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Star Casting: Getting your pup movie ready
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Dog Star: Tiger

It all started when Tiger’s agent, Nancy Novogard, called to ask if we would be available to shoot a feature film. I suppose I should add that yes, my adorable, three-and-a-half-year-old Terrier mix, whom I adopted when he was just nine weeks, has an agent. And while he’s shot a variety of photo spreads for magazines and books (Vogue, Bark’s DogJoy), appeared onstage with David Letterman, performed Off-Broadway, and now appears in a national commercial (CSX trains), he has never done a feature film.

“He’ll need to bark — incessantly,” Nancy added.

“Done.”

Of course, I was lying — just a bit. Tiger does “speak” on command, but to him this means ONE BARK, then stop. As dogs go, he’s just not a barker. That said, I have trained him to “count” — which really means BARK-UNTIL-IGIVE- YOU-THE-CUE-TO-STOP. Now, I just needed to keep it going.

The bigger problem, though, was that as Tiger barked, he kept moving closer and closer to me. How could I get the distance needed on a set while getting him to stay on his mark?

I called my friend Christine Mahaney, whose Border Collie rescue, Toula, has film credits aplenty. Christine is also an animal trainer/wrangler for dogs — plus myriad other animals ranging from rats and chickens to deer — in the Detroit, Mich., region.

“OK,” she said, in her adorable Midwestern accent. “Here’s what you do: Tie his leash to a banister or something, and start close — don’t let the leash get tight. Then back away — making sure he keeps the leash loose. Work slow. That’s what I had to do with Toula.”

A week later, I awoke to torrents of rain. I needed to get us to a studio in Queens for the audition, which meant hailing a cab, as Tiger is just too large (28 pounds) to carry in a bag on the subway. As a native New Yorker, I do not own a car.

Getting a cab when it’s pouring, however, is never easy. And with a wet dog…

A yellow taxi stopped. The driver looked at Tiger. I said, “I promise I will give you a big tip.”

We arrived at Kaufman Studios in Queens, just under the 59th Street Bridge. Tiger wandered around, sniffing, while I checked out the competition. There was an 18-week-old Tibetan Terrier. Adorable — but could he bark on cue? A three-pound Yorkie. Hardly the kind of dog a street kid would pick up. There was also a cute, terribly energetic Cockapoo, and a Poodle-y mix. One of the owners tried to practice as we waited.

“SPEAK.” (Nothing.)
“SPEAK.” (The dog sat.)
“SPEAK!” (The dog jumped up on the settee.)

I looked at Tiger, feeling snarky.

“Tiger. SPEAK!”

BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK!

I stopped wiggling my fingers and smiled, feeling all smug and cocky.

“Good boy!”

Dan, the prop master, led us down the hall to the audition room — really just a small office-like space. I noticed a poster along the way: Son of No One

Was that the title of the film we were auditioning for? I wondered.

We walked to the back of the studios. There were about five men, including director Dito Montiel, first assistant director Urs Hirschbiegel and a few others. Someone said, “OK — so let’s hear him bark.” I leaned down to take the leash off when Urs added, “Actually, he’ll be on leash for this.”

I smiled and handed the leash to Urs.

“Tiger. SPEAK!”

BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK!

After about five seconds I said, “How’s that?”

The men exchanged glances. “Great. OK — now we need — will he grab a pant leg and shake — like he’s attacking?”

Huh? Not so comfy or snarky now.

“Uh… no one told me that.”

“Well, can he?”

“He knows PULL.” I took out a toy.

“Tiger, PULL!!!”

Tiger grabbed the toy and pulled and pulled with all his might, tearing at the green alien stuffie. The men were not impressed.

“We need him to pull on someone’s pants.” Urs pulled on the bottom of his trouser leg. “Tiger,” he said with a German accent, “Pull on this.”

Tiger looked at me. He looked at Urs. He looked back at me.

“He hasn’t been trained to do that, but this is one smart dog. Give me a week.”

“What if we put the toy under the pants?” Urs put his hand out. I handed him the toy.

“Tiger, PULL.”

My sweet, smart puppy walked over, grabbed at the toy stuffed under Urs’ trouser leg and pulled.

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