Do you have an adorable pet that is cuter than any other you see in commercials or advertisements? And you are thinking that your precious pet should be a star?
There is so much to know about pet stardom, and this is the topic of my column today. And yes, I actually do have personal experience in this field. In 1980, I made a trip to New York City with my first Wheaten Cairn Terrier, Casey, and auditioned with a pet talent agent there. My friend, Cheryl, accompanied me with her gorgeous silver Standard Poodle, Gypsy. The agent ran us through many obedience exercises such as ‘stay’ and ‘come.’ I remember him saying that the dogs had to hold something unusual in their mouths, and he gave me a box of nails. Casey held the box obediently, without hesitation! At the conclusion of our audition, the agent said my Cairn Terrier would be his first choice because the poodle would not photograph well. Years later, I did get a call to do a photo shoot for, gasp, cigarettes! The ad was canceled at the last minute. That’s show biz.
My Wheaten Cairn Terrier, Whitney, modeled in a national pet catalog. A group of people I knew were invited to participate in this gig. I was discouraged from going, told that this was a serious event where dogs had to behave and that the photographer would not tolerate otherwise. I would not be deterred and went along with the group. Dogs, dogs, everywhere. Barking, pulling, whining, pacing. When it was our turn, I placed Whitney on the pillow and asked her to stay. Lights, cameras, action! Whitney was totally in her element and proudly struck all poses required. The photographer loved her. Funny, as it turned out, Whitney was one of the best behaved dogs there. And yes, I still have that catalog and treasure it.
My friend Amy Eckert from Pottsville has had much experience with her pets in the TV industry. If you watch “Dogs 101” on Animal Planet, you will see their logo is two dogs sitting side-by-side. Amy’s dogs! How cool is that? And her former gorgeous long-haired German Shepherd, Shayna, was featured in the German Shepherd episode. Shayna also had a large role when they featured a show about Presidential dogs. And Amy’s former wonderful pit bull, Thanos, (Mr. T), starred in the play “Oliver” after being chosen from a large audition at the Wyoming Seminary School in Kingston.
Does your pet have star power?
Personality. Animals with outgoing personalities are a necessity in the industry. After all, a dog that’s cowering behind his owner’s legs or a cat that leaps to the highest point in the room makes for a frustrating photo shoot for everyone involved. Having the right temperament is rarer in cats, so finding a kitty that’s an extrovert is especially valuable. As in the example of Grumpy Cat.
Extensive training. It is mostly about the training. People should explore every training option they can find in their area: obedience, agility, therapy, signal, even scent work. Training is vital because it increases a dog’s vocabulary, and makes him easier to work with. It’s not necessarily amazing tricks that matter. For instance, a dog that can execute a long sit-and-stay command is a huge plus. If you have a cat? There’s even cat agility training classes these days. But if you can’t find a training course near you, don’t despair. Do some work on your own. And, if you find the right cat personality, you can do most things that you can do with most dogs.
Getting out and about
Familiarity with environments and people. Even the most intense training and the most outgoing animal in the world can find the lights, the people and the demands of a film set overwhelming if they have only ever had interactions typical of house pets. Instead, many animals, if they’re exposed frequently enough to large crowds and diverse settings, can overcome any natural shyness on set. Their comfort level is important because it impacts their behavior when being filmed. If they are stressed out, they will not perform well.
Get their good side
Looks. Appearance is sometimes last of what is important in breaking into show business. But having a set of good photos of your pet is vital to passing through pet auditions and being chosen as the starring pup or cat. It’s especially important to have a full body shot so the animal’s coloring and coat quality is clear. Without a fairly professional-quality image, many animals get overlooked even with training. It is a very competitive market. One animal with a disadvantage in the looks department: an animal with all-black fur, especially around the face. The dark fur makes lighting difficult. It’s not impossible. It can be beautiful when done correctly. But it takes more work and more time, which means a lot of casting agents will bypass dark-colored animals.
Hard (but fun!) work
Breaking into the industry can be difficult. Travel is required, the pay is not what one might expect, you must often be ready to go unexpectedly, and it is a hurry up and wait game. The finished product that you see might be glamorous, but the time and effort put into it is not.
Making it through pet auditions to score a role in a film or become one of the lucky pets in commercials is hard work for pet parents and their furry friends. But the work can be worth it, especially in those moments when dogs and cats are truly having fun on set. When the pet is having fun, it is evident in their performance. The handler should always use positive reinforcement for desired results.
Not sure if your pet has what it takes to cope with millions of adoring fans? Start with something small. There are hundreds of pets finding celebrity online through videos posted on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. If your dog or cat has a special talent, take out your phone and start filming. If you get good reactions from friends and family members, they will share it with their connections. Soon your pet could have more followers than you ever could, and the more followers they have, the more likely they are to get noticed. Plus, it’s a fun bonding experience for the two of you. Your pet likely wants to please you, and they will be happy with all the joy and praise you give them.
Remember your pet’s feelings
Check their emotions and temperament. Sometimes, when you have a dream for your pet’s stardom, it can be easy to get caught up in it all and forget about your pet’s wants and needs. Never force your dog or cat to do something they do not want to do. This can cause stress, illness and injury to your pet if they are reluctant to participate. Always remember that your pet wants to make you happy, so you should want to make them happy.
If you see that they aren’t acting like they used to, there is a chance that they aren’t enjoying the fame as much as you are, and maybe it’s time to let them go back to just being a pet.
Resource: Kara Murphy/Hill’s Pet
Judy Endo is the author of Paws-itive Pet Tales. A lifelong resident of the Wilkes-Barre area, she has been a professional dog trainer/competitor as well as a lifetime animal lover and strong supporter of animal rescue. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org