Behind the scenes with animal actors

Behind the scenes with animal actors

You love your pooch very much – but she’s no Lassie.

If, in fact, you pulled a Timmy and fell into a well, you’re sure your dog would probably go chase butterflies. She couldn’t find help if it was attached to a bone; seriously, there are days when she doesn’t even come when she’s called.

Maybe the problem is that you just haven’t found what motivates her. In the new book “Animal Stars” by Robin Ganzert, PhD and Allen & Linda Anderson, you’ll read about Hollywood critters, trainers, and how you can teach old dogs new tricks.

When watching modern Hollywood fare, you might think that wild action scenes with animals are somehow computer generated or edited. It’s safer that way, right?

The truth is that what you see today is 90 percent real, and 99.98 percent safe. That’s because, back in 1939, things were too real, there was a “horrific disregard for animal safety” on at least one set, and a terrified horse died. In 1940, the American Humane Association convinced the movie industry to make sure things like that never happened again; from then on, an AHA representative was consulted and on-set during scenes when animals were acting.

But before any animal star gets on the set, its trainer knows exactly what to expect, script-wise and from the animal. Horse trainers prize equines that are easy to work with, and every day can be Take Your Horse to Work Day. Those who train large animals like bears and monkeys have their charge’s tolerance in mind, and aren’t shy about speaking up when that tolerance is at its limits. Dog trainers understand what makes Woofie want to work. Snake handlers know that you can’t train a snake.

To teach an animal to work in Hollywood takes patience; trainers like Bobby Lovgren, Nicholas Toth, Mathilde de Cagny, and Thomas Gunderson use the word again and again. Get inside your dog’s head. Know your cat’s heart. Understand that some critters (like badgers) are going to take much more effort to teach. With non-domestic animals, know that escape is a possibility. And try to make training fun; nobody likes it when work’s a drudge.

So you say your favorite star happens to wear fur all day, all night. Then “Animal Stars” is going to delight you – mostly.

Authors Robin Ganzert and Allen & Linda Anderson give movie and TV fans plenty of insight on today’s animal actors and the people who make sure those awesome stunts you see are pulled off without a hitch. The behind-the-scenes peeks you’ll get are fun to read and hints for teaching your own critter are definitely helpful.

I was less-than-impressed by the brief messages from human stars scattered throughout this book, however. They seemed to me to be rather like thank-you notes dashed off to a dotty great-aunt: perfunctory, and awfully lame.

That bugged me, but not enough to put this book down – which means you should pick it up. Animal lovers of all stripes, I think, will enjoy “Animal Stars” pretty well.


The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at

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