There is an old adage in Hollywood about never working with kids or animals, but as the push for more and more content continues to grow, that saying has fallen by the wayside. Nowadays, some of the most unique content is that which has an animal in the cast — and not just something to look cute and be in the background of a scene, but actually front, center and part of the action. And for good reason! Animals, especially dogs, are scene stealers for how quickly they can pick up special skills for productions — from standing in for a service dog, to climbing ladders, to more traditional tricks of fetching something specific for a scene.
Here, Variety celebrates the top dog actors of the moment — across screen size.
Beatrice, “Modern Family”
Character name: Stella
Breed: French Bulldog
Trainers/Owners: Steve and Guin Solomon at Good Dog Animals
Favorite on-set snack: Popcorn, for sure (Ed O’Neil loves to bring her popcorn)
Where she can be found between takes: In her dressing room relaxing, or playing with the crew members
How she unwinds after work: Plays with all her other celerity animal friends at the ranch
Toughest action to learn for the show: How to do all her behaviors shooting documentary style.
One thing we should know about working on “Modern Family”: They really do make you feel like family. Best show that we have worked on!
— answers provided by Guin Solomon, co-owner, Good Dog Animals
Bruno, “It’s Bruno”
Character name: Bruno
Trainer/Owner/Co-star: Slick Naim
Favorite on-set snack: Turkey meat
Where he can be found between takes: Relaxing with my two adopted sisters Angie and Bella) in our dog house in Los Angeles, vibing with my family, listening to music
How he unwinds after work: Long walks by the beach, hiking, kicking back in the recording studio
One thing we should know about working on “It’s Bruno”: “I’m a natural — it’s how my show started in the first place. Everyone kept saying, ’There should be a show about you’ so my owner — who happens to be in the biz — put something together and boom, we were shooting in Brooklyn.”
— answers provided by Slick Naim
Character name: Togo
Breed: Siberian Husky
Training/special skills: He learned to open a door with his paw, follow an actor on set, take direction while pulling a sled, and pretend to be asleep for quite a few scenes.
Favorite on-set snack: Cooked turkey
Where he can be found between takes: With his trainer: “We lived, worked, and played together as much as possible.
How he unwinds after work: He loved to run in the backyard at the beautiful and spacious house Disney provided.
Toughest action to learn for the project: To follow an actor on set while suppressing his urge to run or chase the abundantly present native wildlife
One thing we should know about working on “Togo”: Diesel is a direct descendant of the real Togo!
Dita, “SEAL Team”
Character name: Cerberus
Breed: Belgian Malinois
Trainer/Handler: Justin Melnick
Specialty training: Narcotic odor and human tracking
Favorite on-set snack: Salmon jerky
Where she can be found between takes: Playing catch with the crew
How she unwinds after work: Playing in the ocean down in Malibu, or running through the hills of Santa Ynez
Toughest action to learn for the show: Because Dita is a police dog everything that we’ve ever done on the show is within her work capabilities. If anything the show has only provided phenomenal training and environmental experiences for her.
One thing we should know about working on “SEAL Team”: No joke, best job in the world! Dita’s favorite episodes are the ones where she gets to chase down bad guys.
— answers provided by Justin Melnick
Ellen, “The Farewell”
Character name: Ellen
Breed: Not sure, but think she’s a chihuahua?
Training: No professional training, but sings on command. She understands all Mandarin Chinese and I taught her basic commands in English including “sit” and “shake.”
Favorite on-set snack: Braised beef, dried fish snacks
Where she can be found between takes: Napping on the couch
How she unwinds after work: Trying on new outfits (She’s got at least a dozen different outfits.)
Toughest action to learn for the project: None. Ellen had no stage fright, never complained and always completed her scenes in one or two takes.
One thing we should know about working on “The Farewell”: Everyone loves Ellen, but Ellen tends to prefer female humans. On set, she spent most her time snuggling with her mama Lu Hong, or Nora or Zhao Shuzhen. One of the only men she liked was my partner Barry Jenkins. The entire family was shocked by Ellen and Barry’s instant bond. They still talk about it to this day.
— Answers provided by Lulu Wang, director
Sam 7, Santana, Ikar, Boyca and Tai from “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”
Character name: Lerna and Orthrus were the scripted names, but five dogs were used for the film.
Age: Between 1-and-a-half to 3 years old.
Breed: Belgian Malinois
Trainer/Handler: Andrew Simpson / Instinct, Animals for Film, Inc.
Training: Training lasted for 8 months, consisted of work with their trainers, then work with stunt performers from 87Eleven Action Design and finally extensive work with Halle Berry.
Favorite on-set snack: Cooked chicken, garlic steak, a little cheese, hot dogs, and kibble
Where they could be found between takes: The dogs were very well looked after during filming, so you could find them either in their vehicle sleeping or in a room in the Morocco palace.
How they unwind after work: The dogs and trainers had an exclusive villa on the outskirts of town, rumored to be next to celebrity villas like Madonna, Leonardo DiCaprio, David Beckham etc. but unconfirmed! They had a huge pool where they would relax together.
Toughest action to learn for the film: Everything! This was the hardest film project we have ever done in many ways. The action was very intense and complex and complicated for the dogs. But everything was done safely and without the use of CGI.
One thing we should know about working on “John Wick”: There are a lot of street cats in Morocco, hundreds of them! Not what you want to see when you are working dogs on a film set. Director Chad Stahelski is an action genius and also a dog lover, he understood the challenges we faced and allowed us the proper time to train and execute the dog action safely and in a positive way for the dogs. Keanu is a true gentleman, very calm and laid back around the dogs. Halle Berry made our lives easier. She is also a dog lover and understands them. She would go out of her way to spend time with them even at the end of the day when she was tired. Her character Sofia deserves her own spin off movie with her dogs.
— answers provided by Andrew Simpson
Levi and Trip, “In The Dark”
Character name: Pretzel
Ages: Levi is 8, Trip is 5
Breed: Golden Retrievers
Training: V’s Talented Animal Performers
Favorite snack on set: Liver treats, or maybe a little price of chicken from crew lunch
Where they can be found between takes: Out for a walk and pee break, or lounging in their trailer — or Perry Mattfeld’s trailer (which they prefer!!!)
How they unwind after work: Going for walks, games of fetch, or hanging around the house in their cozy dog beds.
Toughest action to learn on the show: In Season 1 learning to walk with a limp, learning to jump up and balance on a toilet with Murphy (Mattfeld), jumping out of a window.
One thing to know about working on “In The Dark”: We were doing a calm resting/sleeping scene and Trip decided between takes to get the “zoomies” and run around set. He had everyone cracking up. I’m sure these moments will make the “behind the scenes” reel. Also, it is often a challenge — in a good way — to make it from set to the trailer without Perry and the “Pretzel” wanting to roll around on floor for a cuddle. I have to really convince him whenever we come back to set, that we can’t goof around all the time.
— answers provided by Violetta Hessing of V’s Talented Animal Performers
Sayuri, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Character name: Brandy
Age: 3 years old at the time of filming
Breed: American Pitbull Terrier
Training: With Jaimie Councilor for four months before the start of filming
Favorite on-set snack: Freeze dried chicken treats given to her by Brad Pitt
Where she can be found between takes: Resting somewhere quiet on stage or in the shade outside
How she unwinds after work: Sleeping on the couch or going for a walk
Toughest action to learn for the movie: She is super smart, so she learns things pretty quick and was able to adapt to changes easily while we were filming. I would say it was just getting her used to all the commotion that happens on a movie set, letting her get used to things like the boom mic over her head.
Tuesday, “Chicago Fire”
Character name: Tuesday
Age: She will be 2 years old on May 16
Training: Christine Mahaney, animal trainer at Whatadog Film
Favorite on-set snack: Peanut butter
Where she can be found between takes: Hanging out with the cast in Boden’s (Eamonn Walker) office, soaking up the love
How she unwinds after work: She loves shopping
Toughest action to learn for the show: Not eating the chili in the chili cook-off episode
One thing we should know about working on “Chicago Fire”: Tuesday is still waiting for her big scene with Severide (Taylor Kinney).
— answers provided by Christine Mahaney, animal trainer for “Chicago Fire” and Whatadog Film