Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dog reminds us that athleticism is not size specific
I can never get enough of dog commercials, and this one with a Dachshund as an enthusiastic fetcher is lots of fun. The Journey song, “Don’t Stop Believin’” is a great soundtrack for the optimism and teamwork that contribute to this dog’s successful catch. The dog’s leap at about 18 seconds is the best part.
Sometimes small dogs or those with short legs are denied the opportunities to be their true canine selves just because they don’t fit someone’s image of a dog who loves to play or be highly physical in other ways. Luckily, that attitude is not as prevalent as it once was. All you have to do to see how far we’ve come is to attend an agility class and notice the diversity of forms participating.
This commercial, besides being entertaining, is a great reminder that most dogs have an inner athlete. There is likely some sport or playful activity that gives each dog joy and should be celebrated.
News: Guest Posts
Pick the dog that’s right for you, not the dog that is popular right now!
The canine actors that people see in the media affect which dogs they choose to purchase or adopt. It’s been well documented that certain type of dogs become popular when they are featured in the movies or on TV. The most famous example is the mad rush for Dalmatians after the movie 101 Dalmatians came out, but it has happened with many breeds over the years.
All too often, the breed du jour is far too active or intense to suit many families. There are exceptions, both with families who are a good match for such dogs or with an individual dog who is not typical of the breed. However, choosing a dog based on what you see in the media, even if you do it subconsciously, can so often lead to trouble.
In a recent heartfelt, if slightly over-the-top, essay by Julia Hubbel, the writer begs readers not to rush out to get an Australian Cattle Dog just because the breed has been featured in a commercial with NFL star Aaron Rodgers.
(FYI, the dog in the commercial does not actually belong to Aaron Rodgers though he has two dogs named Frankie and Chance. Chance is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Frankie’s background is unknown. Both were adopted by Rodgers and his then-girlfriend, actress Olivia Munn, who is a strong proponent of “Adopt, don’t shop”.)
As a behaviorist and trainer, I have seen the trendy dog have an influence on many families, especially those with kids who beg for a certain breed after falling in love with one on screen. Sadly, the effects are rarely positive as choosing a dog because it looks like one who is a star is not the ideal way to choose the right dog for yourself and your family. It breaks my heart when I consult with a family in a tough spot with a dog who is not the best match for them, and they are in this predicament because of a canine actor. These families love their dogs but struggle to make the relationship work due to compatibility issues.
Right now, a lot of Huskies are being relinquished to shelters and rescues (or simply abandoned). Many blame the popularity of Game of Thrones, which features Huskies and similar canines on the show. Gorgeous animals they are, but that does not make them right for all of the people who now want one.
Have you seen an increase in certain types of dogs following their appearance in the media?
National Dog Day is upon us, not exactly sure what that means but if gives us an excuse to celebrate our love for our dogs, it’s a good thing. You know what your dog likes best, right? So just do more of that, but here’s some of our ideas too:
Hugs and Kisses. A long leisurely petting session and deep body massage with stretching exercises. You can also sneak in a quick body scan looking to see that everything is in order, don’t forget to peak inside their ears and check between their toes.
Treats. Stuffing an extra special Kong—perhaps using liver, cheese, yogurt, peanut butter—freeze it and then serve it up. Prep some frozen yogurt cubes, add blueberries, bananas, strawberries, or use chicken broth or other delicious cool licks.
Walks and Hiking. A nice long back-to-nature walk, letting your dog do what they do best, sniff around and discover a fresh scent.
Engagement. Every dog loves learning especially with you, so today teach them a new trick, or practice an old one. Our three dogs each have different talents: one loves to crawl, one prefers to jump up onto rocks, one likes to leap over just about anything. They all love hide-and-seek or finding little pieces of pasta hidden around the house.
Dining Delights. Top off their meals, there’s so many ways to “beef” up a kibble-based diet. Great time to think of trying your hand at making dog meals (but remember to start off gradually, just adding a little to your dog’s usual food).
Let us know what you are planning to do with your dog to celebrate National Dog Day.
Premiers on ABC, Wednesday, May 17 2017, 9:30 pm
Downward Dog will be the newest entry into must-view TV when it premiers on ABC next Wednesday, May 17. The unconventional comedy centers around Martin, a soulful mutt, whose person, a millennial named Nan, struggles to find her way in relationships, work and life in the modern age. Through it all, they have each other—their day-to-day trials commented on philosophically by Martin. You see, Martin talks … to the camera, as a device to share his inner thoughts. And before you cringe at the memory of Mr. Ed (the talking horse), this show ensues broad comedy aiming instead for a satisfying mix of smart and sweet. It succeeds due to the clever writing (Samm Hodges, who is also the voice of Martin) and fine performances from Allison Tolman (recently seen in Fargo) as Nan and Ned, an endearing rescue dog, as Martin. We caught up with Hodges and Tolman after a recent screening.
Bark: Congratulations on a wonderful show—are you longtime animal lovers?
Hodges: I was always around dogs growing up, my mom was always bringing home mutts who had ran away—we had a menagerie of dogs around the house. Currently, I don’t have a dog but look forward to getting into a routine and adding one to our family.
Tolman: I have a cat and it’s really hard for me to be away from her. I take my cat with me when I am filming whenever possible. I grew up with dogs and a houseful of animals, my mom has always been very into animal rescue, so we had lots of rescue dogs and cats at home — she couldn’t be more pleased with my involvement with this project!
Bark: Can you talk about the concept of the show, and Ned’s communication to viewers.
Hodges: Martin is not actually a talking dog. In our rules, it’s more a conceit to give us access into the thoughts of the character. So much humor associated with animals is goofy and detached from reality — this was a way to keep the world real and treat the canine character with some seriousness and gravitas. It’s hard to do that when you have a dog talking because then he’s no longer a dog. So all the time that Martin is not talking to the camera, he’s acting 100% like a normal dog, it allows us to honor the reality of what dogs are.
What we have in common with dogs is that as people we don’t make logical decisions, we react to environments, and later justify our actions, so in that way, I think Martin is very human in that sense. He’s an animal who is completely controlled by his instincts and later has to deal with the consequences.
Allison: The first episode reflects the lead character’s dilemma of the push-pull of her personal and professional life and the effect it has on her dog. It was important to tie those two things together in the first episode, and say these things are inextricably linked. The writers did a great job constructing the episodes so that big things happen in Nan’s life that mirror the small things that happen in Martin’s life that he thinks are huge.
Hodges: We all struggle with self-love, it’s something that Nan’s character wrestles with. There is something genuine about how a dog just accepts you as you are. The personal growth of Nan’s character throughout the season is learning how to accept who we are and in the process make us more loving of others.
Tolman: That is the very best part of loving an animal — having this other creature who thinks you are the moon and the stars, it’s so powerful.
Bark: Tell us about Ned, the dog who plays Martin.
Hodges: Ned is a rescue from Paws Chicago, he had been at the shelter for a long time. He’s the kind of dog that people often don’t adopt. He wasn’t a puppy, he wasn’t a pure breed. We found his photograph and thought his eyes were so emotive, I just immediately wanted to write for him. We rescued him and the trainers had about six weeks to evaluate and work with him. They are amazing and it’s been remarkable to watch Ned heal from a fairly traumatic life over the past year. It’s been an amazing transformation.
Tolman: From my experience with my mother working in animal rescue — what made him less adoptable for many people, made him perfect for us and this role. Ned is kind of a somber and a serious dog, not excitable, not a tail wagger. He’s not motivated by praise, he’s very much his own man. When you go to the shelter to find your dog, you want the one who is effusive in his love for you. And Ned’s not really like that, you really have to earn it.
Hodges: This impacts the writing as well … you’d write a script where the dog is supposed to look scared, and you film it and the dog doesn’t look scared at all — so you go and rewrite the plot around whatever the dog’s face is doing that day.
Tolman: The character who Martin is has been shaped by the kind of dog Ned is and that is charming. This is who Ned is. I hope that this will really speak to pet owners, because most people don’t have the kind of dog who appear in dog food commercials in their home — they have dogs who are temperamental or a little bratty or pout, and that’s who this dog is.
Hodges: The whole show thematically is about a mutt in the back yard in a regular neighborhood of Pittsburg who is asking if he matters. When you look at a dog in a shelter that nobody wants and say that this dog matters—we are turning our lens on a relationship which up until now has been thought of as too small or too incidental to focus on. This relationship between this woman and this dog does actually matter, and suggest how we all matter.
Bark: That’s a very existential storyline.
Tolman: That’s right, It’s palatable because it comes from this dog, and never seems preachy or too heady, it makes you think about these things and also makes you smile. It’s a very sweet, sweet show.
Hodges: Plus, there are poop jokes!
Downward Dog premiers on ABC, Wednesday, May 17, 9:30 pm, then moves to Tuesday nights 8–8:30 pm beginning May 23.
Dog's Life: Humane
Training of dogs for movie under scrutiny
The movie “A Dog’s Purpose” is suffering what can only be called a PR disaster after footage has surfaced showing unacceptable treatment of one of the dogs during filming. In response to the treatment of the dog, many people have vowed to boycott the film, which will be released next week.
In the clip that is causing the controversy, a German Shepherd is being forced into turbulent water to film a scene in which the dog rescues a child from drowning. The dog is being physically pushed into the water despite clearly resisting, and even climbing back out using the side of the pool and the trainer as footholds. The dog looks panicked, and is making obvious efforts to avoid being tossed in the water, even clawing at the edge. You can hear someone say, “Don’t worry, it’s warm water at least,” and “He ain’t gonna calm down till he goes in the water” and “You just gotta throw him in,” all of which show complete disregard to the well-being of the dog, who is truly terrified. At one point, you hear someone say, “I think he wants to go in,” which is clearly wishful thinking. The next thing you hear is the more truthful, “He wants to get away! Just throw him in,” which is exactly what happens, to the chagrin of most viewers. Once he is in, he goes under, and it turns frantic on set. You can hear someone yelling, “Cut it, cut it!” and people are running towards the submerged dog.
The one bright spot in this clip is the boy in the water, who about halfway through is calling out cheerily, “Here boy, here boy” at which point the dog looks calmer and more relaxed than at any other point in the 60 seconds of footage. Additionally, it is this child who rushed first and fastest to the dog when he is submerged. I don’t see evidence that the filmmakers are concerned enough about the safety and feelings of the dog, but the child actor is, and I give him credit for that.
The American Humane Association (AHA) is responsible for the No Animals Were Harmed program, which is supposed to insure the well-being of animal actors on set. However, they have a history of ignoring poor treatment of animals during moviemaking. In response to this recent controversy, the AHA has suspended the safety representative who was on set that day and say they will investigate the incident.
The behavior of entering turbulent water in the chaotic situation associated with making a film needed to be approached step-by-step so that the dog was trained to do this ahead of filming. It would take a lot of work and a considerable amount of time to help almost any dog feel comfortable in this situation, and based on this clip, that investment was not made, and it is the dog who suffered. Another option if a dog is unable to handle the scene without distress would be to use a stunt double—a dog who is more comfortable with water.
What’s your take on the treatment of the dog during the filming of this scene?
A new film looks at a young man and a dog both in need of a place to call home.
In A Stray, Adan, a young, homeless Somali immigrant played by Barkhad Abdiarhman (Captain Phillips) is paired with a homeless dog. This compelling film, written and directed by Musa Syeed, is only his second narrative feature. Syeed, clearly influenced by the neo-realism of the great Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, chose to center his story in a community of Muslim Somalians living in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.
In this society, Adan is on his own, unfocused and confused. Similar to many refugees, he tries to assimilate, although he’s not sure what that really means, as well as to stay in touch with his own culture and religion. Then, while on a job delivering food, he hits a stray dog, played with charming realism by Ayla, a Terrier mix.
The dog is uninjured, but then Adan, with no resources of his own, is burdened not only by a creature who needs to be cared for but also, one his religion considers unclean. Adan feels helpless in this situation, ill-equipped to know what’s best for himself or for the dog. Slowly, we see Adan growing into a kinder, more focused person, a change inspired, perhaps, by the incipient bond he forges with the dog and his efforts to do the right thing by her.
This film provides the viewer with insight into a social milieu with which most of us are entirely unfamiliar, that of refugees and their struggle to survive in American communities. Also, in a revelatory scene, into the Native American community; each group finds it difficult to understand the other’s “outsider” status. The film’s ending is influenced by a lesson an imam shares with Adan: A man was wandering in the desert and finally found water, but near the well, there was a thirsty dog. The man filled his shoe to give water to the dog before drinking some himself, and God granted the man heaven.
We spoke with the film’s writer/ director, Musa Syeed, and Ayla’s handler/ owner, Karen Radford, to find out more about what informs their work.
Bark: What inspired this film?
Musa Syeed: My wife found a stray dog shortly after we got married. We are both Muslim, and we were raised to believe that dogs are dirty—you can’t touch them and that kind of thing. Over the weeks we had the dog, I unexpectedly developed a relationship with her. She was a black Lab/ German Shepherd mix, and was such a happy puppy after my wife nursed her back to health. But we were moving to another state, so we decided to take her to the shelter. I had a connection with her, even though I had to give her up. I had this regret, and I started to look at this attitude toward dogs. It isn’t just a religious thing; there are lots of layers to it, and I wanted to make a film about that.
Bark: How did you come to incorporate the dog into the film, and as such an important character?
Musa: I wanted to write a story about a Muslim kid and a dog, like those typical classic American stories. We all grew up reading White Fang and those kinds of books, and I wanted to tell that story from a new perspective, reflecting the new America, in a way. I had that idea in the back of my mind. I also wanted to tell a story about the Minneapolis Somali community and the thematic connection between this community of refugees that’s trying to make a home for itself and a dog who also needs a home. For me, the interesting thing is how unlikely pairings such as these happen and how they find a way to connect, and to love each other in a way, despite the barriers between them. In this case, the question was, how can you love something you can’t touch? That was something I thought was an interesting challenge to show, and it is something that reflects this moment in America. There is a lot of division, and how we bridge it is what’s important to me.
Bark: How did you connect with Karen and her dog Ayla?
Musa: A local [Minneapolis] animal trainer, Debi Pool of Animal Talent Pool, has a catalog of 60 or 70 dogs, and she showed us pictures and some videos. I thought that when we did close-ups, people needed to see the dog’s eyes for that personal connection. Ayla has nice eyes, and her look was really great, her scruffy look; plus, she was the right size to fit into the bag!
Bark: Tell us more about Ayla.
Karen Radford: We adopted Ayla through Secondhand Hounds [Eden Prairie] about five years ago. She was found wandering in a ditch. We don’t know her exact mix, but we speculate Jack Russell and West Highland Terrier. True to her Terrier type, she’s excellent at hunting up vermin, and she still loves wandering in ditches. One of my hobbies is to train dogs for sports like agility and flyball. So although this is Ayla’s acting debut, she was very amenable to training.
Bark: Musa, could you tell us about directors or movies that have influenced your filmmaking?
Musa: There are neo-realism films that focus on a dog, especially Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D., about an older man and a dog, although in that story, he wanted to get rid of the dog so he could commit suicide. And then there was a 2008 American film, Wendy & Lucy, about a woman who has to give up a dog in order to save herself.
I was inspired by those films, but I think that oftentimes, it’s easy to be sentimental with dogs and to use them to manipulate audiences, to tug at their hearts. I deliberately didn’t push that too hard. In some films, the dog dies or goes through some brutality, and I also didn’t want this film to be about that. I know people will see that this film is about a refugee and a dog and think that something really devastating will happen, but it doesn’t go there. I wanted to tell a story that was more lighthearted and healing for the people watching it.
Bark: Even though we know little of the main characters’ backstories, they feel multidimensional. Was much of the filming off script, or improvised?
Musa: There was some of that. When I wrote the screenplay, there were certain things I thought were simple, things a dog would just do, like barking; I didn’t realize that it’s a skill that has to be trained. So a lot was understanding what we had to prepare Ayla for and, importantly, what she was up for doing. There was a scene where she was supposed to jump and run around and she didn’t feel like it at that moment, so we had to find a way to work around her. She can’t take direction from me. It was more about respecting where she was, and trying to shape scenes to where she wanted to be.
Bark: Karen, how did you go about training Ayla for more scripted scenes —for example, when she needed to jump into the bag?
Karen: We didn’t have much time between when we were selected and when we shot the film, so we worked on the basics. For the bag-jumping, she had breakfast in her bag every morning. I have another dog, and they would have a competition to see who got to be in the bag. We made that bag really rewarding. We practiced throwing a shirt over her, having different people pick her up, having her ride with someone in a wheelchair. The challenge was that we didn’t know what would happen from day to day, or where the scenes would be filmed, so we didn’t have a chance to visit beforehand. As Musa said, we just had to work with the challenge that dogs don’t generalize. Even if I had her do a behavior at home, that didn’t mean she would do it the same way in an apartment or in a park.
Bark: There’s a scene where Adan bathes Ayla in a bucket. Did you have to train specifically for that?
Karen: One of the challenges of that scene was that she wasn’t allowed to shake [the water coming off her is considered “unclean”]. I can’t take credit for actually teaching Ayla not to shake when wet. However, I taught her a rock solid “watch me,” which we used when she had to stand unattended in the bucket, and I taught Barkhad how to handle her when he was bathing her so she wouldn’t shake all over him. After the scene was done and Barkhad was out of range, Ayla was allowed to shake to her heart’s content.
Musa: Karen brought that bucket to the set. I have to commend her for being more than just the owner/ trainer. She helped with props and other things. It made the movie better —having someone on-set like that to collaborate was really great.
Bark: Tell us about the cultural divide over the concept of pet-keeping.
Musa: There are differences in opinion within Islamic law about the impurity of the dog, and that can often be exaggerated. It comes less from the religion itself than from cultural practices and not being exposed to dogs. Also, when immigrant families have to feed themselves, pet-keeping seems like a luxury. Besides religion, there’s a racial/cultural component. And then at the end, people have to realize that keeping the dog is harder for him than it is for other people, not just because of religion but also because of social and economic factors. So I hope that people see that there are layers to that choice, and appreciate it.
News: Guest Posts
Animals take center stage this holiday season
The upscale UK department store John Lewis has a history of emotional commercials that often feature animals. This year, animals once again take center stage, with Buster the Boxer (played by five-year old Biff) in the starring role.
Buster watches foxes, a squirrel, a badger, and a hedgehog bounce on the trampoline that was set up on Christmas Eve to surprise a little girl the next morning. He appears envious of the wildlife enjoying themselves while all he can do is watch through the window. When the back door is opened the next morning, the little girl runs joyfully toward her new gift, but Buster beats her to it. At last, he can have the bouncy fun he has been craving.
The advertisement cost a millions pounds to make, and the company will spend six million more airing the commercial. Naturally, they hope sales—including of the trampoline, the girl’s pajamas, books featuring woodland animals and plush versions of the animals in the ad—will make the commercial worth it.
For the socially conscious, it’s worth noting that this advertisement marks the first time that John Lewis has cast a black family. Additionally, the company will be donating a percentage of the money from all toy sales to Wildlife Trusts in the UK.
This is my favorite dog commercial so far this season. What’s yours?
News: Guest Posts
Francis the Poodle will be missed
Francis the Poodle and the woman known only as “Chef” entertained and informed over a million viewers on their YouTube show “Cooking With Dog”. The dog is an integral part of a show that has demonstrated how to make a variety of Japanese dishes as well as cuisine from other regions of the world since 2009.
The format of the show is that Chef cooks and Francis narrates. Chef speaks in Japanese, while Francis talks in English. The use of English by the dog was a conscious choice to enhance one goal of the show—introducing the cuisine of Japan to people elsewhere in the world. In addition to reaching many foreigners, the show has a large following in Japan.
Chef was chosen to be on the show due to her culinary skills, but there were two reasons that the creator/producer decided to include her Miniature Poodle as a co-star. 1) Chef had no background in television, and the creator/producer hoped that the presence of her dog would make her feel more relaxed, and 2) He hoped that Francis would increase the appeal of the show and make it stand out to viewers who have many options for cooking shows to watch.
Francis passed away last week at the age of 14 years and 9 months. He has many fans who, along with Chef, will miss him terribly.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Canine Synchronized Swimming Commercial
The Rio Olympics inspired a Farmer’s Insurance commercial featuring dogs enjoying a flooded home. The five dogs play in the water and perform a synchronized swimming routine.
In a related ad, the same water-filled home serves as the venue for a dog diving competition.
Seeing these commercials provides some compensation for the misery that comes from staying up way too late watching the Olympics every night!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Real dogs just as funny as movie versions
I was quick to roll my eyes and grumble that the makers of the film “The Secret Life of Pets” went for cheap laughs over more believable depictions of our pets. I had to eat my words, though, when I saw this ad showing dogs acting just like their movie counterparts. Some crazy things that I’ve never see in the real world include a dog turning on the music and then rocking out to it, and a Dachshund taking advantage of electric beaters to get a back massage.
In what way does your dog act like the dogs in the clip?
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