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Beginners' Animal Trainer Extraordinaire

He is, indeed, very loving toward people and very playful, which we use a lot in the movie. And also, the nice thing about rescuing an animal — a dog — is that when I go to shelters and such, I have a sense of what the animal’s going to be like in general. That’s the advantage of getting a dog who’s older. You get to see that personality a little bit.
Bark: Was this Cosmo’s first movie?
De Cagny: No, he had already done “Hotel for Dogs,” which was really helpful. He had already been in front of the cameras and knew all the basics. The main thing for me was to see what Mike [Mills] had in mind for this movie. I just fell in love with the way he wanted the dogs to act, which was to behave naturally, no tricks; I like that the most, too. It also comes from the energy of your dog and the type of dog he is — his personality in general. Cosmo’s a very gregarious, outgoing little dog who loves people and loves to be a Terrier, which gives me a lot to work with. His preparation was to spend a lot of time with Ewan [McGregor] and Mélanie [Laurent]. Really, to spend a lot of time with Mike. It starts at the top.
Bark: What’s your ideal working relationship when it comes to the human actors?De Cagny: I was so fortunate that Ewan loves dogs, and therefore was willing to do whatever it took to work with Cosmo. When actors are willing to spend time and take over … that’s the way I like to work; I like to be away from the relationship, to become just a background for the dog instead of a primary trainer. I’ll end up carrying the food and the toys and all that stuff. With Ewan, I saw that the bond could be established pretty well, and I slowly but surely distanced myself from their relationship. Often, I wasn’t even in the shot with them — I didn’t want to be in the dog’s eye line.
Bark: Were there other dogs on the set?
De Cagny: I always take advantage of a set situation to train my other dogs, and that’s what I did this time as well. I had, among others, a Collie named Lincoln, and I let everyone take him for walks. He would hang out with Mike a lot. Again, I try to train so that the dog doesn’t panic when I’m out of the picture. First, I want them to have fun on the set because people are sweet and they get all kinds of attention, and second, to know that they’re safe and not be anxious when they don’t see their trainer.
Bark: How would you describe your approach to training?
De Cagny: Basically, it reflects the type of person I am, which is loose and free. Of course, you follow rules, but it’s nice to be able to be spontaneous. Most people like to be prepared, and I have to be prepared with the training and foundation and all that. But I like the spontaneity of what’s going to happen and dealing with it in the moment. I’m self-taught — I learned by intuition and by being around dogs. I like to work with their personalities, and my personality, which, again, is not formal. Really, I learn from my animals. It’s kind of like cooking — you see what’s in the fridge and you make something out of it. I never quite know exactly how I’m going to get something done; I take my cues first from my animals and then from the director. [In some situations] I can’t do that, and it’s difficult for me to be robotic. I understand that sometimes, that’s the way it is, but it doesn’t match the type of training I like to do. On the other hand, you can’t go on set with a dog and just have fun. You have to have the foundation.
Bark: How did Cosmo get along with Christopher Plummer?
De Cagny: Oh, that was interesting. I had to finish another movie, so I got there a week or so after they started, and another trainer had already established a relationship with Christopher and the dog. I had never met him and at first I heard that he was a little standoffish. But, as I normally do, in our very first scene, I introduced myself.

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