What does the Power of Dogs mean to you?
The power of dogs is their ability to bring joy and happiness to so many. Life can be hard, and that can mean such different things to different people. Yet dogs have the power to make a difference. That can be a profound lifesaving impact, or just a small moment of joy at the end of a tough day. No matter what your issue, dogs take it in their stride, without prejudice or fear and make the world a better place.
Dogs and puppies love nothing more than a human getting down at their level – how difficult does that make filming?
Whoever or whatever we are filming, we generally try and put our audience at the eye-level of our filming subjects, so we can see the world as they view it. It helps the audience understand the world they are entering and empathise with the character they are meeting. So with dogs and indeed puppies this means getting right down low and in amongst them. You do need some more specialised equipment, and it takes a bit more effort – but the results are definitely worth it. And of course the dogs love it. No-one likes to be talked down to, and that includes dogs. When you get down at their level, they come alive.
The issues come if you want the dogs to focus on something other than the people behind the camera as we can be distracting… But if you can work it to your benefit, the results speak for themselves.
How many takes do you generally take to get ‘the one’?
We do everything we can to make sure we are ready and everything is set up so that when something special does happen, we’ve captured it perfectly first time. It can be (and often is) the very first ‘take’ – as that is often the most natural take. But it can also take multiple takes to get something right. My policy however is always to work with what the animals want to do naturally, rather than try and force something out of a situation. This way the performances are better and everyone is happier.
Can you give us a top tip for filming dogs?
A happy, relaxed dog is always going to look and behave better than a stressed, nervous one. And dogs feed off their owner’s moods, so if you can make the owner feel relaxed, involved and at ease with what is going on – then their dogs will naturally follow suit. This applies to professional, trained dogs as well as first timers (and actors, scientists and presenters react the same way!). Often there is a presumed pressure to perform and a fear that their dog will ‘fail’. So I always make sure my dog owners know that their dogs can’t fail, they are always right, and if they are not interested right now, then that’s not their fault. We can adapt what we need.
I also put a lot of effort into creating an environment where the most natural thing is for the dog to do what I’m hoping it will do. For this you often have to think like a dog and imagine how they would react.
I’m not mad about using food as an incentive. It works for specific, pre-trained actions. But for anything else, particularly if you want the dog to look and behave like a natural dog, it generally doesn’t work, as the dog just stares at the source of treats, waiting for another.
Would you share a memorable dog moment with us (from a shoot or a personal memory) OR Tell us a funny story about a/your dog
I’ve been lucky enough to meet many incredible dogs and dog owners in my time working with them, but Jess a Springer Spaniel from Devon definitely stands out. She was owned by Louise, a sheep farmer who inevitably always had her hands full, especially during lambing. So Jess would pick up the milk bottles in her teeth and hold them until the orphaned lambs would latch on, leaving Lousie amazed, but delighted to be able to sort out other lambs while that one got her milk. I thought it was just going to be a trick, but this dog seemed to have genuinely realised that doing this made her owner happy, and it was just a small step from being trained to pick things up, to bottle feeding lambs. Google it, it’s ridiculous!
What is your favourite breed(s) or dog(s) and why?
I love dogs of all shapes and sizes now. I used to be much more partial to larger, working dogs and I adore our Border Collie that we have in Argentina. But having Honey (a miniature Yorkshire Terrier) and prior to that a tiny street dog called Pitufa, has made me realise that every dog thinks they’re a proper hound, no matter what size or breed they are. It’s only our prejudices that make us treat them differently. So I’m trying not to.
What’s your favourite dog walk and why?
I love the coastal footpaths of Cornwall as that’s where I grew up and the sea re-charges all my batteries. But my default walk here in Bristol is the far corner of Ashton Court, as it is a big open space with great views that not too many people frequent even though it is in relatively easy reach of the city.