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Four-Legged Actors
Dogs of the Film

The true leads of A Dog's Purpose are the four canines that bring the soul of Bailey to life. The Retriever TRIP is the original Bailey, the German Shepherd SHADOW plays Ellie, MAILO the Corgi plays Tino and the mixed St. Bernard and Australian Shepherd BOLT plays Buddy.

Given that the dogs had to do specific actions in the script, Hallstrom left it to lead animal trainer MARK FORBES to select the breeds.

Finding the dogs-as well as doubles and puppies of the breeds-was quite the journey. Forbes started on the Internet locating rescues, shelters and breeders and after a month or so had enough candidates for the parts.

Forbes searched all over the country to find the perfect dog to play Bailey. The trainer clarifies: "Once it was decided that Bailey would be a Red Retriever, we looked all over the country for one who had both the temperament to be trained and a special look that showed some great character. We finally got lucky and found and acquired Trip from a Gun-dog Breeder in Arkansas."

"I had to wing it with the dogs sometimes but every now and then I was able to impose a performance on the dogs and make it work for how I saw the scene," says Hallstrom. "The true credit for that goes to Mark Forbes and his team; they were truly remarkable on what they could get the dogs to do."

To find the canine to play Ellie, Forbes explains: "Ellie was played by a German Shepherd named Shadow. We found Shadow through an ad in the paper in Orlando Florida."

Ortiz reflects on acting with Shadow, "Working with a dog taught me so much; it forced me to stay in the moment, and allow things to happen beyond my control."

Forbes lauds over the rags-to-riches story for the dog he found to play Tino, "Tino is played by a wonderful little Corgi named Mailo. Mailo came to us through a Craigslist listing from a gentleman in Los Angeles who could no longer keep him because of his living arrangements. So, we adopted him and turned him into a movie star."

Howell-Baptiste shares her favorite day on set: "Those corgi puppies are the most adorable animals I have ever seen. There were four on set, and I fell in love with all of them."

But it is the dog that plays Buddy that has the most interesting backstory. "We rescued Bolt from a Dog Zoo in Japan where an Australian Shepherd had jumped his fence and spent the night in the next pen with a female St. Bernard. A short time later, there was a litter of mixed Australian Shepherd and St. Bernard puppies that the zoo did not want. We took in little Bolt, as well as his brother Lewis and his sister Hena," says Forbes.

For Forbes, it was an interesting challenge-maybe the most interesting of a long career training animals-to have four dogs convey the soul of one animal. "Four completely trained breeds to play this one soul was an interesting challenge," says Forbes. "There was a script which was based on a book, so we had some guidelines as to the look of the dog. Once we found the look of the various dogs, the second most important thing was the temperament of the dog. Is it trainable?"

Since a dog was present in almost every scene, Forbes' team was on set nearly every moment of shooting. "A movie set is controlled chaos, so we have to get the dogs used to the environment. We took them to different locations: a park, a shopping mall and anything with people and equipment. We then spent the first eight weeks just working on the basics with the dogs. After that, we started rehearsing specific actions that were called for in the script."

The key element for the trainers was to build absolute trust with the dogs. When complete trust is established, their bond with the trainer tells them they are always going to be safe.

Forbes notes, "Lasse absolutely understood the parameters we are faced with and when he first met the dogs to see what they could do, you could see the wheels in his brain working on how to adapt the script."

"This production was totally unique," says Forbes. "Lasse would literally let the dogs improvise if it was within the parameters of what we wanted from the scene. Normally, dogs and improvisation do not go together, but we learned not to go rushing in if the dogs were not doing exactly what we planned because Lasse might like what the dog was doing differently."

Hallstrom discovered that Trip actually had his own instincts for acting, he explains: "It sounds crazy, but Trip did things that were unexpected for both the trainers and me but like a good actor, his choices worked."

Robertson echoes the praise for Trip: "KJ and I were constantly fighting over Trip. He is truly the most special dog in the world; do not tell Buddy and Clyde."

Gheisar adds, "Trip is such a loving dog. He does not lick too much, and he cuddles. He is exactly what I would like in a dog."


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