Mar 282014


The story of Noah is one of the earliest and most poignant tales of the vital interconnectedness between man and animals: a story about how every animal on the planet survived solely because man brought them in and protected them from God and Nature…

IIMG_0432n retelling this story, Paramount decided to use virtually no live animals in the film, relying upon computer generated imagery to portray the animals.

I have no problem with CGI—in many cases it can do things live animals cannot; although I might hesitate to watch a movie in which all the animals were CGI, as I find such portrayals have less heart and are less interesting. And I would likely avoid any film released in partnership with HSUS. But neither of these is the issue I want to discuss herein:

Paramount and HSUS have suggested that by not utilizing live animals, they did those animals a service—they prevented them from being forced to work on this project. This assertion I vehemently dispute.  They did these animals a grave disservice—not only did they deprive them of the joy they would have experienced during production, but they prevented them from earning considerable money that would have made their lives, and the lives of other animals, better.

gamblelakebakerI have been privileged to spend hundreds of days on sets with thousands of animals of nearly every species imaginable.  I have collaborated with many of the trainers and companies in North America. And almost without exception I have observed happy, healthy animals having a great time. From the animals’ perspective, they get to spend several weeks going somewhere interesting and comfortable, and playing a great game in which they get lots of treats and praise. They shove each other in the morning trying to get into the vehicle to go to set, and they wag and smile the whole time they are there. No question, there have been some much-publicized exceptions in which accidents or horrid people have caused harm to animals, and I have no doubt there are some unscrupulous animal trainers still in the industry that should not be used, but there are few industries with as much oversight and better track records than modern animal training. If any one of you doubts that the animals love this undertaking, try an experiment—cut up a few hot dogs, grab a few toys, and take your dog into the back yard and spend ten minutes playing with him and teaching him a new trick.  Then tell me whether the animal seemed miserable and exploited, or ecstatic and delighted. Almost every animal loves the game of learning and performing tricks, and those who prefer other activities are not “forced” as they simply would not be successful in film-work.

Some will point out that as an animal trainer I have a fiscal incentive and a perspective that make it unlikely for me to be objective. In truth, I made a much better income in my prior career than I do as an animal trainer–I do this because I love animals.  I love spending my days with them, bringing them joy, sharing them with the world in film.  I do this because I experience every day that animals can have lives with humans that are very bit as rich and full as any they could have in the wild. The idyllic wild is a myth–it never really existed and it certainly does not today.  If most species are going to survive this century, they are going to do so within man’s ark, with our devotion and affection.

Animal trainers spend nearly all the money they earn on their animals. It might be nice if we lived in a world in which work was IMG_4279not required, and we could all just lounge around, but we do not.  Each of us works to survive, the lucky among us having a great deal of fun doing so.  Every wild animal “works” very hard almost every minute of their generally short lives to find food and stay alive.  Movie animals generally perform a few hours per year, have a great time and never even know they are “working.” In exchange they get pampered lives that are far longer and more comfortable than almost any other life on the planet.  They are kept safe and healthy.  They have optimal nutrition and clean water. They are given enrichment, companionship, games, medicine.  They are kept free from parasites. They are loved and cherished and their every desire fulfilled. There are very few humans or animals on the planet that have it as good as movie animals.

ShayslideThis life of safety, comfort, and joy is financed by the film industry.  When productions elect to not use live animals, it is just like their electing not to hire any other department—it means loss of opportunity and income for those animals.

Paramount and Darren Aronofsky have every right to not use animals in their movie. But let’s be honest—choosing not to have animals in your production does not benefit animals, it harms them.



 March 28, 2014  Posted by at 5:17 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Feb 122013

Dear Dog, and other animal,Untitled-3 Breeders,

Over the past few years, dog breeders have been included in much controversy, and I want to take a minute to address all “serious” dog breeders directly:

Thank you!  Thank you! Thank you!  You have so deeply enriched and improved my life, and the lives of nearly every person I know, and I want to encourage and implore each and every one of you to keep breeding and know that your efforts are well recognized and understood by many of us, even if that truth is sometimes lost in the clamor…

Johnny014Dog breeders are often vilified by Animal Rights zealots, by well-meaning but woefully misguided members of the public who have been persuaded that breeders are causing overpopulation and filling justsheepshelters, by rescuers and shelter workers whose views of the world have become so skewed by the war they are waging that they have lost all perspective, and by those in the media who prefer drama to truth.

Breeders are the solution, not the problem. You are the true heroes stewarding the present and the future of dogs.  You are the ones creating healthy, well-structured animals with great temperaments and excellent early socialization. You are the ones funding health research. You are the ones devoting your lives and resources to the betterment of the species. You are the ones who put in twenty hour days giving your puppies everything and then wake up three times during the night to check on them. You are the ones whose dogs are virtually never in shelters because you do such a good job screening and placing and taking back dogs. You are the ones who have virtually eliminated overpopulation within your realm and in fact created a shortage of good dogs such that it often takes years of waiting before a puppy is available.

Clip0039That another, completely unrelated, group of idiots allows their dogs to keep reproducing for no good reason and filling shelters; that a few profit-driven miscreants breed countless dogs in horrid conditions; that rescues and shelters keep placing horrific dogs in homes so that they bounce back and keep the system full; that naivety motivates the unnatural and unsustainable notion of no-kill, that by nature dogs produce more puppies than are needed and so some excess and attrition are unavoidable—these things are not your fault!

napYes, there are issues that breeders need to improve—breeding towards extremes, prioritizing the wrong goals, breeding too young, over-breeding certain lines, placing excessive value on breed purity, hostility towards differing opinions, elitist attitudes, undervaluing balance—and I hope breeders will continue to improve.  And yes, there are some awful breeders out there.  But all in all, it is you who have created the wonderful dogs of today, and you who will create the wonderful dogs of tomorrow, and my gratitude for that is nearly boundless. And while there are some lovely accidentally bred dogs in shelters (I have a few!), and some awful dogs being produced by breeders, at the end of the day the quality of dogs generally being produced by careful breeders is leaps and bounds higher than what is generally available in shelters.

All thhosee mindless anti-breeder rhetoric is nothing more than misleading hate-mongering that points the blame in the wrong direction: if breeders, and the public, buy into this mindless propaganda, we will lose all the good dogs in a few years, with virtually no reduction in the number of poorly bred dogs filling the shelters.

So please, keep up the good work and know how much you and your hard work are appreciated. And above all, know that the fabulous creatures you produce are dearly loved and valued.



 February 12, 2013  Posted by at 9:17 pm
Jan 292012

My friend Doug and I were walking along an old logging road in the woods when we heard the faint sound of an ATV coming towards us from way off in the distance.  A few moments later, our dogs appeared to hear the sound, and visibly perked up and acted interested.  Doug asked me why. Surely, he asserted, our dogs must have heard the sound long before we did, so why were they just now reacting?

Interestingly, his question is based on a common misconception: that canine hearing is far more acute than human hearing.  My impression is that many people have learned that dogs, when compared to humans, have hugely superior olfactory sensitivity and that dogs can hear higher frequencies such as dog whistles, and have concatenated these two facts into a fallacious belief that canine auditory sensitivity is far greater than human.

Given the prevalence of this belief, I figured I would share with my readers the answer I gave:

In general dogs’ auditory sensitivity is almost identical to that of a typical human: both species generally begin to hear sounds at a volume level of around -7 dB.   And human spatial acuity is significantly superior: we can generally localize a sound to within less than one degree of accuracy, while dogs can usually localize to an area of approximately 6 degrees.  And humans can hear lower frequencies than dogs, and can generally detect low frequencies at lower volume than dogs.  Dogs can however hear frequencies considerably higher than humans—humans generally cannot detect much over 18 kHz while dogs can generally hear sounds up to around 45h kHz.

So if there is a sound of more than -7 dB in volume and a frequency between 20-45 kHz, you will not be able to hear it and your dog will, but if its frequency falls within a range that humans can hear, you and your dog will hear it at right about the same volume level…

Just in case you want to verify this with your own eyes and ears, take your dog for a walk and pay attention.  You will quickly recognize that his reactions to interesting sounds are virtually simultaneous with yours.

Here is the same information in a chart taken from Wolves by David Mech and Luigi Boitani:

 January 29, 2012  Posted by at 11:10 pm
Jan 102012

A few weeks ago, I had one of the worst experiences of my life: my dog Sequel disappeared while we were hiking in the woods around our home, and he was missing for several days and nights.  Each moment he was gone was devastating, but daytime was more bearable—there was so much to be done running the search that it was easy to set aside any thoughts about him being injured or dead.  We had multiple teams searching the woods and updating the search map, people driving the roads and putting up signs, people going door-to-door, people calling all the shelters, vets, daycares, etc.  Busyness can be a real friend in times of anguish! Long after night fell and the searchers had gone, I would force myself to try to get a few hours of sleep, but how can you lie in a warm bed and fall asleep knowing that your dog may be lying somewhere near death hoping you will find him soon…

And so, instead of sleeping, during the long, dark hours agonizing about all the worst things that could be happening to my dog, I wracked my brain about what I should have done differently, what I would do differently when—if—I found him and brought him home.  And I returned time and again to the same surprising answer: nothing.


I love my dogs with every fiber of my being.  I love them enough that while it sometimes might make me feel better to wrap them in cocoons and cloister them away safely, I force myself to always try to make the best decision for them.  Insofar as it is possible, I try to give my dogs the lives I believe they would want, with the balance of safety and adventure that they would chose if they could fully understand the issues. Most of my dogs would absolutely prefer to run in the woods, to swim in the ocean, to wrestle and leap and herd and play, even if these things come with some risk.

Of course, judgment is required-knowledge of your dogs, their personality and fitness and training (I would stake my life on Sequel’s recall if he could have heard me, and as soon as I got on the right side of the creek where he could, he came immediately), and the area and all the hazards so you can make an informed decision about whether to keep your dogs on leash or a long line or a GPS collar or have them loose but call them back frequently. And no matter how careful you are, there will be some risk!  But for nearly 20 years we have taken many, many animals out to run, play, hike, and camp in our woods, and the tens of  thousands of hours of joy, health, enrichment,  fitness, and fun it has brought is more than worth the risks, and really the worst that has ever happened is a few scrapes, a few porcupine quills, and some lost sleep…Those are pretty excellent odds, and even if Sequel had died, I am certain I would feel the same.


Please understand, I am not advocating recklessness: I am amazed at how often I watch people let their dogs out of a car in a parking lot and then pay no attention, or whose dogs are left unattended in homes full of hazards, or whose dogs are meeting groups of large, intense dogs while the owner is 100 feet away. Vigilance and mindful awareness are almost always to be advised with animals…


My dog is at risk in a moving car. He is at risk fetching a stick or a ball or wearing a collar. He is at risk at home that my house could catch fire. He is at risk on a dogwalk, or running in a field that might have a mole-hole. He is at risk chewing on a toy or meeting other dogs at a park. He is at risk that some lunatic will put poison on a sidewalk. Heck, I knew a dog recently who was run over while walking on leash in town… The risks from wildlife to a healthy, medium-sized dog in most areas are statistically very, very low. (of course if you live in an area in which risks are greater, you would need to behave accordingly!)

There are undoubtedly a few dogs that die from wildlife encounters each year in this country, or that get lost while out playing in the woods, or slip and fall down a cliff, but there are millions and millions of dogs that die each year obese and bored and with their bodies, minds, and spirits atrophied.  And while you can never perfectly protect your pets from risk, you absolutely can save them from boredom.

Being a good dog owner is not about avoiding risk-it is about balancing risk with richness.  Life is full of adventures, opportunities, and experiences that make our dogs’ lives wonderful, but we must not be so afraid that we avoid them.  I certainly cannot tell anyone else how to find their perfect balance point, but I can say that for me and my dogs, we would rather be injured or die living a rich full life than sit safely at home growing old.


One last happy thought: pursuing a full and rich life, will often have the magical side-effect of also maximizing health and longevity.  Our dogs spend their lives sprinting and swimming and leaping and playing as hard as possible, and they virtually all live well into their teens. Flint, our Belgian/Border Colli mix, lies at my feet as I write this, 18 years old. And I can hardly remember a day in his life that he did not fling himself into the unknown with utter abandon and sometimes crazy disregard for any potential risk…

I could probably write more about this topic, but Sequel wants to go for a hike now—back into the same woods, to his favorite swimming hole, and to the meadow to play a fast game of chase with Fig. We may die while playing our favorite games, but first, for sure, we are going to live…

 January 10, 2012  Posted by at 10:13 am
Jan 062012

­I am asked about Cesar Millan fairly regularly, generally by novice dog owners who are curious as to whether I recommend his show and techniques. This is a reasonable question since Cesar Millan is perhaps the most recognizable and influential dog trainer ever: millions of people watch his show and listen to his advice on how to address behavioral issues with their dogs.  Yet many of the most respected experts in the field consider his techniques to be harmful to dogs, ineffective, and destructive to relationships.

So, what is the truth?  There is no single right answer about how to train animals. We all have opinions, and most of us are certain we know the best way and everyone else is wrong! Most trainers are very good in some areas and less good in other areas. And we all have different goals–one trainer may be much better at helping you achieve a particular objective while another trainer may be much better at something else.

I do not know Millan, and can only comment on what I have observed on television. People are entitled to like Millan’s methods–many people do! And it would be hard to fault his business and marketing savvy… I am not judging anyone’s opinion, merely sharing mine:

I think Cesar Millan is a first-rate bully and a fifth rate trainer. While he does some things well, and offers some excellent advice, in aggregate I do not like what he does to most of the animals with which I have seen him work. He is uninformed, unimaginative, cruel, and absurdly coercive.  The fact that his bullying sometimes works at least temporarily does not make it less offensive.  In my opinion he has hurt far, far more dogs and relationships than he has helped, and of the ones that he has helped, I suspect the recidivism rate is extremely high. He has set dog training back decades. He is dangerously irresponsible. (For example, one person taking 30 dogs off leash to a dogpark ought to be a felony in my opinion)

Let me start with what I like about Millan’s message: exercise, calmness, and leadership.  I absolutely agree that a huge portion of the behavioral issues people see in their dogs can be ameliorated through increased exercise and mental stimulation.  Canids evolved to spend a large portion of their lives active and challenged, and sticking them in a room all day with rich foods and little exercise leads to many problems.  I also agree that canids thrive in an environment with clear boundaries and a calm and strong leader.  This allows them to be relaxed and confident and know how to behave. I also recognize that many average pet homes want a dog that is as “shut-down” as possible: they do not want a happy, curious, and confident pet, they want a pet that just lies quietly in the corner, and Cesar’s techniques are in many instances an effective path to that end.

Now to the negatives about Millan’s techniques:

  1. Impatient: Millan often takes little time to get to know the dog, or to teach it what is desired, or to build a relationship, he simply grabs the dog, puts it into the situation where it is known to have problems, and then corrects it for failure. In most cases, good training is just the opposite of this. You find situations in which the dog can succeed, and then you gradually increase the difficulty of the situation while rewarding the dog for success at each step. Good training is often almost invisible.
  2. Correction first: Millan often hits, chokes, kicks, drags, and electrocutes dogs that do not yet know what is being asked of them as part of a systematic routine of intimidation. There are several steps that should occur before correction: it is very rarely effective to correct or punish a dog that does not yet understand what you are asking.  In many instances Millan could work the dog a little further away from a particular stimulus and teach the dog how to succeed and then get closer, but instead he rushes up, lets the dog fail, and then corrects the heck out of it. This may create good TV drama, but it is patently not in the dog’s best interests.
  3. Micromanaging: Millan often keeps the dogs on such a short leash (literally and figuratively) that they do not learn accountability.  They do not learn to make the right choices and respect the rules, they simply learn to give up and shut down. They learn to do and try nothing because they will get attacked if they move.  Good training allows dogs to feel empowered and instructed; to clearly understand what behaviors are not allowed, and be responsible for making the right choices.
  4. Confrontation: Millan routinely creates confrontation where it does not naturally exist.  This was a popular notion in the 50s—you cannot really train a dog until you have shown it that you are the boss by kicking its butt, so you should make this happen—set up the dog to fail without any training, just so that you can induce a confrontation that you can then win and make sure the dog knows you are stronger, bigger, and tougher. Good trainers absolutely may do this with some animals, but it is fairly rare, and Millan seems to want to go there with almost every dog.
  5. Unimaginative: Millan sometimes uses different tools, but his basic range of techniques is very narrow.  So when he happens to get a dog that needs those techniques he will be very effective, when he happens to get a dog that needs something different he will be very destructive. I would have the same problem if he were purely positive and gave treats for everything—one technique does not work across the board. Good trainers are fabulous problem solvers. They come up with brilliant ways to induce behaviors, change attitudes, and mold responses. They have a remarkable range of techniques that they use to work with different dogs. They can be very positive when needed, very harsh when needed, supportive, quiet, loud, calm, exuberant, etc.
  6. Cruel: Millan chokes dogs till they pass out and he electrocutes them repeatedly until they are biting and terrified. The American Humane Association who monitors animal use on set has requested that Nat. Geo not air some Dog Whisperer episodes because the treatment of the animals is so inhumane. Good training is never cruel.
  7. Archaic / Uneducated:  Millan’s training is essentially exactly what one would have seen in 1950.  But then, what educational background does Millan have?  How many of the relevant books has he read?  Has he made any real effort to learn what others know so that he can improve? Or is he just reinventing unrefined and simplistic dog training? We have learned so much in the last 50 years that it is hard to imagine someone who would not integrate some of that learning into their training. Good trainers avail themselves of available knowledge and science and continually improve. Even the best trainers in the world often attend each others seminars, but I have never seen Cesar…
  8. Isolation:  I am not a huge fan of competition with animals, but occasionally it can be useful to objectively assess how your techniques are working.  Entering an obedience trial, or agility or Schutzhund or whatever, lets you gauge your performance against your peers.  Cesar not only does not compete, he has never, so far as I know, tried any canine competition so he could see where he stands.
  9. Indifference to canine attitude: Millan sacrifices attitude for quick superficial results, and I believe that is very counterproductive. Watch any of the dogs he works, and you will rarely see truly happy dogs, confident dogs, secure, trusting dogs. Good trainers focus on attitude and character—training rules and specific behaviors is essentially trivial. Once you have taught a dog how to learn, how to take cues, how to relax, it is easy to teach specific behaviors.

Adding all of this together, I find Millan’s relationship with the dogs unappealing—I do not see trust, respect, confidence, and adoration, I see subservience, temerity, and learned helplessness.

Millan fans sometimes suggest that those who dislike Millan must be softies who reject notions of control and discipline.  It is absolutely true that some people who dislike Millan do so because they dislike any sort of correction.  However, there are also many, many excellent trainers who do believe in appropriate corrections but who revile Millan’s techniques. Virtually all good trainers impose rules, boundaries, and limits.  Some excellent trainers even use strong corrections when they are appropriate. Go to any canine competition (obedience, French Ring, agility, herding, etc.) and ask around, you will generally find the top people with the best trained and most obedient dogs dislike Millan’s methods, while hordes of novices with unruly dogs are devotees.  Some of the most accomplished trainers in the world dislike his methods, and I assure you their dogs are not disobedient or disrespectful.

I do not understand why many people equate control with intimidation.  Abusive parents who beat or terrorize their children may achieve “control.” So do reasonable parents who set and explain clear boundaries, teach and reward desired behaviors, earn respect and trust, and effectively utilize punishment when necessary.  These good parents or dog trainers absolutely may use intimidation when it is the best option, but it is not the foundation of their relationship—it is not where they start or how they interact most of the time. (I vividly remember the few times my father seriously intimidated me, and they were hugely effective in large part because they were not frequent!)

Perhaps the best place to observe the dichotomy between dominance based training and cooperation based training is in training any wild animal.  Work with a tiger, a grizzly bear, a pack of wolves, an orca, or even a raccoon or squirrel, and you quickly discover that these schools of thought are NOT the same.  Dominance based trainers exert a clear and absolute dominance every moment of interacting—it is imperative that the animal understands that humans have absolute power and should never be challenged.  Non-dominance trainers exert a clear and absolute cooperation every moment—it is imperative that the animal understands that humans are their friends and are not going to challenge them or hurt them. While a single trainer may utilize both attitudes at different times, if you switch back and forth with these animals, you have a VERY short career—suddenly showing weakness to a wild animal that has been dominated, or suddenly showing dominance to a wild animal used to cooperation generally elicits extremely undesirable results… Each attitude can be powerfully effective, but they are essentially different in far more than language. (I think it is important to concede that even many of the most cooperative trainers do have a line that cannot be crossed.  A point at which dominance training does come into play.  A point at which they say, “You have no choice here, you must do what I say.”  The critical distinction is that they strive to help the animal avoid crossing that line, rather than regularly luring the animal across that line so that they can have an “opportunity” to dominate and intimidate some more…)

If your primary method of control is intimidation, the animals you train learn that intimidation and power are tools to get what you want.  Sooner or later these animals may well decide to try to get what they want using intimidation.  This is what happens eventually to most animal bullies in the wild, and is extremely dangerous.  So I elect to use cooperation and leadership so that they learn that I am a powerful and benevolent leader who will help them get what they want in the world.  I outsmart them by making sure that their success coincides with my desires until they reflexively and habitually do what I ask. I am smarter, but not stronger or faster, so it makes sense to use my intellectual advantage rather than bluffing about a physical advantage.

There is a genuine distinction between a leader who is revered and idolized and a leader who is feared, and I personally believe that being revered leads to better working, more reliable, happier, healthier dogs, but I rarely see this occur on Millan’s show.  I see bullying and intimidation instead of leading and teaching.

It makes me profoundly sad to think that such a bully is out there working with dogs every day, but far worse is that so many people do not see his techniques for what they are.  That millions of people still see intimidation and cruelty as viable leadership techniques makes me sad indeed.

 January 6, 2012  Posted by at 9:15 am
Apr 172011

“We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made…”

Dog lovers often adorn their emails, websites, and social networking pages with sweet quotations like this one.  In general, these quotes are intended to illustrate how much we love dogs, not to be considered seriously.

At first glance these quotes are generally sweet and illustrate how wonderful dogs are—how generous, forgiving, and loving. However, in an effort to exalt dogs, many of these quotes are inaccurate and unintentionally send troublesome messages that have serious negative consequences.

While there may be some people who give their dogs only what time, space, and love they can spare, most people are every bit as committed and generous toward their dogs as their dogs are to them.  They sculpt their entire lives around making their pets happy.  Most of their income goes to their dogs, their weekends are spent driving to places and activities for their dogs, they spend hours creating perfect nutrition for their dogs and then grab a quick bite of whatever for themselves.  They take their dogs to the vet far more often than they go to the doctor, purchase houses they think will make their dogs happy, and then remodel them with flooring better suited to their dogs comfort.  We build ponds and pools and agility fields. We purchase vehicles based on how comfortable and safe they are for our dogs. We sleep on the very edge of our beds and do not get up to pee because we do not want to wake our sleeping dogs. We exercise them, we spend thousands of hours socializing and training them, and we design our vacations around where they want to go. We spend billions of dollars developing medicines and veterinary procedures to make animal lives better, and spend huge sums of money each year on toys and luxury items for pets. No question, dogs are wonderful, and so are most dog owners.

In addition to denigrating humans, many of these quotes seem to assign to animals some sort of idealized spiritual status—that they are kinder, gentler, less aggressive, more tolerant, and just all around more wonderful creatures than evil, detestable human beings.  I hate to burst the sweet Disney bubble, but animals can be and often are every bit as selfish, hostile, aggressive and cruel as man.  They kill each other for fun, they fight, they eat crap, they eat their own babies, etc.  It is great to appreciate and value the wonderful traits of animals, but sentimentalizing these traits and imagining that animals are all wise, benevolent, and enlightened beings is simply not true.

This may seem like an inconsequential distinction to make.  Surely it is ok to say sweet things about our beloved animals even if they are not quite accurate…  But the problem is that we live in a world that is becoming more and more intolerant of pet ownership.  A society that is passing more and more laws to protect sweet, wonderful, innocent animals from the evil of being associated with man. Many lawmakers and average Americans have become persuaded that interaction with humans is BAD for animals.  That surely these wonderful creatures deserve a life away from the exploitation and cruelty of humans. They have forgotten how much good we do for our animals, and we need to be very careful that we are not instantiating this skewed perception, and in fact that our statements reinforce what we know to be true.

The time has come to stop self-deprecating and stand proud: animals are great for us, and we are great for them.

 April 17, 2011  Posted by at 3:02 am
Feb 062011

Whenever any animal care issue is discussed in the media or in the legislature, Animal Rights advocates describe their opponents as greedy, immoral, uncaring, “puppy-millers” who exploit animals for profit, or mentally deranged abusers who neglect or harm animals out of malevolence.

Such miscreants unfortunately do exist, but they are not the people fighting against the AR Bills.

The people fighting against the AR Bills are a third group that is neither the AR side nor the animal abuser side: the huge army of dedicated animal owners that are the very best animal caregivers and most committed animal lovers in the world who believe that animals can and should share our homes and that with proper care captive animals can have lives that are every bit as rich and full as any wild animal’s existence.

Time after time, these serious animal lovers, despite outnumbering the Animal Rights supporters fifty to one, are essentially invisible in the conversation.

We need to show the legislators who we are! We need to show them that the genuine experts are not HSUS bureaucrats with “no particular fondness for animals,” but rather are those people who devote their lives to animals and who possess authentic knowledge and expertise regarding what is best for animals.

Gov. Kulongoski plays with Sampson.

To accomplish this, we must put together extensive pro-animal carnivals next to each state capital during each legislative session. One powerful asset that we often underutilize in politics is our amazing animals: we took a baby lion in to meet the Governor, and pretty much every person at the capital came and sat on the floor with us and played with the lion, gaining some hands-on appreciation for the animal and listening to us explain what animals really need… Picture an agility demo, TTouch, dock diving, Sacco cart rides, exotic animals, tricks, flyball, a really nice petting zoo, disc dogs, freestyle demo, 4H, FFA, falconers, etc. Imagine free sweatshirts, calendars, pictures, bumper stickers, and pamphlets all reiterating our message: animals can and should be happy sharing the world with us.

We must showcase our community of genuine, serious animal lovers who do such an astonishing job taking care of their animals but are being painted as villains. Show legislators what truly happy and well-cared for animals look like.  Animal people get together for fun matches and carnivals and demos all the time for far less important causes. With a little organization we could pull together a great, uplifting, Animal-Lover’s Day at the capital in each state that would convey how adored, pampered, and happy our animals are, what a large and vibrant community we are, how much expertise we possess, and how many votes we represent.

Lawmakers often support Animal Rights bills because they erroneously believe such legislation will help animals.  We need to introduce these influential people to the real animals who truly need legislators to step up and help protect them from those who value delusive animal rights more than animals.

I implore anyone who is reading this to organize such an event in your state!  You need not be a great animal trainer or knowledgeable lobbyist, you simply need to utilize your organizational skills, get permission from the capital, and get the word out in your state.  If you do, an army of eager compatriots will materialize to pull together all the details and help you put together a great demonstration that will truly benefit the animals of your state.

So please, get out there and organize an Animal Lover’s Day at your state capital, and report back here, because I would love to hear how it goes…

 February 6, 2011  Posted by at 11:04 pm
Sep 202010

Click Here to Meet the Animals

The Story of Making of the Greatest Music Video Ever from the Talented Animals Perspective

A few years ago I was in a meeting about an upcoming television show when the director took me aside and said to me, “My brother is in a band, and I have an idea for a great video that would need animals, could we get together and talk about this sometime?”  I grinned and said sure, knowing that everybody in Los Angeles has a relative in a band, and the odds of anything ever coming of that conversation were slim…

It was over a year later that Trish called and suggested that they were getting close and would like to set up a meeting to brainstorm ideas.  She casually mentioned that her brother Damian was the lead singer in the band OK Go, the most downloaded band in history, and I ‘might’ have seen a few of their previous videos like the ubiquitous treadmill dance…

Damian explained that they had been dreaming of this video for years, but that so far they had been unable to find an animal trainer with the right combination of skills, experience, and unfettered creativity to help them succeed.  “We want to make a video in which the dogs are the stars, Damian said. “We want the band members to support the dogs and dance with the dogs, and we want it to be magical and charming and something that has never been done before. No canine ‘agility’, ‘freestyle,’ or ‘obedience.’  And no cutsey tricks or circus acts.  Something new.

“No problem,” said I. “The trainers and animals at Talented Animals are the best in the world, and if it is physically possible, we can do it.”

For the next several hours we all sat around throwing out ideas and getting more and more excited: we had come up with some really great ideas that seemed achievable in a short of amount of time and we all thought would make a great video. Then Damian said something that sent a chill up my spine: “Oh, by the way, this will be done in one take, with no cuts…” Now for those of you who have never worked an animal on film, we use cuts and optimal camera angles for everything.  They are the tools that let us succeed.  Without cuts, the animals would have to all work at the same time with their trainers far away, and we would need to get each dog and trainer and bandmember and crewmember to nail every single behavior all in the same take.  Not bloody likely.

For the next several hours I patiently explained why we needed cuts in this video.  That we could do many more things with cuts than without, that we could nail the video in a few days because each dog would do their behavior in isolation and would only have to be perfect for 10 seconds at a time, but that 12 dogs and a goat could not all work together without a mistake for over three minutes straight.  And Damian patiently explained that one of the things that defined this video was that it was not going to rely on cuts or tricks or camera magic—it was going to be a continuous dance without cuts and we would have to work within that constraint…

Over a year passed and we were together again for two intense weeks of choreography and planning. Three dogs and two trainers sat in a small warehouse in downtown LA with the band, and Trish the choreographer, for two weeks of nonstop, delightful brainstorming.

Another year passed as we all worked to get schedules and finances and everything else to come together, and finally in the spring of 2010 we were ready to get started.

We developed an almost entirely new language for this video. Each of the 21 “sections” of the video had a name. Each prop had a name, and most of the animal behaviors had names. We would spend much of the day saying things like, “Can Sequel other foot Tim before he chung chungs over the popcorn wangs?”

Then we needed to select ideal dogs, find a location, and so much more…  After looking at several options, we decided Oregon was the best place to film this video: beautiful, no sales tax, excellent production resources, inexpensive housing, perfect summer weather, less bureaucracy, and of course Talented Animals has one of its main facilities in Oregon.

The Oregon Film Office was extremely helpful in finding housing for the band, recommending skilled and flexible crewmembers, and best of all securing an amazing location to film the video!

We had only four weeks total to make the video from beginning to end: two weeks to train the dogs, one week to rehearse with the band, and one week to film it.  Or so we thought!  Once we started, we discovered that much of the first two weeks needed to be spent figuring out the trainer choreography!  We had 12 trainers, two furniture movers, 12 dogs, one goat, 38 buckets, and a bunch of furniture, all of which needed to move around and be in the right place at the right time without anyone stepping in front of camera.  We ended up with stuffed animals, spreadsheets, flow-charts, and recorded audio instructions, and for many hours we tried various configurations until we finally found one that worked.  And then we practiced and practiced.

Of course, at the same time we were training the dogs.  Most of the behaviors were not that challenging to teach, it was the transitions and the positioning that were complicated.  And it was essential that the dogs were at all times having a truly joyous experience, so there were lots of breaks to go run in the field, take a nap, or splash in the pool.

Then Damian, Tim, Andy, Dan, and Trish arrived… Since we had been rehearsing without them we needed to learn how to work with band actually dancing their parts, and they needed to learn to work with the dogs. The band and Trish are about the most wonderful team to work with that you could ever imagine.  They are creative, collaborative, generous, imaginative, kind, and just all around fun. They are also serious and consummate professionals. I hate to tarnish the “slacker-rockstar” trope, but these guys work harder than you can imagine, and bust their asses to make their videos perfect, and we had no intention of letting them down!  We ran through the whole routine a couple of times for them with stuffed animals and then showed them the pieces with dogs, and while they loved 80% of it, there were several parts that were not quite as magical in execution as they had seemed in concept.  So we began tweaking those parts.  The challenge was that each person had a specific place to be at every moment, so each time we made a slight change there was a ripple effect.  Suddenly people were on the wrong side of the stage, or could not get to where they needed to be to perform their next behavior, or were crashing into one another.  It was chaos again!  As the days ticked by, we kept making changes and the routine kept getting better and better.  But we were running out of time, and while each behavior was solid, we could no longer string them all together.  Finally we put them together, but at half speed, and then we began steadily increasing the speed.

With four days left, we got out the slate and tried our first official take at full speed and with everything in place. We made it about half way before a mistake. Then again, and again, and again.  Many times we were virtually perfect, but we just got too far off the beat.  Or we would get to the end and the dogs would be out of sync with each other. Or a dog would not have time to make it to his next position.

Take 49 was our first true success. It was not perfect, but we made it to the end without any real mistakes and still in sync with the song.  “OH MY GOD,” Trish whispered breathlessly, “We did it…” And every person in the room finally exhaled!

After Take 49 we got better and better.  Sure, we still all made mistakes, and there were more than a few dropped buckets, chair collisions, and the like.

At around Take 60, a new challenge arose. The dogs all knew the pattern perfectly, and absolutely loved doing it, and they started going too fast. They would rush ahead of the routine and run to their next behavior, and instead of getting behind the beat we were now starting to get ahead of it, or have dogs running onto the stage before it was their turn. Every few takes we would have to stop and do one at half speed to remind the dogs that they had to wait for the right moment before they could perform.

First thing on the morning of the third day, we began Take 72, and by about the midpoint, we could all feel that it was going really, really well.  Each piece had been solid, and the rhythm and timing felt great.  Everyone was fresh and looked good.  This might be it…..  As we ticked off each challenging moment it felt more and more like this might be it, and by the final scene when all the dogs were lying on tables next to the band, there was a silent vibration in the room.  None of us were moving, or breathing, as Damian finally lifted his head and said, “We got it!”  We had all agreed early on that no matter what happened, we would not erupt into a loud cheer as we did not want the energy of that to startle or alarm any of the dogs, and everyone honored that agreement, but it may have been the loudest silent cheer ever!  And the dogs absolutely participated.  We were all hugging, laughing, quietly jumping up and down, high-fiving, and hugging our dogs in absolute gratitude!  They had done it, and we all knew it!

One of the biggest challenges of having no cuts in a video comes at the end when you have to pick!  By the end, we had filmed for three and a half days and 124 takes.  We had 30 complete takes, of which 10 were deemed excellent.  And in each of these takes there were magical moments, but we could not concatenate them into one ideal, we had to discard every take except one, even knowing that in some of the discards were some of our very best work.  That is painful!  For a brief moment I thought about going to Damian one more time and trying to persuade him to cut them together into one supertake with all the best moments.  But then I watched Take 72 again, and I saw exactly what Damian had imagined years earlier—one uninterrupted dance between OK Go and 12 amazing dogs.  There was something so special about NOT having “cheated.”  Somehow it came across on screen that this was real and had integrity.  This three-and-a-half minutes of unedited truth allows the viewer to connect with the band and the dogs and essentially experience the dance exactly as it was, and that is far more genuine and touching than any perfectly-polished and cut-together special effects extravaganza.

We have been fortunate enough to work on many wonderful projects: independent art films, $100M blockbuster movies, and just about everything in between.  We have worked with some of the great directors and actors in the world, and the most amazing animals. But I cannot think of any project we have enjoyed more than this one, nor any project of which we are more proud.  I hope from the bottom of my heart that watching it brings you as much joy as it has brought all of us who worked together to create it!

Note: It is very difficult for music videos to generate any revenue.  Making a video like this takes considerable resources: there are a lot of people and animals and equipment and props, travel, lodging, etc., and this comes directly out of the pockets of the bandmembers.  So please, if you enjoyed this song, video, and dogs, purchase the album or go see Ok Go in concert.

 September 20, 2010  Posted by at 5:59 pm
Aug 082010

Pavlov: we fed the chicken on the opposite side of the road each day at 4pm until the chicken’s autonomic system actually began causing the chicken to cross the road at 4 pm without even questioning the “why.”

B.F. Skinner: on prior occasions when the chicken voluntarily crossed the road, this behavior was followed immediately by a reinforcing consequence.

Cesar Milan: I bullied, chased, poked, and intimidated the chicken until it raced across the road, because I am a strong leader…

Barbara Woodhouse: You just say, “Walkies” with the right accent and place a crumpet on the other side of the road…

Karen Pryor: by associating R+ with road crossing and P+ with standing still, with a VR schedule, and offering a reward in keeping with the Premack principle, we increased the intensity and frequency of the road crossing behavior.

Victoria Stilwell:  Who cares?? The important question is,  do these pants make me bumm look fat?

Bill Koehler: a few well-timed pops on the choke chain and the chicken was happy to cross the road.

Nicholas Dodman: I gave the chicken fluoxetine, sertraline, paroxetine, carbamazepine, and azapirone and then it was happy to cross the road.

Patti Ruzzo: I crossed the road, pausing every step to spit a treat out of my mouth like a human pez dispenser, and the chicken followed along catching the treats.

Electric Collar Advocate: whenever the chicken does not cross the road I give it an electric shock. But do not worry, the shock is no more than you would feel if you walked on a carpet wearing socks and it does not bother the chicken at all. The feathers standing up and the smell of burning flesh mean nothing. In fact, they are happier having nice clear communication than they would be otherwise.

Yuppie: chickens are just like little people in feather jackets, and if you love them and give them diamonds and feel sorry for them all the time, they will be happy to cross the road for you.

Paris Hilton: Because I put it in a Gucci bag and carried it…

Shelter director: Any chickens that do not cross the road will be euthanized for their own good, and the others we will “adopt” out tomorrow for only $200 each. Please send us money so we can keep doing more of this important work!

HSUS member: I do not know anything about animals, I have never been around animals and am not really fond of animals, but we passed a law mandating that chickens be kept without cages because animals belong only in the wild and cannot be happy coexisting with man, so now they are walking wherever they want.

PETA member: chickens have the right to live in world without roads. Any chicken that lives within a hundred miles of a road is suffering an inhumane existence and might eventually be hit by a car so we should kill it today to ensure that it does not die tomorrow.

 August 8, 2010  Posted by at 2:39 pm
Apr 302010

It is difficult to believe that ten years have passed since we raised the “Litter of the Law.”

We put together video and photos of a few highlights of their lives so far, and thought some of you might enjoy seeing it.  It is simultaneously too long and too short, as it is difficult to capture ten years of the lives of eleven puppies without making a very, very long movie…

 April 30, 2010  Posted by at 6:27 pm