Many people aspire to be famous, to be adored by millions, to have a life of luxury and not to want for anything. What they may not realise is that most of those people have worked very hard to get where they are and continue to do so. Making it big can take a lot of time and commitment. It’s not all sitting by the pool sipping margaritas. No, there have been many sacrifices made along the way to master their skills, develop their presentation, go to auditions, work long days, as so on. Yes, there is a fair amount of luck involved but the chance of success is greatly improved when combined with hard work.
This can also be true for dog actors. Apart from the fact that it’s you that will be doing most of the hard work – they’ll just be having fun playing great games and receiving treats, praise and attention! You’ll need to help your dog master the necessary skills and behaviours so that they stand the best chance of beating the opposition.
In this chapter we going to look at some of the basic skills your dog will need, as well as some more advanced tricks that will stand you in good stead when asked to do the impossible on set.
One of the most important aspects of any dog’s training is socialisation and habituation. Socialisation involves your dog being comfortable and relaxed with a wide variety of different people, including children, people using disability aides, people with crash helmets, men with beards, hats, and much more. The aim being for your dog not to be afraid or disturbed when coming into contact with new, strange looking people. They should get on well with other dogs and behave normally when in new places.
Often vets and trainers will run pup socialisation sessions where you can take your dog along to meet and play with other dogs
Habituation involves your dog being confident in their immediate surroundings. They should not feel afraid if they hear a loud bang (studios are noisy places), worried by unfamiliar objects, such as black plastic sacks or household appliances. Remember, they may be helping advertise them after all!
Being social is really important when working, because they are going to come into contact with a lot of people, some strange and unusual, other dogs and new places. It’s going to be difficult if they are barking and snarling at others when they are supposed to be following the script. To become a well-rounded dog star, your pup needs to have had an extensive socialisation period, as well as some very basic training procedures put in place, before they can go to the next level.
Typically, socialisation needs to be completed between eight and 12 weeks old. Any older and it becomes increasingly difficult to accustom the dog to new things. However, this can be overcome with patience and training, so don’t despair if you feel your dog has missed out on this time period. Aim to introduce your dog to as many different types of people, animals and places as you can, but under controlled conditions. Please do not buy a buggy. (One lady actually did this.) She went through the list of of habituation targets by placing her young puppy in a buggy and leaving it in front of each one for ten minutes. This included pneumatic drills, dust carts, etc. The poor pup ended up traumatised!
Dogs are at their most receptive when they are between three and 12 weeks old. So the earlier you socialise them the better. After 12 weeks it can be very difficult to get a dog to accept anything new or unfamiliar.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to complete socialisation within this time. You may have re-homed a dog or the vet may have recommended keeping them away from other dogs and places. Here are some tips on how to socialise an adult dog:
Walk your dog daily introducing them to other people and dogs. Walking them and letting them run will use up some of that pent-up energy.
Remain calm even if they are barking or growling at others and don’t tell them off. Move them away from the situation. Reward them when their negative behaviour changes. Carry some medium value treats with you to give to willing strangers who may like to help in the socialisation of your dog. It is essential for dogs to have an association with new experiences followed by a positive outcome.
If you are struggling to correct unwanted behaviour, there are lots of trainers who can help you.