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You Can Teach An Old Dog
To prepare for the extensive on-camera action required of his canine charges, Forbes and his team of trainers began working with the "hero” dogs 16 weeks prior to the start of production. For the "green” hero dogs – rescues with no prior training – the process was broken down into four-week phases. In the first phase, the dogs were taught basic commands such as "sit” and "lie down,” as well as how to hit a mark with front feet on a big block. The second phase focused on more sophisticated commands like retrieving, waving and finding ways to pull behavioral traits out of the individual dogs to create a performance.

"The way a dog rolled on his back with his paws in the air might suggest laughter,” says Clark. "Or a dog might have body language that expresses sadness, like tucking its tail between its legs with his shoulders and ears down. The second level of training was finding these behaviors and defining how they establish the character.”

The last phase was to take the dogs into various public places to train and review the commands. "At this stage in the training, the dogs were taken to shopping malls, parks and other public arenas, because there was no other way to recreate the atmosphere of a movie set.” notes Forbes. "You want the dogs to sense that everything is fine and they'll still get their treat regardless of the location. The set becomes just another place for them to go.”

When basic training was complete, Forbes' team focused on the specific actions required of each dog. "It takes quite a bit of organization just to figure out how to get each dog to do what he's supposed to do,” he explains. "We have to take the script and turn it into dog language. Then we can slowly train the dogs so they understand what they're supposed to do. Each scene becomes all about how many shots it will take to create it and each dog is reminded of what it has to do right before the shot, because they can't possibly remember it the next day.”

Another important part of the training included working with the actors to familiarize them with how the dogs behave and create a comfort level between the human and the dog actors. "A lot of times, the training with the actors is more for the actors than for the dogs, because it teaches them to relate to whoever they're working with in the scene,” Forbes explains.

"Working with the actors before the shoot also helps familiarize them with what goes into training and working an animal on set,” Forbes continues. "The actor may have to give the dog a treat a few times, or there may be a trainer right off his or her eye line who's jumping up and down and waving to the dog, so it can be a little distracting.”

"We wanted to give the actors and dogs an opportunity to develop a relationship and it's been wonderful to see,” says producer Clark. "These dogs have become these kids' dogs and when the camera cuts, you can see that they're deeply in love with these animals. They became a family and you'll be able to see that close relationship in the film.”

The experience was an eye-opener for Roberts, who had never shared the screen with a four-legged co-star. "Working with all the dogs definitely takes a lot more patience than you'd think, because even if we do it right, if the dog wasn't right, then the take was bad. Sometimes the dog will do the scene perfectly and other times they'll just start wandering around. You forget sometimes and have to remind yourself that they're dogs and can't do exactly what you ask them to do every time.”

"On a normal set, there is a lot of quiet when actors are working, but when there are dogs present, the trainers are doing everything including shouting, jumping up and down or whistling, and that is distracting for any actor,” says Clark. "Emma and Jake and all our actors did an amazing job at acclimat

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