Wrangler Bonnie Judd used all the tricks in the book to get tail-wagging performances out of the four-legged cast of the kid-friendly ‘Good Boy!’

October 05, 2003|Susan King | LA Times Writer Working Hollywood Column

Animal coordinator and trainer Bonnie Judd — “wrangler,” in movie parlance — fell in love with fur balls before she could walk. In fact, “I learned to walk by hanging on to my dad’s old spaniel,” she says. “I held on to its collar and my diaper and I learned to walk. My mom said it never ended because from there, they were basically doused with animals at every turn.”

Judd’s Vancouver-based Canine Co-Stars of Canada put through their paces the pooches in the new MGM family film “Good Boy!” Written and directed by John Hoffman, “Good Boy!,” which opens Friday, tells of a border terrier named Hubble who arrives on Earth in his spaceship from the Dog Star, Sirius, to discover whether the rumors are true that dogs have failed to take over the planet. The four-legged cast also consists of a Bernese Mountain Dog named Shep, an Italian greyhound called Nelly, a boxer known as Wilson, a poodle named Barbara Ann and a Great Dane called the Greater Dane.

The dogs steal the show from such two-legged co-stars as Kevin Nealon and Molly Shannon as they do yoga, bow, eat at a table and act as if they have inhaled too much laughing gas.

Judd, who also breeds German shepherds, doesn’t just specialize in dogs. She also works with other species such as zebras and monkeys. Her other movie and TV work includes “Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch,” “Cats & Dogs,” “The Outer Limits” and “The X-Files.”

She’s working on a family movie in Montreal titled “Bailey,” which stars a golden retriever and a border collie.

Judd recently chatted via phone from Montreal — with 10 dogs yapping in the background — about her love for animals and her work on “Good Dog!”

Do you use hand or vocal signals when you cue a dog to do a trick?

We do whatever works. It depends on the dog, and it depends on how much prep time we have. If we have enough prep time, we can use a hand signal and not have to say anything. But the problem with the movie industry is that everything is rush, rush, rush. So even if you got the prep work in advance, you still have to prep the dog at the time of the shot. You want to sort of rehearse it, two or three times.

Are some breeds harder to train?

It depends on what you are training them to do. It’s sort of breed specific. If I am training a terrier to dig, that’s a no-brainer because they just dig. If I am teaching a German shepherd or a border collie to herd, it’s a no-brainer. But getting them to do something different that’s against their instincts can be more trying.

But overall, what I really want to say is that you can train a dog to do anything if it’s raised up right. It doesn’t matter what breed it is. People tell me, “My dog is really stupid,” and it’s not usually the dog that is really stupid, it’s the ability of the person who owns it to understand the dog and get what they want out of it. They don’t spend the time they need to put into the dog. If it’s just in the backyard, it’s not been socialized.

The owners of [the border terriers used in “Good Boy!”] raised those dogs like they were part of their family and they took them everywhere. They did the hardest part of everything I had to do and that is socializing them and raising up well-adjusted, outgoing dogs not afraid of brooms, not afraid of umbrellas, not afraid of slippery floors or large crowds. These people brought those dogs up as dogs that were ready to imprint with great training.

Where do you find the dogs you use?

I have a Web site and a lot of people e-mail me. It seems everybody who e-mails me or phones me says, “Everybody thinks my dog should be a star.” It’s very few of those dogs that end up to be really great dogs. Most people who phone me up say, “My dog can do this and do that and he’s amazingly smart”; that isn’t what I need in the movie industry. What I need is very stable, sound, outgoing, not afraid of anything. I have had timid dogs, but it is just like another hurdle I have to work around.

How did you work with director John Hoffman picking dogs for “Good Boy!”

He knew exactly what he wanted. He looked at some of the dogs [on the Web site] and we talked about the dogs that he looked at and he told me why he liked them. I started to go through dogs I had used before, seen before and met before and then I would e-mail him pictures, and if he liked them, I sent him better pictures.

Then I would send him videos of six dogs out of each breed. After he got the videos, we got the dogs down to three that he liked and then we would do an actual cattle call where he would fly from L.A. into Vancouver and he would look at the top three picks.

Once the dogs are cast, what type of training do you put them through?

Some dogs had different problems. The Italian greyhound was very timid because that is just the breed. They don’t like to be picked up or grabbed. After I had the basics on them — they could hit a mark, they look left and right, can put their head down and move slow — then I selected trainers who would be the best personality-wise as to that particular animal.

In one scene in “Good Boy!” Hubble walks past each dog and they bow. How was that accomplished?

On the bow, what is happening is the dogs are left on a sit-stay because the scene starts out as they are sitting, then they stand and then they bow. So all the trainers go behind the camera, and as dog walks by, I walk along with the camera and then I tell each dog to bow. I spent a lot of time working with them first.

Some trainers keep animals away from actors and crew when cameras aren’t rolling. What do you do?

People probably think I’m nutty, but I kind of believe that most of the cast comes to these shows — usually animal shows are lower budget — because they are really animal lovers. The crews that I worked with are so awesome because truly by the end of the show they love the dogs. I have had people crying on the last day of filming, coming up and hugging and kissing the dogs because they have such a close relationship.

What I say is if I am looking at the dogs and talking to them and it’s obvious that I am working with them, please don’t bother me. But if I am standing around talking and the dog is just cruising around, by all means come over. I really try to spend time with people who do want to meet the animals.

You probably own a lot of dogs.

I own so many dogs. They sleep with us. They are with us [all the time]. It’s the equivalent of a Seeing Eye dog. You are with them all the time, and they are such a huge part of your life. If you are not with them, it’s like you didn’t put your wedding ring on when you went out.