Working with animals is never easy, but you wouldn’t know it by talking to Mark Harden. He is just one of the trainers on the set of Pup Star: Better 2Gether. The sequel to the original Pup Star movie is filled with cats, dogs and of course a handful of humans as well. While we visited the set of Pup Star 2, we were able to talk to Mark and one of the stars Lucas, who was not only very talented but also adorable.
A lot of the dogs on the set are rescues, and some are found by other trainers. The dogs are trained, given great homes and rehabilitated. Mark told us what it’s like working with dogs, why shelter dogs make some of the best dog actors on the market.
Do you ever get a dog that is untrainable?
No animal is untrainable. Not everything is trainable for our purposes. He’s borderline. He’s not the world’s greatest movie dog, but looks wise overcomes that. He had an identical twin brother which made it impossible to say no to them. In our work, two that look alike is key. It’s two different personalities to create a character, and insurance companies like having a second.
How do the dogs get paid for their work?
We don’t just give them treats. This is their paycheck. They work for their food. We know how much it takes to maintain them, and this is complete diet. He’s basically is working for his food. They don’t get free food and then treats. They learn to work for it.
How does that work when they’re not on set?
We have a set diet for them, we know what they need to maintain and be healthy. And when we go to work them, we give then have half of their food in kibble, and half in their work “treats”. So we use half for their training and half to supplement them. When we go to treats it’s usually meat, chicken or beef.
How long does it take to train the animals?
We’re always training them. But it usually takes around four months to get a dog from the shelter to the stage.
How old is Luke and how old was he when you got him?
He’s just about two, and we got him when he was just under a year. Robert met him up at our compound. We’re out of LA, Animals for Hollywood.
Do the animals live with the trainers?
We keep about 20 at the company. We brought about 25 up here, but we sublease some from other companies. We got a couple from local people to work with for a couple weeks.
When we do take a dog in and train them, do you bring them into your home 24/7?
It depends on the dog. It’s not always best for them when we do that. We do our best to acclimate them to our world. So if some dogs really want to suck up, and they get more anxious when we have to create a distance. Our job isn’t to make the dog look like he loves me, but he loves that actor or that one. Some dogs are really good at balancing both.
I did Russell Madness with Robert, and that Jack Russell I could take anywhere. He was really good acting like he was everyone’s dog. It’s his personality. He’s not one of those dogs that really bonds. It’s just not the same as your pet.
Even someone like Luke, I kept him at my house for the first three weeks and realized that he was really needy and clingy. If I create a bond it’s unrealistic, so he needs to go with other trainers and a little distance.
They’re not pets per say, I do keep one of the Akitas with me, and David, another trainer, keeps another with him. A lot of the little dogs live with trainers because they’re not good kennel dogs.
You mentioned that a lot of the animals are rescues – is there a reason for that?
Mostly we have failed pets. That’s what we work with, shelter dogs, breed rescues. A lot of them prefer the company of other dogs, and are use to living in kennels. Home isn’t their favorite place.
In the states, a lot of different breeds have groups that represent them. They don’t want them to end up in shelters. Shelters call those people when they receive a certain breed, it’s the first way to free up cages. A lot of responsible breeds like Golden Retrievers are never in there for more than a day before a breed rescue comes for them.
Luke kind of looks like the classic street dog – is that what he’s cast as?
The funny thing is whenever we have a movie movie, a feature film where you have to keep the dogs three or four months working. So if they cast a dog that has a double. We want them to look like a mutt, that the American audience doesn’t really know what it is. A lot are registered breeds, but not AKC so not ones people aren’t familiar with. So we can sell them as a mutt.
How many dogs on the set are rescues instead of breed actors for Pup Star?
I know the German shelter is a rescue, the Old English is a rescue. Luke is obviously a rescue. Dexter our black lab is a from an downtown LA shelter. The mutts are always from the shelters. I’d love to say that we do it just to do good things but we don’t. They actually make better working dogs because they’ve failed their way to success.
Why are shelter dogs ideal for acting?
All the things they’ve done wrong and gotten in trouble with – they succeeded it. “I want to dig, I want to jump a fence, I want to bark until my eyes pop out.” They do these things to the point that people can’t stop them. So in their mind, they’ve really succeeded. They don’t realize they’re at the shelter and they’re in jail. In their minds they’re winners. “I got away with this, and I got away with that” In our work, they keep trying. Just because you say no, they don’t stop. “What if I try it this way or that way” They have a little more umph than a well behaved, well raised, well adjusted dog. They have a little more push back, and aren’t going to get upset when you tell them to do something.
Their misbehaviors we can can always put them on queue and use them: Digging, barking, climbing. Get them to do to it on command and they knock it off when they’re just hanging out.
The best way to get a dog to shut up is to teach him to speak. Now he knows what it is and he will just relax.
Watch the Pup Star: Better 2Gether Trailer:
About Pup Star: Better 2Gether
Air Bud Entertainment, the proud creators of beloved family entertainment for more than 20 years, including ‘Air Bud’ and ‘Disney Air Buddies,’ announces an all-new adventure in the PUP STAR franchise — PUP STAR: BETTER 2GETHER. A pup-tastic adventure for the whole family, the exciting new canine film, featuring a soundtrack of paw-tapping new songs, debuts on Digital and VOD, August 29, 2017. The action-packed new season of the franchise continues with the story of Tiny, an adorable Yorkie pup who, after winning the ‘Pup Star’ TV singing competition, is suddenly launched into an adventure when she’s replaced by a street Yorkie, Scrappy, and the two swap lives in a dog-filled, fish-out-of-water tale that ultimately demonstrates life truly is ‘better together.’
The launch of PUP STAR: BETTER 2GETHERfollows the overwhelming popularity of the first film in the franchise (debut 2016). That film, ‘Pup Star,’ is currently available on Netflix, and recently had its broadcast premiere on Disney Channel.
“We’re ecstatic by the overwhelming response we’ve received to the original ‘Pup Star’ film and excited to return with another great story in a franchise that has become one of our company’s most popular,” said Writer, Director and CEO Robert Vince. “ With ‘Pup Star: Better 2Gether’ we continue the franchise with an exciting edge-of-your-seat dog adventure, succeeding in our company’s ongoing goal of providing families with quality entertainment they can all enjoy, together!” said Anna McRoberts, Producer and President of Air bud Entertainment.
PUP STAR: BETTER 2GETHER happily reunites many in the original film’s live-action cast including Makenzie Moss (Steve Jobs) as Tiny’s owner, Lou; David Deluise (The Wizards of Waverly Place) as her father, and Jed Rees (Deadpool). Denisse Ojeda joins the cast as the family’s loyal nanny ‘Ida.’
A bevy of blue ribbon voice talent lead the film including the return of top music icon Ziggy Marley (as ‘Dog Gnarly’) and 12-year old singing sensation Kaitlyn Maher (America’s Got Talent) as the voice of Tiny AND the voice of a street pup named Scrappy. John Ratzenberger also returns to the franchise, voicing ‘Salty.’ Rising YouTube sensation Mackenzie Sol (The X-Factor) joins the cast, as ‘P.U.P’ and teen talent Lil’ P-Nut (Nick’s ‘Haunted Hathaways) takes a bite out of the voice of wrapping pup ‘MC BITE.’
PUP STAR: BETTER 2GETHER is produced by Air Bud Entertainment, the creative force behind the #1 live-action, direct-to-home movies in the family category. The film is directed by “Air Bud” and “Disney Air Buddies” veteran Robert Vince, produced by Anna McRoberts and written by Vince and McRoberts.