Every pet parent thinks that their pooch is the cutest ever, but, does your dog have what it takes? It takes a well-trained dog, plenty of patience and loads of luck. You won't get rich, but you'll have some fun with your dog, says Layla Flaherty.
As readers of K9 Magazine will know, I own a dog, a Yorkshire Terrier called Buttons who is 3 years old. I have almost 15 years working within the media and modelling industry as a paid published model but it was only recently Buttons got involved in my work and it’s been a great and fun way to spend time with my four-legged friend while working.
I am lucky to be able to combine my two passions - my love for dogs and modelling, and what better way than to run my own dog modelling agency.
Buttons is an absolute natural in front of the camera and certainly steals the limelight, but I'll admit he is a pampered pet and he certainly has his 'diva days' where he does what he wants and doesn’t respond to commands, making life as a dog model a little difficult. It is not easy, bear that in mind dogs are animals and will behave just like dogs do, but good training will ensure that a typical shoot goes to plan.
I find it always helps to bring along some of their favourite toys or treats as a reward for good behaviour and feel comfortable on-set, and the toys can help give you a little time to spend together in between shots having fun and keeping him happy and entertained, this will really help with your plan to make your pet successful because a loved pet will cooperate with you!
If you think your dog has what it takes to become a model, here are my top 10 tips to help you succeed.
1. Assess your dog's suitability, and your own!
Before you even embark on this journey, you'll need to be sure that your dog is capable. A well balanced dog is one that is not easily startled, shy and does not have aggressive tendencies. The world of TV, for example, is a busy, crowded and very noisy one. Your dog needs to be able to cope with all the sudden events that can occur in such an environment. Assess whether your dog is able to be taken to a variety of places and is tolerant of strangers but doesn't actively seek them out. Some dogs are naturally this way, while others may take a bit of socialisation work before they feel comfortable.
Be honest in your assessment of your dog's personality. If your dog is naturally uncomfortable with new things, encounters or situations, then visiting sets and getting thrown into unfamiliar situations will create a great deal of stress for him/her. It may result in her snapping, running away or even putting your dog or people at risk, so don't overlook any potential problems, however small. If it's not fun for your dog, don't do it – after all, that's what it's all about isn't it?
But of course, this isn't just about your dog! It's about you also.
Firstly, are you available to be called up at short notice to provide your dog's services for a film crew, casting call or fashion shoot?
Second, if you are allowed on set are you happy to spend hours hanging around a film set, potentially not doing much while your pet is working? Or will your dog respond to commands without you present? Would you be confident if asked to help another dog owner on set, handling a dog you've never met before? You'll need to be able to keep your dog happy during such a time too.
Some other factors to consider - are you willing to set aside money, time and resources to do this?
There will be costs involved, including canine equipment, obedience lessons, quality food and transportation. And last but not least, are you absolutely clear that this is usually not a pathway to riches? If you are in this for the money then this may not be the right career choice.
2. Make sure your dog is well trained
Your dog needs to be well-trained. No photographer is going to put up with a dog chewing a jacket and peeing on a bed. Photographers are there to do a job. Having to deal with a dog that barks at every person who enters the room or won't sit still can be enough to drive them crazy because everything and everyone has a schedule to run to.
Having a properly mannered dog can go a long way to putting you and your dog on good terms with photographers. Your dog needs to be able to hold a 'sit down' and respond to basic commands. If you really want to get good at dog modelling, train your dog to do very specific commands. These will come in handy when a photographer is working to get just the right look. Some obedience schools offer modelling classes, and while these aren't required, it is a great way to learn what the professional dog’s learn. The more they're able to respond to tricks and signals, the better off you are.
Some types of training which can be fun and useful to learn to set your dog apart from the crowd include: agility, obedience, conformation, or anything that interests you and your dog, provided that it results in a well-trained dog who exhibits good behaviour at all times.
Whichever style of training you choose, do it consistently, regularly, and in as many places as possible to ensure your dog responds reliably. On leash, off leash, in different settings and with distractions. Concentrate on ensuring that your dog responds really well to commands and cues. Your dog’s ability to listen, respond, and perform on-the-spot is what counts on set.
3. Socialisation is key
Socialisation is not just about your dog getting along with fellow dogs as taught in basic obedience classes. A 'talent dog' needs to be comfortable with (and absolutely unfazed by) different environments, places, noises, surfaces, lights, movements, people, including children, other animals which may include cats, and just about anything out of the ordinary.
Take time to familiarise your dog to as many different situations and environments as possible for proper socialisation.
Try to make all new encounters fun for your dog. You can do this by always having healthy treats ready and by playing games. This can reduce fear and anxiety, as can continuing to talk to your dog calmly and reassuringly through any new situation. Once your dog is aware that you make new situations less fearful, then your dog will trust you to keep doing this.
4. Check for physical limitations
Out-of-shape or overweight dogs are probably not ideal for film or TV work. Like people, long hours can be demanding on an unfit body; additionally, your dog may be lethargic or potentially disinterested if their body is dealing with a condition or illness.
In terms of appearance, dogs of neutral colors are generally the best for TV filming. White or black dogs require special lighting to show properly and producers are likely to consider this if they're filming on a specific location or setting where they might find it hard to balance a dog's coat colour with the overall scene.
However, the choice will depend on what is being filmed and where, and what the brief includes – so don't discount your dog's potential star quality if they have a talent to set them apart.
5. Keeping your dog's health in check
Ensure that your dog has had all necessary vaccinations, flea and worming treatments and that these are up to date and supportable with certificates where applicable. Always maintain a healthy diet for your dog to keep its coat in shiny and in good condition, weight under control and a happy 'glow' of a dog who's well-being is paramount. Without being aware of it, every time you handle your pet you are assessing its health status. A healthy animal is alert, ready to exercise, constantly observing. If in doubt, always consult your local vet for advice.
6. The importance of head shots
Good head shots are actually how you get into modelling, whether you're a human or a dog! Agents will put together books of head shots for clients. The clients simply go through the book and find the dog they want. They agent calls you up and you're in business.
Alternatively shots of your dog do not need to be done by a professional photographer, action pictures or still pictures can be just as effective taken at home from your phone with a high pixel count.
As long as the dog’s personality, colourings and size shine through. Bear in mind your dog's portfolio is the first impression that agencies get. This is crucial to your dog's success and can make or break your dog's career. Be creative and professional with it. Throw some individuality into it and make it pop!
7. Keep your dog well groomed at all times
You never know when you might be called up so always keep your dog’s coat well groomed and presentable in case of a last minute casting call. If you decide to change your dogs colour/style always consult with your agent first as they may have a few similar breeds with a similar coat and therefore may affect the amount of work your dog then gets.
Always remember your dog was accepted onto the agency books due to his original look. The use of dog costumes can also make your dog stand out from the crowd and also make him or her look very cute playing a character. Not all dogs like to wear clothes so never make your dog do something it is uncomfortable with.
8. Be patient
Just because you have your dog's head shot doesn't mean the phone will start ringing the instant you register with an agency. It can take months before you may get your first call. You may never get a call. And if you do get a call, just have fun. So enjoy it while it lasts!
9. The right dog for the job
Has your pet a quirky feature, a certain look or a rare breed that will make it stand out in the crowd? A security company probably wants a strong looking dog like a German Shepherd or a Doberman Pinscher for its advertising campaign, whereas a luxury car company might cast a Poodle because that type of dog looks expensive and luxurious.
10. The most important piece of advice?
The most important detail of all - remember that your pet dog is a winner no matter what. They will always be the prettiest pooch and you should spoil them anyway.