Ever since the days of Lassie on TV or the slobbering St. Bernard in the feature film Beethoven, dogs have been used in television and film production. Some have achieved fame and fortune, while others are featured extras playing the part of the family hound. If you own a dog that's trained for obedience and you think the dog has star potential, then prepare for the journey into stardom. But like everything it takes hard work and education in the ways of navigating the entertainment world.
Like all acting gigs, dogs have to get the audition before they land the role. And while dogs are used in every form of entertainment -- from film to music videos -- it takes work and some luck to play the part. But if your dog is picked for TV or movies, the road leads to amazing possibilities.
Benjamin Bertsch and Keith Alexander, producers I've worked with in the past asked if they could "borrow my dog" for a YouTube video series about a toy. Well, I said ok…and after negotiating a fee for travel and the day rate, the dog landed the role. It was fun, and my dog seemed to enjoy the attention of the crew. The role called for her to run and retrieve a simple toy, thrown by the actor. Jersey did it on cue and after several takes, the scene was wrapped. But that took all day to shoot.
That's one example of how to get your dog in front of producers, here's some others:
Production companies often use qualified agencies for scenes with dogs, meaning the producers know the trainers that have dogs that will work on cue under the strain of a production. That doesn't mean first timers can't find a role for their dog without an agency, it simply means that you have to be willing to start at the ground floor with a small scale production.
You have to train your dog to learn a multiple of commands, from sitting or laying down on cue, to rolling over or barking. Watch dogs on TV or in film and see what they do; they pick up magazines, newspapers, they hide behind chairs and cover their snout using their paws…these are all tricks that can be taught and they must be a part of the dog's list of special talents. Rarely, do producers want a dog that simply sits there looking pretty. Be sure the dog does unique tricks that are easily replicated in front of cameras. But nothing ever should be attempted that would in any way harm the animal, or cause him or her distress.
Any tricks or drills that your dog understands have to done under the intense lighting and environment of a sound stage or outdoor scene being filmed. Your dog can't be rattled or confused by people watching his or her every move, the producers expect that your dog can behave a particular way on command 100 percent of the time. There is no patience for a dog actor to learn his part on the job! Therefore, you and your dog must be prepared to work flawlessly under pressure.
There are hundreds of smaller scale videos and films being produced each year in every part of the country. Some of these productions are commercial and others are arty in style, non-profit or student projects. Once your dog is obedience trained and socialized, you should look for this type of low budget or no budget film work. What you get from the experience is an opportunity to practice your on-camera techniques and if you are lucky, a few high quality edited scenes for your film reel. I have worked on several productions with my dog(s) as actors, some paid and other's not, and each time I walked away with credits, experience and usable clips from the scene.
Build a portfolio of high quality still images and film clips (remember that reel we walked about?). Have it ready for the next production company looking for a dog actor. A digital portfolio that can be emailed or uploaded is essential because production companies of any scale want to see something first before they request an in-person audition.
Be very careful of any company offering to teach you how to strike it rich in TV or film. Especially if they ask for money upfront for photos, or video. Dogs don't have agents like people actors, they have trainers or handlers that simply understand how to network with the production companies.
Be sure your dog is well groomed at all times, and that the dog has been cleared by a Vet and is up to date with all the needed vaccinations.
Lastly, if you are doing it solely for the money, don't waste your, or the dog's time. Roles for dogs aren't going to buy your that mansion in the Hamptons. Do it for the love of the experience and your dog will learn to enjoy it as well. And, don't try to force a dog into showbiz. If your dog is right for entertainment he or she will show you with the wag of the tail.