Jan 192017


TMZ recently released a video showing a German Shepherd being forced into the water for a scene in “A Dog’s Purpose.” While we had nothing to with this production, we have received numerous requests for comment:

Let me start by saying this: I am very proud of the work I do, and would wager my soul that virtually every animal I have worked with has had a great time. The animals I know in film and television are some of the most loved and pampered on the planet, with lives rich in comfort, joy, play, adventure, health, and fun. They live longer, healthier, and happier lives than 99% of pets or wild animals.

What I “saw” on the video, taken at face value, is unacceptable. However, I do not know much about the events portrayed in the TMZ video, and neither do you. We were not there, and watching a snippet of video can be so misleading that I am reluctant to offer any thoughts because we do not know context, we did not see what happened before or after, and we have not heard the other side, so drawing any conclusions is problematic. Of course, this video looks awful, but it is a few moments edited for maximal impact. I am absolutely not defending, or attacking, the trainers involved, as I just do not know enough.

What I can tell you is how this scene would “normally” be handled:

Normally, this scene would have been prepped long in advance.  The dog would have been running into water, dock diving, swimming across rivers with more and more current. If the dog did not love swimming, a double would have been found who did. A few weeks before filming, the dog would start rehearsing on the actual set, first with no current, then gradually increasing the current as the dog became confident and comfortable. By the time this scene filmed, the dog would not merely be willing to get into the water, he would love getting in and swimming in the current. This is how it is normally done because it is what is best for the animal, and because it is what is best for the production!

As I said, I am not going to defend what happened, but here are a few ‘mitigating’ thoughts about what I observed in this video:

  1.  The guy narrating is not, so far as I can tell, part of the animal team and is not speaking for them, and what he is saying is silly and objectionable but irrelevant.
  2. I do not fully understand what I saw–no sane trainer would show up with an unprepared animal and expect to shove it into that water. Why was there no ramp in or out, what was the plan, what information are we missing?
  3. Forcing an animal to do something is almost never the best technique.  However, there are moments when pushing a dog to get into the water and realize that no harm will result can be a viable alternative to consider.  Millions of loving pet owners have enacted scenes like this trying to get Fido into the bath, or into a pool for the first time, and in 90% of those cases the animal has not suffered physical or psychological damage. When to “push” is a judgement call, and sometimes people get it wrong, or it looks wrong from the outside… Some animals, or children, pitch a remarkable fit about having their nails trimmed or getting into a crate or not getting a treat at the store, and while force is almost never the best response, one also needs to recognize that without lots more information these fits can look much worse than they are…
  4. There was a trainer in the water near the end when the dog was pushed under by current.  Why she was so far away is unclear, but it was likely a mistake —the dog had always veered to the other side before, or they misjudged the current and thought he would get more across. But again, how awful this was is questionable—many dogs love playing in the waves, even though from time to time they get dunked and rolled, but thirty seconds later they are back at it.  I used to have to drag Tillie away from the Rio Grande because she found the current exhilarating and would seek out the rapids, often getting far more submerged than this dog.  None of which makes it ok—that dog clearly did not want that experience, and it was a mistake not to avoid it—but it was likely just that: a mistake, and the dog was likely fine ten seconds later.
  5. Animals working on set are incredibly scrutinized. Not only are there trainers and AHA, but every moment we are watched and filmed.  There are millions of hours filmed every year of every single thing we do—every animal lover with a cell phone films every walk, every crate, every training session. 99% of those moments are great and never end up on TMZ.  No matter how great a job someone does with animals, there will be few moments that, without context or explanation, could be edited together to give a bad impression. The same is true for anyone who has ever owned an animal—things occasionally go awry and look awful.
  6. Sometimes, an animal can be prepped and trained and ready in every way, and things can still go wrong.  All the practice in the world does not change that these are sentient beings with moods and feelings, and sometimes an animal suddenly behaves very differently than expected.  Of course a skilled trainer recognizes this and steps back to reevaluate, but sometimes it may take a few minutes to recognize, and by then accidents may have occurred.
  7. This is not at all an excuse, but by way of possible explanation: movie sets can be almost unimaginably high pressure.  With huge financial and temporal pressures, and a powerful production team pushing and demanding, it is sometimes difficult to say “no” when one ought to.  This is why people die in stunts, or on train tracks, or driving home at hour twenty. It is perhaps the most important job of an animal trainer to stand between this pressure and their animals–to shield and protect them from production demands; and while it is not ok, sometimes people agree to ‘try’ things that they should not.

As I stated, I do not know enough about this particular situation to offer an explanation for what decisions were made or why. I do not know the dog, or the prior training, or even how the rest of the day went. I do not know what schedule snafus occurred, I do not know if American Humane was present. I do not know what shortcuts were taken or what unexpected events occurred.

What I do know, after thousands of hours on set with countless animals and other trainers, is that this video does not at all represent what usually happens on set. Virtually every trainer I have worked with is unwaveringly committed to the welfare and happiness of their animals.  In our industry, as in every corner of the world, there are undoubtedly a few bad seeds, people who are not strong enough, moral enough, or kind enough to protect their animals at all times. And certainly accidents, misjudgements, or mistakes do occur. But most of us do this because there is nothing we would rather do than spend every day playing with animals we love, and it is vital to our success that the animals also enjoy the work because our reputation hinges upon them working well which depends upon their being happy and enthusiastic.

 January 19, 2017  Posted by at 6:33 pm Tagged with: , , , , , ,

  27 Responses to “One Perspective on the TMZ video from filming “A Dog’s Purpose””

  1. Thank you for thoughtful response! Stuff happens, and
    context is everything.

  2. Thank you for being a sane voice in this turmoil. The way it was presented and perhaps staged is so reminiscent of animal control raids on breeders, PETA exposes and other “edited to upset” articles, pictures and videos.

  3. You can tell yourself what ever you want to make yourself feel better.. I’m not about to agrue with someone that would think or even defend what happened… there are 2 sides to every story I know that… think about this… one side can talk. The other can not say a word. . Actions speak louder than any words… and that video say all that caring people need to see…. but nice try.

  4. Thank you for your perspective. The humane society rep present on the set has been suspended.

  5. Please don’t try to defend this. It is obvious that this dog was terrified as he was being forced into the water. Someone was yelling “just throw him in” That is horrifying and they should be ashamed of themselves for treating that dog like that. In the end of the clip you can see the dog get pulled under and the people rushing towards him in a panic. It’s clear as a bell. Sorry its just wrong and disgusting!

  6. Having a dog who has been on set in different jobs I 100% agree with you and have been telling my friends this. I’ve shared this article many times. I too will wait for the investigation/ whole story. Well said! My girl has always been prepped before set. Her favourite was the Moen for dogs…that needed no prep!!!! I’m kidding…she loved it! On the few jobs she has been on she was well taken care of on and off camera. I’m writing to let people know I wasn’t there, don’t know the whole story but from what I’ve seen this is NOT the norm!

  7. Thank you for weighing in on this. It is disturbing video. That being said, considering the source, I believe there is more to it and look forward to seeing answers.

  8. No one was “yelling just throw him in”. There is a voice over that’s been added afterwards. The “end of the clip” is clearly a different scene, a different location and might even be a different dog. I’m amazed that that’s not apparent. Why are the clips not in context? Why the doctored voice over?

    • Because that’s what TMZ does. I won’t watch their trashy show, but if you watch just one, you will see that they will do anything for maximum effect. Their editing often enables them to convince people of their lies. It’s how they make their money.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. I did not see the intended abuse that others have claimed, and as you say CONTEXT!!! I had to share your article.

  10. I would just like to say, I’m sick of hearing the bath tub or even pool excuse!
    A “still water” tub or pool isn’t even remotely the same as a raging water scene with currents and under toe…
    regardless that dog should of been taken off set when it was clear that it wanted nothing to do with the water scene!
    Poor judgment on the trainer and everyone else who didn’t speak up, but no excuse for the unrespected, unfair treatment of this animal!!
    Everyone involved should be ashamed!!

    • there was no “under toe” or undertow or currents. the turbulence was made by a machine that could have been turned off at any time. there were multiple people on site including some already in the POOL to help if needed and also on the sidelines. No one yelled “just throw him in” or any such thing. The clip is heavily edited and no one knows if the dog taken out of the water at the end of the seconds of video is even the same dog. as for speaking up yes what about that..? this video was supposedly taken in 2015 over year before its “release” and just before the opening of the film.. can you see a pattern here? Animal rights zealots take “incriminating ” videos , sit on them , heavily edit them and release them when it does the most good.. the most good.. FOR THEM.. not for the movie .. and certainly not for the dog. You have all been duped.. and as the sheeple you are will believe anything fed to you over the internet. a sad state of affairs.

      • So you’re saying the dog wanted to be there ? The dog clawing & doing whatever it could to NOT go in the water is fake & edited ? Or…. ? I don’t understand why it matters what context it was taken in ? You’re not going to force a child to do that, for fear of psychological damage.. but an animal is okay ? Why, because they can’t speak for themselves ?

  11. When I initially heard about this (and saw the video), I wanted to react with a post on our charity’s (Beautiful Joe Heritage Society) facebook page – but was smart enough to think it through, and came to many of the same conclusions that you have. Having not as yet read the book, I have personally decided to read it rather than seeing the movie. (The books are usually better anyway). I plan to donate it (A Dog’s Purpose) to our local library on behalf of the Beautiful Joe Heritage Society.

    Thank you for the thoughtful and insightful response.

  12. […] for what he did. I think this article offers a pretty rational perspective on the incident: One Perspective on the TMZ video from filming “A Dog’s Purpose” – Talented A… "I do not fully understand what I saw–no sane trainer would show up with an unprepared […]

  13. Thanks for your informed perspective on this. I was hoping that you would add your perspective to this. You have done your usual excellent job. I will keep my eyes out for any eventual report or resolution.

  14. With all of the hysteria on social media, it’s refreshing to read an informed response to what has happened here. I don’t know anybody who liked what they saw on that clip, myself included but I do know that a few seconds of video do not tell the whole story: unless those few seconds show something blatant, such as a handler holding a dog’s head under the water. Thank you for your well communicated take on this incident.

  15. Well written and thoughtful, but we will still not be supporting the movie because whatever did happen, whatever contexts, the video was pretty clear that of a terrified dog and a near drowning ..

  16. I work in this industry too & totally agree with you. We just do not know what happened & the video is edited. I’m so tired of the dock diving people saying the production should have just hired a dock dog. How ridiculous to assume ones dock dog could just go in and do this stunt. Birds & Animals Unlimited have been in this business a long long time & no way did they use an untrained dog. These dogs would have been trained for this …. and something went wrong. Who knows what. But I really don’t think there was any abuse or disregard for the dogs welfare. An error in judgement … a grave mistake …. perhaps ….. but I really do not think there was any malice.
    And I really have seen as bad and worse in dock diving training pools and with groomers forcing baths ….. doesn’t make it right but just saying people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones

  17. Disgusting, so cruel!!!!
    I’m super pissed I hope the movie is pulled they are sued and get a animal abuse record!!!!
    F****** jerks!!!!!

  18. A most sensible response to the “Hue and cry” about these two tiny film clips. It seems society is so quick these days to always assume the worst when shown a minute or two of what someone posts as a “terrible” event.

  19. A Dog’s Purpose” author W. Bruce Cameron is defending the movie against claims of animal mistreatment after he said he viewed additional footage from the incident portrayed in a leaked, now-viral video.

    “I have since viewed footage taken of the day in question, when I wasn’t there, and it paints an entirely different picture,” he said in a statement via a representative and posted on the novel’s official Facebook page. “The written commentary accompanying the edited video mischaracterizes what happened.”

    Cameron said he found the video “to be shocking because when I was on set, the ethic of everyone was the safety and comfort of the dogs.”
    Cameron said the additional footage from earlier in the day in question shows Hercules, the dog in the video, “joyfully jumping in the pool.”

    “When he was asked to perform the stunt from the other side of the pool, which was not how he had been doing it all day, he balked,” Cameron wrote. “The mistake was trying to dip the dog in the water to show him it was okay — the water wasn’t his issue, it was the location that was the issue, and the dog happily did the stunt when he was allowed to return to his original spot.”

    At one point in the video released by TMZ, Hercules’ head appeared to go under water and led one unidentified person on set to hurriedly call for the director to stop filming.

    Cameron admits he “didn’t like it when Hercules’ head briefly went under water,” but “there was a scuba diver and a trainer in the pool to protect him.”

    “[Hercules] loves the water, wasn’t in danger, and wasn’t upset,” Cameron said.

    “If the people who shot and edited the video thought something was wrong, why did they wait fifteen months to do anything about it, instead of immediately going to the authorities?” his statement said.
    He added: “I celebrate animal rescue and am proud of the values that show up in ‘A Dog’s Purpose.'”


  20. TMZ is not all that reliable in their reporting I must agree. However, in seeing this video – I saw a terrified dog, clawing, etc. This dog was terriffied! Something or someone was at fault here. I dont know who, what or circumstances that led to this, however, it does not pass the smell test with me. Sorry – but it looked to me that the dog’s comfort level with what he was asked to do was not a priority here. It was to get the job done, one way or another!

  21. It’s hard to argue with the video, regardless of other “context” we may or may not know!

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