Home
media reviews
Culture: Reviews
Tough Love: A Meditation on Dominance and Dogs
DVD Review, Anchorhold Films/Tower Hill Films
Tough Love: A Meditation on Dominance and Dogs

This new documentary explains why the alpha theory (which has been widely popularized as a “fact” by a famous TV personality) is based on an incorrect understanding of both wolf and dog behavior. And as importantly, why positive reinforcement is the only effective course for dog training. Chad Montrie, the film’s director, has assembled a cohort of highly regarded experts on dog behavior — Sophia Yin, DVM, Alexandra Horowitz, Karen Pryor and Bob Bailey among them — to talk about the history of the “alpha dog” concept and why it still has power to persuade today. Is dominance what dogs actually want or expect within their human families? See what academics and experts have to say on this very important topic. You may purchase the DVD or watch it as a “pay for view” on anchorholdfilms.com.

Culture: DogPatch
Muse: Robin and Linda Williams Song To Their Dog
Bluegrass Tribute
Robin and Linda Williams, and Tessie Mae.

Robin and Linda Williams have been making music together for almost 40 years. Their new CD, These Dark Old Hills (Red House Records), is a vibrant collection of original folk and bluegrass tunes, one of which especially caught our fancy. The couple praises the charms of their rescue dog, Tessie Mae, in a song.

What surprised the couple most about this sweet stray, whom they adopted from the Charlottesville, Va., SPCA, was her independent streak. As they told us, “We couldn’t leave any door open or else she would take off, and no amount of calling would make her stop. Just like we say in the fi rst verse of the song. ‘You’re an angel and a little sneak/A sweetheart with a stubborn streak/Good at following your nose/Out any door that wasn’t closed.’”

While we found this song to be a real toe-tapping, paw-thumping delight, Tessie has another idea about what the couple should be doing. “She doesn’t particularly seem interested in our music other than in the fact that it takes our attention away from her. When we’re rehearsing, she’ll come in the room wagging her tail and look at us as if to say, ‘Okay, it’s time for you guys to focus on me.’” Hard to not to do that with a chorus that goes, “Hey, Hey your straying days/Are over Tessie Mae/ Hey, Hey sit and stay/Don’t turn your head away …”

Listen to it on YouTube.

Culture: Reviews
Why We Love Wilfred
A man in a dog suit? Funny? Really? Yes!
Wilfred

Wilfred, the weirdly wonderful comedy on the FX channel has just begun its second season. What a breath of fresh air in the mostly stale world of television humor. It stars Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) and Jason Gann, an Aussie bloke who’s also the co-creator and star of the popular Australian series on which this show is based. Wood plays Ryan, a suicidal, depressed attorney who befriends the neighbor’s dog (Gann). To everyone else, including his owner, the dog is a regular canine. But to Ryan (and the audience) he’s a man in a cheap dog suit. The big surprise is that it works and that it makes us laugh out loud. The writers know dogs, and dog people. Here’s why it’s must-see TV:

> It plays off our tendency to anthropomorphize dogs … in a big way. This dog talks and digs holes with a shovel, and uses a bong to demonstrate the principles of clicker training.

> The writers have the imagination to show stuffing a Kong as a lascivious act.

> Likewise, they mostly skip the obvious poop and pee jokes and go with more revelatory (and funnier) routines involving lasers, separation anxiety and canine therapy.

> It goes against the grain. Show biz dogs tend to be sweet, cuddly pups, but Wilfred is a crude, surly, beer-swilling sort who’s nonetheless loveable. Sort of like your brother-in-law.

> The show proves that deep down, dogs are existentialists and that their reason for being is to show us humans how to overcome fears and embrace life.

> It celebrates just hanging out with your dog — sure, it’s in the basement with smokes and a six-pack, but life is great.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs in the City
New show is worth a look

“Dogs in the City” is a new CBS show based in New York and starring dog trainer Justin Silver. Each episode shows several people or families whose dogs have issues. Silver works with the people to improve the dog’s behavior and quality of life.

Silver really understands people, connects with them, and sees the human social dynamic clearly and fairly. He is direct, like a proper New Yorker, calling it as he sees it, but always in a kind and respectful way. The people chosen to be on the show are quirky enough to be interesting, but not too far out there. They are well within the range of clients that most trainers and behaviorists work with over the years.

The show focuses on how the people featured impact the behavior of their dogs. The show does not emphasize training specifics. There is little actual training in the show, and few specific cues given to the dogs, presumably because this show is not a how-to show on training. That said, Silver sets a good example as a trainer by using healthy treats and by emphasizing the importance of what people DO want their dog to do rather than on what they DON’T want their dog to do.

Some of what Silver says and does may not feel quite right to trainers. He pulls on the leash quite a bit with dogs, including his own, Chiquita and Pacino (who by the way are both adorable and beautifully behaved.) He uses the term “socialization” to mean being social with other dogs rather than using it more technically to refer to early, influential experiences during specific periods of development that in dogs end at around 4 months of age. He talks about being “master” which is not a term so commonly used anymore. He often kisses dogs on the nose, which is not a great example for viewers.

That said, it’s only fair to state the well-known adage that the only thing two dog trainers can ever agree on is that a third trainer is doing something wrong. I’m never going to agree completely with any other trainer, but there are things to praise about each one, too.

Silver’s deep connection to and love for both dogs and people is obvious, and he clearly cares to about members of both species. I love his emphasis on letting dogs be dogs rather than treating them as four-legged people. In summary, I like Silver, enjoyed the show and plan to watch it again. If you’ve watched it, what do you think of it?

News: Guest Posts
Shelter Me: Dogs in Need, People in Need
We all need someone we can lean on, and so do they.
Shelter Me / PBS Screenshot

Last night I watched a most wonderful documentary about the many ways in which rescued dogs can help rescue humans, each of whom needs someone to lean on. It's called Shelter Me. A synopsis of the docmentary can be seen here. A snippet should be all that's needed to get you to watch it:

"The first episode shows how shelter pets are helping our returning war veterans cope with PTSD. We go inside a women’s prison, where inmates train shelter dogs to become service animals for people with disabilities. We also see the journey of two stray dogs, from the day they are picked up on the streets and brought to the shelter until the day they become a beloved family pet. Shelter Me is about redemption, hope, helping others and making a difference

We all need someone we can lean on, and so do they (other animals). I was moved to tears of joy as I watched the bond develop between the humans and their new found companions. I think you will also be incredibly moved by this most-welcomed documentary that spills over with hope for those beings, nonhuman and human, who need help in a demanding world. While some might question the scientific data about such relationships, these stories show clearly that dogs and humans form incredibly strong and reciprocal social bonds. Each becomes the life-line, the much-needed oxygen, for the other.

Culture: Reviews
Found by a Lost Dog
The creators of the new movie Darling Companion have an eye and ear for real-life drama.
Mixed-breed rescue dog Kasey plays Freeway in the new film, Darling Companion.

Lawrence and meg kasdan wrote one of my favorite movies: Grand Canyon, a 1991 film about six people who find their lives intersecting in Los Angeles. Like other movies directed and written by Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist), it contains a number of remarkable lines of dialogue. One, spoken by Steve Martin, stands out. “That’s part of your problem … you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”

One of life’s riddles about dogs is answered in the new movie Darling Companion, also co-written by the Kasdans. The riddle is this: how do dogs remind us of our own humanity? The film also shows how dogs bring us closer to one another.

The movie tells the tale of a longtime married couple who look just fine on the outside. Dr. Joseph Winter (Kevin Kline) and his wife Beth (Diane Keaton) have it all, including a gorgeous second home in the Colorado Rockies. But under the surface we see that, obsessed by his career as a surgeon, Winter is rarely fully present for their lives. The movie truly begins when Beth’s emptiness is accidently filled by a rescued dog named Freeway.

As Meg Kasdan says, “We thought of Dr. Winter as a distracted person, in this case, by his career. Their relationship was beginning to fray from it.” Lawrence adds, “We really wanted to make it about paying attention, being present. It doesn’t matter if it’s a wife, husband or anyone else … not paying attention is a metaphor.” And not paying attention is exactly what happens when Beth’s beloved Freeway runs off into the woods and gets lost. This is based on a true story from an episode in the Kasdans’ 40-year marriage.

The couple spoke to me from their office in Los Angeles; it was a breezy conversation among three complete dog fans. As soon as I told them I believe dogs take us to our higher selves, they knew we would connect on this film … and share the joy and gratitude dogs bring to our lives. Lawrence believes that “the world changes when you love a dog, or a pet of any kind. You have a sensitivity you didn’t have before. You identify at the vet with others … you see the worry, the comfort, the control. It all opens a whole new world.” Meg, a true partner in doggie love, goes on. “We spend a lot of time with three dogs. We have our own rescue mutt — a Cattle Dog/Shepherd mix, Mack — and our son’s two dogs. We all walk together in the woods … they give us the best, fullest way to experience wilderness.”

They had their dog-centered story to tell, but how would they find just the right dog to take center stage? Lawrence realized that there’s no casting couch when looking for a dog star in a movie. “With this movie, I knew a trainer would be as important as finding the right D.P. or actor. We needed a great dog and a great trainer.” After interviewing many trainers with dogs, Meg said they were thrilled with the work done by Steve Solomon and Sarah Cole and their dog Kasey, a mixed breed with Collie and German Shepherd in his background. Lawrence looked for the quality in a dog that he most cherishes in an actor: “the ability to be in repose … to listen. Kasey can just sit or lie down and be contented to be there. He also looked so right; he is a rescue dog playing a rescue dog … He had nicks and scratches.”

With a few welcome exceptions like The Artist, Beginners or Our Idiot Brother, dogs in movies too often are exploited, reduced to props used for cruel laughter or a character’s neglect or abuse. Darling Companion not only keeps the dog love sweet and soulful, it drives both the plot and the characters. According to Lawrence, “The search in the film for the dog is a metaphor for people searching for their own connections to each other.” In the movie, Russ (Richard Jenkins) and Penny (Dianne Wiest) have found each other later in life, while the younger characters (played by Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass) are beginning the search for caring and commitment. They all are searching for the dog and for each other.

Carmen (Ayelet Zurer) is on a discovery of self, forming and listening to her intuitive visions. Meg Kasdan found Carmen’s perceptions in their real-life story when they lost Mack for a number of days after he freaked out on a mountain trail. As Meg remembers, “we had allowed a friend to watch over Mack and they were on a walk together. A mountain-bike rider whizzed by and our dog just took off after it; suddenly, he was nowhere to be found. We conducted a massive search as you see in the film, though we’ve taken artistic and a few comic liberties. Through it all with Mack, we had a friend who kept up our spirits with the certain knowledge that the dog was all right, providing clues she somehow knew as to where he was going. When we finally found him by the river, Mack had lost seven pounds and was filthy, but he was absolutely fine.” Lawrence believes that “this search was a good catalyst about relationships, a way to fight to reach a place of what is, hopefully, inner contentment.”

Contentment, satisfying conclusions, kindness of heart and joyful simplicity are not seen in mainstream Hollywood movies these days. Lawrence knows it too well. “It’s hard to make any movie about people anymore, anything that isn’t an action-comic-book piece or extremely dumb comedies. You know, the kind of movies we loved are hard to get made. I was 14 when I saw Lawrence of Arabia and it changed my life. That was it for me. It had everything: personal details mixed with gigantic story and sweep. It made me want to make movies and tell stories that way.” Meg “flipped out” when she saw Some Like It Hot, noticing not only the warmth and wacky fun, but Marilyn Monroe’s heartfelt performance. The three of us agreed that movies have changed our lives. And that dogs enrich, inspire and connect us to each other. In fact, my dogs, Duke and Ella, are staring at me as I write this. Lawrence and Meg told me they wrote the screenplay with three dogs surrounding them.

Dogs: they are indeed our darling companions. sonyclassics.com/darlingcompanion

News: Guest Posts
Dog Saves Movie, Once Again
Hallmark channels the pet adoption message

Cut from the same pastel fabric as most Hallmark movies, Duke is a classic tearjerker-with-a-happy ending—made a whole lot better by a dog. Marine Sergeant Terry Pulaski (Steven Weber of “Wings” and “Brothers & Sisters”) plays an Afghan war veteran with serious physical and emotional injuries that drive him to leave his wife and young daughter. The bulk of the story focuses on his life ten years later, which finds him living in a trailer with Duke, a bright-eyed and endearing former stray, played by a talented, especially when pretending to be sick, 10-month-old Border Collie named Zeke. (Duke premieres Saturday, April 28, 8 p.m. ET/PT, 7 p.m. CT on Hallmark Movie Channel).

There is a lot that is predictable in this story, which is “inspired by true events,” but that didn’t stop me from sniveling my way through several tissues. I especially liked the scenes of Duke comforting Pulaski through severe bouts of PTSD, and I was moved by the attempt to portray Pulaski’s grief over Duke’s death (the rumors of which are greatly exaggerated) as deep, nuanced and lasting. In the end, I was a little embarrassed by how Pulaski seemed more enthusiastic to reunite with his canine family than with his human family—but even that had a ring of truth.

The film is part of Hallmark Channel’s Pet Project, launched in early April “to celebrate the joy and enrichment pets bring to our lives, while shining a spotlight on this country’s epidemic of pet homelessness and encouraging the public to adopt.” PetSmart Charities and American Humane Association are partners in this initiative. In addition to original movies, the Pet Project features pet-centric programming, including the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards; a microsite featuring videos, photos, pet care tips and pet-finder resources; and public service announcements voiced by Hallmark talent encouraging people to find their next pet through adoption—which is a feel-good message I can totally get behind.

Check out what Zeke’s fellow actors have to say in the video below.

Culture: DogPatch
Premiere of Darling Companion Film
Stars of the film Darling Companion at Hollywood premiere, Kasey (the dog), D

Last week, the red carpet was rolled out for the Los Angeles premiere of Darling Companion, the new film by Lawrence and Meg Kasdan, starring Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, and Kasey the dog. As a media sponsor for the event, The Bark, invited a handful of lucky readers to enjoy the festivities at Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theater. Guests celebrated with the film’s stars, enjoying cocktails provided by Patron and noshing on churros and hot dogs. Kasey handled his new found celebrity with ease and exuded an air of sophistication befitting the occasion. His performance as a rescued dog who exposes the frayed marriage of the Keaton and Kline characters, had the audience in laughter and tears, rooting for a happy end. In the spirit of the film’s theme, The Amanda Foundation hosted an adoption fair with more than a dozen dogs seeking their forever homes. The adorable pups proved to be the toast of the evening … check out the video.

Read an interview with the filmmakers Lawrence and Meg Kasdan here.

News: Guest Posts
Downton Abbey Dog: Right Breed, Wrong Color
And more flubs in period films

In period movies, dog breeds, just like fabric on the furniture, should be accurate to the period. Only a few contemporary breeds look exactly as they did 100 years ago.

Downton Abbey, the early 20th century story of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, with its authentic Yorkshire country house and period decor, is accurate down to thread in the costumes. But oops. No one thought to research what Lord Crawley’s loyal dog would actually have looked like. And Pharaoh (played by Roly) would not be a light cream–colored yellow Labrador Retriever.

Ben of Hyde (above), born in 1899, was the first recognized light-colored Lab—not really yellow but rather a dark butterscotch color. Prior to Ben, Labs were black, usually with white markings. The light cream–colored coat we see in every opening episode as Pharaoh trots along side his master, is a much later 20th century look.

When it comes to dogs in period films, historical inaccuracy is a pet peeve of mine. Here are some winners and losers:

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)—Set in 1757, takes place in the Hudson River Valley, includes two American Black and Tan Coonhounds pretending to be Blue Gascony Hounds.

Mrs. Brown (1997)—The story of widowed Queen Victoria, her servant, Scottish Highlander John Brown, and their extraordinary friendship that apparently left no time for any of her 88 dogs. Nary a single dog appears on screen. We don’t even hear a proxy dog barking off screen.

Howard’s End (1992)—A typical Merchant Ivory production, historically accurate from turn of the century wardrobe to wallpaper, is a tale of social class, theosophy and two poorly placed four-month-old yellow Labrador Retrievers.

Apocalypto (2006)—The story of the demise of the ancient Central American civilization features two hungry Xolo dogs that check out a smoldering campfire for leftovers. Accurate depiction, but seconds of screen time is hardly enough.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)—At a time when Spaniels were a soupy mix of similar shapes and sizes, the movie depicts Spaniels just that way.

Spaniels were a generic sort of working bird dog until the end of the 19th century.

Amazing Grace (2002)—The story of religious social reformer and abolitionist William Wilburforce. The 18 historically accurate Regency period dogs include in order of appearance: Papillion, Border Terrier, Collie, little black dog, little Terrier dog, another Collie, yellow Lurcher, grey Lurcher, little white dog, Irish Red and White Setter, and another field dog that looks suspiciously like a contemporary Springer Spaniel groomed with an electric trimmer. I didn’t say the movie was perfect.

This is what Reverend Wilburforce’s Collie would have looked like.

To read my entire diatribe about historically inaccurate dogs in period films, click here.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Street Dogs of South Central
Film about dogs in Los Angeles

The documentary film Street Dogs of South Central follows a mother dog trying to raise a litter of pups in an urban environment. Acquiring food and finding shelter are challenging for dogs living in South Central Los Angeles, and this film shows the harsh reality they face. Queen Latifah narrates this emotional film.

This is the film’s trailer:

Many found it tough to watch the film because of the dangers and hunger the dogs faced. There has been criticism directed towards the makers of the film for not helping the dogs they were filming. On the other hand, some have argued that the purpose of a documentary is to show the reality of a situation, not to interfere with it, no matter how horrible that reality is.

Originally shown on Animal Planet last month, Street Dogs of South Central will be shown on March 31, 2012, at the Atlanta Film Festival. If you’ve seen it, what do you think of it?

Pages