me,” Marley’s owner describes the true story of how Marley (”the worst dog in the world”) was chosen for a movie role and then instilled chaos onto the movie set, causing his dismissal from the project. Yet who doesn’t remember Toto, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and Moose - the delightful Jack Russell Terrier who played Frasier Crane’s best friend? The canine movie stars aren’t chosen at random, and are very carefully trained to perform their roles. A dog who is brought to the attention of an animal trainer may be destined for stardom!

Surprizingly, most movie and TV star canines begin their lives as ordinary family dogs and even shelter dogs; they’re far from ordinary! These dogs range from beautiful pure-bred stars like Lassie, actually played by several Collies, some of whom were male, to lovable mutts and mixed breeds. Like the people who are renowned for their acting talents, performing dogs are very intelligent, easily trained, and fascinating to watch. As handsome as Johnny Depp, as funny as W.C. Fields, and as accomplished as Sir Ben Kingsley, these canine stars can really make a movie or TV show stand out from the crowd.

What you don’t see is the months (or years) of training in advanced obedience that these dogs undergo before they’re put in front of the camera. It’s essential that movie and TV dogs take excellently to training; directors hate having to shoot extra, expensive scenes because the dog blew his cues! Far beyond obedience training, these dogs are taught specific skills that come with the role they’re playing, from opening refrigerator doors to barking on cue, to perform comical stunts, and much more.

Nor do you see the action behind the camera. Each time a dog performs, his/her trainer is prompting the dog to do certain things only by hand signals. Verbal commands don’t work on a sound stage since they would be overheard. The dog must appear to be performing the role naturally and unprompted. You can’t see the trainer, but the dog always can. So well-trained and intelligent are these dogs, that they need far fewer re-takes than most human performers!

Factoid for the day: The movie “Arachnaphobia” actually had a spider wrangler that could get those awful spiders to do what he wanted them to do with the help of a simple hair dryer. Maybe you’d rather stick with dogs!

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