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Hollywood films often feature animals in big or small roles and dogs are certainly no exception to this, so much so that there are many different story tropes involving dogs!
Some movies use computer animation to create CG dogs in animation or live-action, which is itself an interesting topic to discuss. However, what we are here to talk about today is when film makers choose to use real dog actors on set alongside their human counterparts.
Famous Dog Actors
Here are some famous dog actors you may have seen before.
Terry the Cairn Terrier
Terry is perhaps the most famous dog actor, known for playing the role of Toto in The Wizard of Oz (1939). That movie is certainly the one that cemented Terry’s fame and she was well compensated for her part as well, earning a whopping $125 a week (roughly $2400 in 2021) which was more than some of the human actors in the film.
Terry appeared in a total of 23 films over the course of her career.
Jed the Wolfdog
Another famous dog actor is Jed. He was only ever in four movies including White Fang (1991), White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf (1994), and the Journey of Natty Gann (1985).
But the movie that most people will probably recognize him from, especially if you are a horror movie fan, is John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) where he played the role of an alien monster disguised as a dog.
Pal the Collie
Pal was originally hired as a stunt dog for a low-budget movie called Lassie. But as the stories say, after an exceptional performance of a stunt, the director and studio were so impressed by Pal that they replaced the original dog actor with Pal, reshot everything they had already filmed up to that point, and gave the movie a bigger budget and marketing push.
Over the course of his career, Pal starred in numerous Lassie films, television programs, and even radio shows!
One Dog, Two Dogs, Red Dog… Another Red Dog?
Often times dogs are required to do a bunch of different things for roles in movie. Other times where multiple dog actors are used are movies that cover many stages of a dog’s life.
One trick film makers use in some scenarios is to use multiple similar looking dogs for the same part! It can be much easier to teach 5 dogs 1 specific trick for a scene than to teach 1 dog all 5 tricks at once.
Movies that show the same dog at various stages of life use dogs of different ages that look close enough to each other to portray the character at those various stages. The movie Marley & Me (2008) used 22 different dogs to portray Marley!
Sit, Stay, Stunts
Some dogs really are doing their own stunts.
As we mentioned, lots of movie require different tricks to be performed by dogs. But did you know that some movies even have dogs performing stunts?
Some dogs are trained to do crazy tricks like jumping across gaps, swimming, or even climbing walls alongside stunts performed by human stunt workers. These stunt dogs work hard and perform incredible stunts that really showcase how incredibly agile and strong dogs can be.
A good movie that really showcases some of the crazy things dogs can do is John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019). All throughout the film the dogs do everything from jumping and climbing up walls all the way down to sitting nicely while the human actors have a dialogue scene, a suprisingly difficult thing for some dogs to do!
Here is a really cool behind the scenes feature about the actors and film makers working with all of the dogs used in the movie. Halle Berry and Keanu Reeves spent weeks and weeks worth of time training for this movie and Halle spent an incredible amount of time working with the dogs!
Please note: This BTS video is about an R-Rated action movie, so it does contain some footage that depicts fictionalized violence from the movie.
“No Animals Were Harmed”
How you can be sure the animals were well taken care of on set.
Back in the very early days of movie making, there was little to no oversight or regulation when it came to handling animals and keeping them safe. That lead to some very very unfortunate accidents involving animals and humans on set.
Due to these accidents the American Humane Association began working diligently to create guidelines and help enact and enforce them in Hollywood. They have very detailed guidelines for working with not only dogs but pretty much any type of animal you can think of. All of these guidelines can be found on their website if you are curious as to what they cover.
Nowadays you can see their “No Animals Were Harmed” tag during the end credits of any film certified by the American Humane Association letting you know that all the animals working on that movie were kept safe and treated correctly.
And there we have it!
Did you learn something new?
Now you can go into your next movie ready to share some fun dog actor trivia with your friends and family. From dogs earning more money acting than their human co-stars to the insane levels of training some stunt dogs go through, you’re sure to have something new to share.
Throughout the years there have been many movies featuring dogs and will assuredly be many more in the future. So, we want to know, what is your favorite dog performance in a movie? Let us know down in the comments!
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