‘What’s my next command Mum?’
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous before our first day on set filming The Dumping Ground Series 3. Starting any new job, with new people and new rules is always a challenge. Sage and I had been given a script in advance so I knew what scenes he was in and what training was needed to get him to perform within the story line. However nothing we could do in advance would have prepared us for working on set, with multiple cast, crew and equipment and often with me, the handler, out of sight. There was always going to be first day nerves, from me at least.
Without revealing anything about the story line, his tasks during the summer of filming were based around several basic training concepts which all my dogs are taught at quite a young age.
Picking up, fetching or holding objects of all shapes, sizes and textures is something which I work on with my dogs through play, chase and tug. My dogs need to be happy and comfortable carrying and fetching to me, as well as to other people. During filming, Sage was required to fetch, carry and drop a wide variety of articles, as well as retrieving a particular object from a group of almost identical objects, trained through scent discrimination.
I teach all my dogs to run towards me, but also to run away from me on command. This is known as a ‘send-away’ and it has come in very handy during filming. Several times Sage was required to run towards or away from the actors with objects in his mouth and, on wide shots, with me out of sight. In addition, no further verbal signals are allowed once ‘action’ is declared so an element of linking complex behaviour together is vital. Sage was more than up for the task!
Watch that expensive equipment Sage!
I train ‘Speak’ on command with all my dogs. I say ‘speak’, they bark. However for the purposes of The Dumping Ground story line, Sage needed to be re-trained to bark when one of the actors gave a visual cue, as part of the script, without any prompting from me.
Indeed in one scene, Sage had to carry an object onto set, approach a specific actor in the midst of a group, drop the first object, bark at the actor in question, pick up an additional object and run away again. All this was done in one filming sequence, with me behind a fence well out of sight or ear shot.
Finally, the importance of training basic positions such as sit/down/stand with a reliable stay, can’t be forgotten about. Sage has been placed into those positions so many times on set, both from a distance and close by, that his concentration and stamina has really been put to the test.
The old saying goes that ‘you should never work with children or animals’. Well during filming of this series, the cast and crew of The Dumping Ground worked with both and I am happy to say that so far, things have worked really well. Sage is a born showman who has taken to his new job like a true star and everyone was patient and friendly with the new recruits. The summer weather was great for filming, but not so good if you’re wearing a fur coat. Sage certainly earned his holiday to recharge, before we’re next called up for filming in a few weeks’ time.
Happy to be on hols.