Bonnie Judd from Vancouver front page

Photograph by Ian Smith

Vancouver Sun article by Nicholas Read

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Here’s one for the record books. The most popular ad during Sunday’s Super Bowl telecast, that most American of American spectacles, was filmed by a Canadian crew in North Vancouver and starred a couple of dogs trained in Aldergrove.

Fergus and Piper, the four-legged stars of a Bud Light ad that topped a USA Today electronic poll of the best Super Bowl commercials of 2004 are in fact Scrabble and Hannah, two B.C. – born and bred dogs trained by Bonnie Judd, owner of Canine Co-Stars of Canada. And Judd is just… well, now that’s she’s been made to understand what a big deal the Super Bowl is… she’s , um, kind of pleased about it. “Leslie [Judd’s assistant] was beaming from ear to ear when she heard; she was really excited about it,’ Judd said in an interview Monday. “So I thought, “That’s nice.”‘

Then, when she started to get more calls from people congratulating her – including a crew from the U. S. infotainment series Inside Edition, who flew to Aldergrove Monday to interview her – she started to get a better idea of why people are so thrilled. But even so, she admits, “It’s baffling me still.”

Just how big a deal is it? Colossal. CBS, the network that broadcast the game in the U. S., charged advertisers $2.3 million US for only 30 seconds of air time. But the stakes are gigantic. The TV audience for the Super Bowl is usually one of the biggest – if not the biggest – of the year, and the commercials are scrutinized like exam papers. Often, they’re more popular than the game itself.

You’d think, given all that Judd at least would have seen the ad. Nope.

In a way, that’s not surprising, given that when the Super Bowl is broadcast in Canada, it’s broadcast with Canadian, not American, commercials. If Canadians do get to see the U.S. ads, it’s usually part of a news broadcast highlighting the best and most creative of them.

But that wasn’t clear to Judd until Monday. Leslie Williams, her assistant and not much of a sports fan either, said she thought the reason they couldn’t see it was “because we couldn’t sit through that much football.”

To be fair, Judd did at least go to a friend’s house on Sunday where the TV was turned on. “But mainly we just played with our dogs,” she said.

Filmed near a caretaker’s cabin at a park in North Vancouver, the ad begins with two guys and their dogs meeting up outside the cabin. One man is a yuppie type – purposely affected and obnoxious – with a purebred border collie, Hannah (aka Piper). The other is a rough-hewn mountain guy with a scruffy terrier type, Scrabble (aka Fergus). It’s immediately clear whom you’re supposed to prefer.

The uppie shows off his dog’s considerable training by getting it to run to a nearby cooler, open it and bring back a bottle of Bud Light.

“Such a good dog,” he says adoringly.

Then he asks, rather sneeringly, “So, what can your dog do?”

To which the mountain man replies: “Fergus, Bud Light.”

Scrabble – er, Fergus – then bites the first man’s crotch, causing him to let go of the bottle and send it flying into the hands of Fergus’s owner.

“Bad dog,” he boasts.

Not exactly high art, but enough to win the praise f the 136 volunteers asked by the newspaper, USA Today, to score their favourite ad of the afternoon.

The ad was created by Downtown Partners, a Toronto ad agency, and filmed by an all-Vancouver cast and crew last November for Anheuser-Busch, the U.S. brewer of Bud Light.

It also wasn’t Judd’s first brush with fame. She has been training dogs to appear on TV and in the movies for the past 15 years. Included among her credits are episodes of the X-Files, Millennium, The Outer Limits and two teen series called Skate and Sausage Factor, as well as several feature films including last year’s Good Boy, and four of the five Air Bud movies.

She has a staff of 10 trainers working with her on her acreage near Aldergrove, and her on-call list of available dogs has grown to about 350.

Her secret to getting them to do what they do is not really a secret at all, she says. “I encourage the. Once you understand how they think, and you start to think like them, it’s easy. The only way they can do better is if you ask them to try and achieve something.”

Judd taught Hannah to open a cooler and grab a beer as a result of a casual challenge. “Somebody was at my house and said: ” I bet you can’t reach that dog to open the fridge and get a beer.’ I said I could do it in three minutes.”

Judd’s greatest reward would be if, when people saw dogs like Scrabble and Hannah performing in ads like the Bud Light spot, it would encourage them to spend more time with their own dogs. “If it encourages people to do stuff and spend time with their animals, I’m really excited.”

Her only regret is that neither Scrabble nor Hannah is a rescued dog. Then, Judd said, the story would be that much better.

And as far as watching next year’s Super Bowl is concerned, she’s not sure. “it depends on whether I’m doing a commercial again. In all honesty, I’d just as soon be out playing with my dogs. “