Recently, I had the opportunity to work on a commercial shoot in Manhattan with a lovely dog who had been flown in from overseas. I had two days to work with him before the three-day shoot. The dog is a celebrity in his country so I will not disclose any personal information. I’ll refer to him as K for the purposes of this article. K has a lovely temperament. He is play and food motivated, making my job that much easier. We bonded almost instantly, even though he is aloof with strangers and even outright dislikes some people for reasons that escape us.
K arrived in the U.S. the day before I met him. Understandably, he was a bit out of sorts. Yet, he still gave me the benefit of the doubt and allowed me to get to know him. He does not live in a big city, yet all three days were to be shot in Manhattan. The locations the scouts had chosen were bustling and, as we were shooting Friday through Sunday, they were at their busiest. K had to contend with a trainer who did not speak his language, new smells, new sounds, very long shoot days and tons of people seemingly unaware that a 30 lb dog was walking by their feet. Despite all that, he worked his little heart out.
Before you start to feel bad for K, let me tell you how well this little guy was treated. First of all, the production company had hired four people to ensure K’s comfort and safety. He had an animal coordinator, two security guards and me, his trainer. His two owners flew in with him and were also on set. In total, his entourage consisted of six people, all of us focusing our attention on his every need. We made sure that he was kept comfortable and happy. He got multiple breaks for food, water, bathroom, and rest. He always had an elevated platform with a comfortable bed on which to rest when on set and not working. He was kept on a leash at all times for safety purposes. K was treated better than the human talent on set.
The first location chosen for the shoot on Friday was the Flat Iron section of Manhattan. K’s actions consisted of standing and looking around, walking from point A to point B, and moving his mouth so as to appear to be speaking. Passersby could not get enough of this beautiful dog, and it was all the crew could do to keep people moving along. Nothing to see here, folks. The second location was Times Square that Friday night! Because it happened to be a beautiful, mild winter evening, it was even busier than you can imagine. K performed like a true professional. Saturday brought more of the same, shooting at Flat Iron in the morning and then back to Times Square in the evening. He gave another Oscar-worthy performance. Sunday had us shooting at Bryant Park in the afternoon and at a hotel, also in Manhattan, in the late evening hours. At Bryant Park, K had to come out of a subway station and walk to a pre-determined location. It only took three takes for him to nail that it. For the second scene, he had to sit and look at his surrounding as extras walked around him. The toughest part for him was sitting near a moving carousel with his back towards it. He had never seen a carousel, not many dogs have, and he naturally kept getting up and turning to face it. He still managed to get the shot done, and we moved to the third scene. This one was also going from point A to point B, but it was a very long distance with many distractions along the way. He again impressed everyone by doing it perfectly every time. The evening location was a hotel on 47th street. This was the first time his scenes were shot indoors. Good thing, too, since it was cold with freezing rain. There, his actions only consisted of sitting on a couch with his human family. As expected, he got that scene in one take, and we were wrapped. As I write this, K is on a flight back home.
I spent five days with this wonderful dog and was sad to say goodbye. Working with K was a wonderful experience that I will never forget. It underscored how well dogs with good temperaments can adapt to new environments. It proved that language, while helpful, is not an essential part of canine-human communication. Keep that in mind the next time you have something to say to Fido.