Monday, February 1, 2010

Bragging About my Dog

My dog BeBop was cast in a movie and the shoot was Wednesday, January 20th.  It is called "Chihuahua: the Movie" and I don't know the release date, unfortunately.  He was cast through Hollywood Paws, an animal talent agency.  Here's how the process goes: the production gets with Hollywood Paws and they decide what kind of dogs they need and what behaviors the dogs will need to know.  In this case, they needed a "mean looking dog."  HP called me and asked if BeBop could do a Stay, a Down, could remain calm while another dog barks at him, a Head Down, a fast, strong Come, Back Up, could bark on command, could follow a Watch Stick, would jump and bark at a target, could lie down on his side next to two other dogs, and fetch a ball.  I said "Sure!" to everything except for the Fetch.  BeBop has never been big on chasing a ball.  They sent BeBop's picture to the production and they liked him.  They decided the fetch wouldn't be a big deal since there was another dog that could take on that part.

BeBop, in costume

The premise of his scenes was that the titular Chihuahua comes into a home with two big dogs, BeBop and and a German Shepherd mix named Jaxon.  The Chihuahua was named Peanut.  The big dogs are boisterous and run roughshod over the Chihuahua.  This was my first production shoot with either of my dogs.  I'd spend the previous week practicing with BeBop as much as I could, but I was still very nervous coming into this.  Would BeBop be able to keep his cool and remember his cues with cameramen and cables and lights and all the chaos of production going on?

Yes.  Yes, he would.

I am so proud of my dog.  He was simply a superstar for the day.  His behaviors were all sharp and he almost never missed a beat.  And he shone even brighter next to the other dogs at the shoot.  The Chihuahua  had been shooting every day for a couple of weeks and I think was getting near his stress limits.  And the German Shepherd mix was a young, high-energy dog that hated to be still for any length of time. 

One scene involved all three dogs sitting side by side looking up at a cat.  In reality, the cat would be edited in later - the dogs were all looking at us trainers on top of a hill standing beside the camera keeping our dogs' attention.  The other dogs could not stay still.  They kept getting up and walking forward towards crew members or just to sniff around.  Because of this, what was supposed to be five or 10 seconds of footage turned into half an hour of trying to get all three dogs to be still for any length of time at all.   

But through it all, BeBop stayed stock still and focused on me.  It may sound simple to just stay sitting, but trust me, for a dog to ignore other dogs moving around him, and people constantly rushing in to reset those dogs, and stay still the entire time, is a HUGE deal.  The entire crew was very impressed by him.  Many times I heard people say, "My God, BeBop is so focused!"

Later on, it got even worse when all three dogs were supposed to lie on their sides next to each other in the sun.  In hindsight, maybe they shouldn't have saved this shot for last outside - we had only 20 minutes of sunlight by the time we got around to shooting it.  And as antsy as the other dogs were before, they were even worse by this point.  The shot required them to stay lying down for about a minute.  By the end, I think we were lucky if we even got 10 seconds of continuous footage of them lying still.  And again, through it all, BeBop stayed lying down on his side, listening to my low, slow voice say, "Staaaaayyyy.  Gooood boooyyyyy.  Staaaayyyyy." 

(One thing I will take credit for is that I did not use BeBop's name during this: I did not say, "Stay, BeBop.  Good boy, BeBop."  Almost all of us dog owners use our pet's name as another version of "Come" - very often when we say our dog's name, we want it to come to us.  I'm no exception, so I made sure not to say his name when I wanted BeBop to stay still.  Of course he can recognize my voice, so when I say, "Stay" or "Good boy," he knows I'm talking to him.  No need to confuse him by saying his name.  It is a lesson the other trainers had not learned.  And consequently, their dogs were repeatedly popping up and coming to them when they were being told to stay put.)

It wasn't just staying still that BeBop excelled at.  When I would call him from another room so it looked like he was bolting for dinnertime, he turned and ran full tilt through the room towards me.  He offered me about 20 barks in a row for the scene with the cat.  And the director loved him when he gave a sad look and belly-shuffle forward in a scene where his owner has had a heart attack.  ACTING!

Afterwards, the cameraman told me that "That dog's got a real future in Hollywood."  High, high praise.

BeBop had his weak points; he's not great at just freeform explosive play.  Years of teaching him to control himself are hard to turn off on command.  There was a scene were he needed to play boisterously with the dogs, a woman and small boy in a yard.  And while the German Shepherd was leaping and running after tennis balls, BeBop was content to just wander and sniff around the yard.  Luckily, I brought his favorite toy - a stuffed squirrel on a stick and rope.  They let me give it to the little boy, and after that, BeBop was playing like a fool, thrashing the squirrel while the boy drug him around like a fish on a pole.  It was hilarious, and everybody had loads of fun.

And speaking of the boy, BeBop was a HUGE hit with the kids.

"Mean dog."  Awwww.

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