Dog Commercials Q&A
The first time I saw my friend Sam's dog Red debut on national TV in a commercial, I screamed and made my hubs come watch. I figured it'd be fun to learn more about how they got into the world of dog commercials by doing a Q&A. My fav part of the TV spot? Red lying on a dog bed with one leg in the air. Ha! Scroll to the bottom to see the dog commercial in full.
Sam kindly agreed to answer a few questions about Red's work in dog commercials.
Tell me about Red (age, breed mix, sports successes, etc.).
Red is a 6 year old Cattle Dog mix. Originally from Mississippi, Red entertained by himself getting into chicken coops, so he was sent north, thanks to rescue partnerships, for a chance at a less mischievous, less rural life. Red is trained in many dog sports, including obedience, agility, rally, and dock diving. Obedience and rally are his main gigs. He also loves to hike and swim.
How did you get into this type of work in dog commercials? How much work has he done (print, digital, TV ads, etc.)?
Red's VERY first time in front of the cameras was in 2019, when ESPN partnered with the American Kennel Club for "ESPN Dog Day." We were involved in this project thanks to our dog acting instructor, who is an experienced handler with amazing dogs - a guru of all things dogs-and-commercials.
Before Red landed any further jobs, he was listed with an animal talent agency who had information about his height, weight, and markings, as well as behaviors he is able to reliably perform. The initial ESPN experience was actually quite convenient for Red's "career" because it meant I, as Red's handler, was able to let his agent know that he was already comfortable with cameras and had some experience on set.
Red worked on four jobs in 2021. Jobs are generally pitched as still shots only, video, or a combination thereof. He's done all three. Where they wind up (print, TV, social media) varies.
How did you get this particular dog commercial gig? Did you have to compete for the role? If so, how?
When an agency is contacted about a possible job, they may get asked for a particular breed, size or color of dog, etc. The handlers are not really a part of that process other than letting their agency know whether they're available. Sometimes your dog is chosen for the role; sometimes somebody else's dog is. This time, Red's appearance must have fit just what they were looking for -- or maybe they were just blown away by his cuteness. Ha!
Different projects require different behaviors -- so the types of behaviors needed for this job aligned with what Red is able to reliably do. There are some jobs I've had to submit specific video auditions for.
Do you think it helps that you’re near NYC?
Sort of! Red's agent, All Creatures Great and Small, does a lot of work in the NYC area. There are agencies based in other large cities, too. I'd imagine it's harder for people who are far from big cities, but as I understand it, jobs pop up everywhere in the country. If you are willing to travel... even better.
How long did it take to shoot?
The Farmer's Dog commercial took two days to shoot. This included time spent on several shots that Red was not a part of. There is always lots of down time on set for dogs to nap, take walks, and munch on bully sticks.
Which of the tricks / behaviors did you have to teach on the spot, if any? Or did they tell you advance what they needed so that you could teach it beforehand? Or maybe they had a trainer onsite who trained / handled him? I don’t know. You tell me.
I was the one giving Red most of the direction from behind the camera, with some help from our agent. An American Humane Association representative was also on site to ensure the well-being of the animals working.
Some shots were fairly straightforward and set in stone -- Red pulling on the leash, lying in a bed, looking up expectantly at the dinner table, or eating from a bowl, for example.
There were other instances where a shot was planned but was changed during the course of the shoot. There is an element of fluidity in these situations -- something might catch the attention of the client/production crew and get used in place of the initial idea. Red putting his paws up on the counter while his food is prepared, for example, was not explicitly scripted, but once we tried it, it was a hit!
The most important concrete behaviors for this shoot were a WATCH ME (maintaining dog's gaze in the direction needed) and STAY (including Red being malleable enough to stay put in different positions, like the dog bed scene). Keep in mind the dog must maintain these behaviors/positions while people and equipment are moving around, sometimes in very close proximity to them.
Also keep in mind that multiple takes are filmed of most scenes, so dogs must be comfortable doing the same behaviors many times.
Skills we've used on other sets include:
- ON YOUR BELLY/ROLL OVER
Here's Red's big commercial debut!!
Years ago, I had the opportunity to review this food. We even tried it as a topper for what our dogs actually eat for a while, but I decided not to write / post a review once I figured out that it would cost more per week to feed Clover and Tori (we didn't have Mr. Stix yet) than I spend on human groceries for the 2 of us.
Still, I thought it would be fun to share a brag about Sam and Red, especially when dog commercials often play such a big role in the Super Bowl, which is coming up soon.
Tiny Bit of Backstory, if you're still reading ;o)
Sam and I first met through our blogs back when she was still in high school. We connected a few times in person (when I took work trips to NYC or she came to Colorado). We've been pals through her college years and graduate school and now into her professional life. It's kind of a hoot. Once, I got to meet her her dog Marge, after both a ferry and subway ride. In her career, Marge earned 2 MACHs in agility and a RACH in rally. Go, Marge, Go! I also got to meet Sam's mom, who felt like a sister with all of us coming from families of Italian descent. I'm pretty much old enough to be her Mom. Ha!
On another NYC trip in 2014, Sam even took me to Times Square in the rain! If memory serves, we had a LONG discussion about *maybe adopting Red the last time I visited Brooklyn for a work thing in 2016.