Disclaimer: This article is not a guarantee that you will get into dog acting but should act as a guide. The saying ‘your mileage may vary” is very true with this – every situation is different.
I get a lot of emails from people asking how can they get into dog acting. I can tell you right now it is not easy and it is a lot of work. I’ve done this before (commercial and TV show work) and it can be stressful on the dog, especially one not ready for acting.
First and most important make sure your dog is friendly under most, if not all, appropriate circumstances. Can you hand him/her off to a complete stranger for them to handle during the shoot? Will they be able to tolerate strange and unexpected things happening (loud noises, people walking around, etc.).
Second, obedience train your dog. Start off with basic obedience (sit, stay, here, heel) and get that as close to perfect as you can get. You can look for professional trainers in your area or look for dog obedience clubs. This will also help you get into obedience competition and having obedience titles (CGC, Rally, etc.) on the dog won’t hurt.
If your dog is very well behaved and trained you may want to have a professional photographer take some (or many) pictures of your dog. Dogs are usually hired on what breed they are (or what breed they look like). Obviously an adult St Bernard is not going to be a good casting if the studio is looking for a purse-dog. 🙂 Get the pictures and (if you have permission) scan and host the pictures somewhere (Photobucket is a good site for this). Also, have extra copies of the pictures on hand, you never want to run out.
Look into talent agencies. While (as far as I know) there are no talent agencies exclusive to dogs only so you may want to start with human talent agencies. In our experience (in Florida and the northeastern USA) not a single agency asked for money up front (pay us to find work for you) and this is usually not a good sign if they do. The agencies we’ve worked with in the past paid us when they got paid from a gig. Some will pay you a percentage of their fee and others will pay you a flat rate. Don’t expect tens of thousands of dollars for the service (most actors don’t get pad millions per role). Since every situation and gig is different I can’t say what to expect but don’t be surprised or insulted if they offer you $50 for a few hours worth of work.
If you read my article on Laurence Trimble you’ll see that luck plays a big factor. He just happened to be called to write an article on moving pictures. He also just happened to have his border collie with him and the studio just happened to need a dog to play opposite Florence Turner. That day the Vitagraph Dog (Jean) was born. Due to her success Laurence found a former Red Cross dog and police canine Etzel whom he trained to become Strongheart – the first canine super star and action hero. Because of his success Warner Brothers took a big gamble on their own – that dog was Rin Tin Tin who they just happened to find acting on stage at a small production company. Yes, it helps to be lucky (and sometimes other people’s luck can help you).
Get out there!! If you sit at home no one is going to call you. Get out there. Meet with the talent agencies and let them meet your dog. If your dog is AKC / UKC / IKC registered show the dog or at least compete with obedience. Be active in the dog world. It can be a lot of work but can be very rewarding outside of just acting.