What makes a movie dog

We’ve all heard the stories of actors and their methods, how they learn to emote on cue. The applause they earn when they are given awards, honors or something as special as an Oscar, is the payoff for the training and hard work they’ve put into their careers. But what about those canine actors who tug at our hearts when we see them in a movie? How did they get to the silver screen? You might be surprised to find they are highly trained as well.

Canine actors, like their human counterparts, come from all walks of life. Some are shelter or rescue dogs. Others are purebreds. They are chosen by trainers for their willingness to work, their even temperament and the way they look. The training they receive helps them adapt those qualities to a movie set.

One important aspect of the training, and an important trait for a movie dog to have, is the ability to handle more than the usual amount of stimulation. Trainers essentially socialize them, teaching them how to ride in cars, to be around both people and other animals, and how to perform specific actions. 

Although movie dogs should be young enough to handle all the physical activity, they must not be aggressive. That can lead to problems on set. So can a dog that is too excitable and responds chaotically to over-stimulation.

The dogs and their trainers need to have a strong bond and a good relationship. Trust in their trainer allows the dog to respond to the sometimes changing requirements of a day of filming. Most of the time the dog and the trainer are prepared beforehand for exactly what this canine actor is supposed to do. But changes do happen and a good working relationship makes them easier to adapt to.

Movie dogs, like human actors, sometimes faced less than ideal or safe working conditions on set in the past. Thanks to a collaboration between the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the American Humane Association (AHA), dogs and other animals are now protected by safety guidelines that specify how they are to be treated while working. There is also an AHA representative on set to ensure the animals are treated safely and humanely. 

So the next time you watch one of our furry friends as they emote on the screen, remember you’re seeing the result of training and talent. Like human actors, movie dogs have put in the time and the effort to make their performance the very best.