"Never work with children or animals" goes the old adage, but films and TV programmes such as Old Yeller, Turner and Hooch and of course, Lassie, show that not only do some people happily ignore that guideline, but that there is significant interest in and demand for talented dogs of all kinds for TV, film work and advertisements.If your dog or puppy is very personable, intelligent or regularly makes you laugh for all the right reasons, it may even have crossed your mind at some point that your own pet could make it on the big screen- So how can you learn more about how dogs get into films and TV, and find out if your own pet may have real star quality? Read on to find out more!
There really isn't any one specific type of dog that's particularly in demand over any others, and you certainly don't need a certain breed of pedigree dog to be in with a chance. Different types of dog are popular for different kinds of media work, and if you watch TV for a couple of hours a day, you will soon come to realise that dogs of all breeds, shapes and sizes regularly cross the screen in all manner of roles in TV shows and adverts. Agents and producers will sometimes need a dog of a certain size, breed or look for a given role, so of course not all dogs will fit all castings, but whatever type of dog you own, if they have the right personality for the job, then there may well be a place for them- after fighting off several other contenders at the auditioning stage- although hopefully not literally!
Regardless of your dog's looks or type, there are several factors that are common to all dogs that get work in the media, and which your dog must possess to be in with a chance of scoring a role of any kind.The most important factor in assessing a dog's suitability for any kind of role is that your dog is very well trained, obedient and follows commands well, and is open to learning. A dog that cannot be directed and will not reliably obey basic commands such as 'stay' and 'sit' will not be of any use to a director! Even when you see dogs on TV running around, barking or being unruly, do not make the mistake of thinking that this is the genuine nature of the dog- these dogs will all be highly trained to literally 'act' in the designated manner for the purpose of the role, and will be receiving direction to perform in a certain way.As well as being very well trained and obedient in all of the basic commands, the greater the skill set which your dog possesses, the wider the range of possible roles open to them will be. Dogs that can 'play dead,' or perform with a wide range of expressions and movements on command will all provide more scope for artistic direction and performance.Because your dog will often need to be directed while filming is in progress, understandably off- camera spoken commands will not be possible- so your dog must be able to obey and perform all of the tasks required of him from direction by hand signals only. This involves a fair amount of training in itself, as naturally most people use mainly verbal commands when training their dog.Your dog will also need to have a calm, confident personality and be able to perform and open to accept commands from people other than yourself. While the handler of the dog (usually the owner, you) will be involved in the production and care of your dog on set, your dog will need to be confident around the other people and possibly other animals that they will be working with, and be willing to obey direct commands from third parties. Your dog must be well socialised with a range of other animals, most importantly dogs but also possibly cats and more.Whether working indoors or outside, a lot of activity including people, props and noise will surround you. If your dog is of a particularly nervous disposition or does not do well with busy and often noisy environments, then they are unlikely to settle well to working, nor perform at their best.
So, if you're confident that your dog has the training, personality, temperament and ability to succeed in TV or commercial work, what do you do next?First of all, take some high quality photos and videos of your dog looking their best, and showing a wide range of their paces, expressions, talents and skills. If your dog can perform an unusual trick or do something with particular aplomb, be sure to include this in your video. This will form the basis of your dog's portfolio, which you will use to try and 'sell' your dog's skills to casting agencies and talent banks. Then you will need to contact a range of different canine talent agencies, agents that represent pets, and management companies and tell them about your dog and what they can do. All of these people and businesses work directly with casting directors and producers, and will be instrumental in getting your dog seen in front of the right people. Contacting producers, TV shows and companies directly that make programmes or advertise using dogs is generally not effective. Be prepared to put a fair amount of work into this, as not every agency will be willing or able to represent your dog.Once you have found an agency to represent your dog, don't expect anything to happen in a hurry! You may have to wait some time to be called to put your dog through his paces in front of a director, or to attend an audition. You may also be contacted with just a couple of day's notice, so it's important to keep your dog looking his best and well groomed and to refresh his training regularly so that he's ready if you are asked to bring him to an audition.