When he showed up, I guessed Loki to be about ten months old. He had the body of a prize fighter, the lightweight division, wasp-waisted and muscular. He flung himself to the end of the retractable leash and went whirring directly under the parked truck in the driveway.
Loki was my newest student in Puppy Boot Camp in 2018. At first glance he could be assessed as a Doberman mix, with the glossy coat and red accents on his face and legs. His front feet were clawed and pointed outward at the ankles like grippers. His greatest feature was his ears: Large, cupped wings that tipped over halfway up, giving him a ridiculously medieval appearance, like a gryphon or some other imp. He was aptly named, this lord of Mischief.
Loki had been adopted by friends of mine who had been through an agonizing loss of their longtime friend, that ache so well known by so many of us who live with dogs. Aiden was black and tan, but that was as far as the resemblance went. Aiden was born older, always dignified, an easy companion for a couple in their retirement years
Loki was a tightened spring. He was everywhere. His favorite habit was to jump in front of your feet and try to grab them. Sometimes he bit pretty hard. You couldn’t walk across the room without the black missile blocking you, attacking your ankles and threatening either bloody feet or a broken hip. He had a habit of curling his lips and savagely snapping at the air, as if he liked the sound of his teeth clicking together in some fantasy where he was eating the villains alive. (Click here to see how I fixed that.)
He didn’t seem to know his name. He had no concept of coming when called. He pulled so hard on the leash that your shoulder would hurt for days. He was reactive to traffic and afraid of cars driving past.
Loki was, in short, a disaster. By the time my friends called me, they had already discussed returning him to the shelter. It was tearing them up: They committed for life to their pets, but they knew they couldn’t live with him the way he was.
I covered a lot of Loki’s training in my blog. During the weeks that I had him, I grew to love the dog. He was gifted with the quick inherent genius of a real working canine. He loved to train. And train we did! I took him everywhere with me and put him through a rigorous daily regimen of reward-based activities.
He learned to come when called, how to not pull on the leash (we got rid of the retractable immediately), how to stay focused and calm in the house, how to stop using human feet for a chew toy, and he even started some agility training. He got along well with my dogs, behaving in a way that was appropriate and didn’t push their buttons. His owners did a great job of following his take-home instructions, and I received happy reports of how he could be trusted off-leash and had grown into a loved family member.
So when I got the call for a project in Detroit needing eight dogs for an ad shoot, Loki’s owner was the first person I got ahold of.
A dog who works on set has to have a few skills. The primary ones are that he must:
- Be reliable off leash
- Maintain focus on handler
- Come when called
- Stay on a mark
Other talents depend on the needs of each shoot, so can be adapted. Loki is a quick study and had already established a relationship with my six dogs that were already cast.
The scene required a lot of dog-to-dog interaction. It was a tall order, especially being filmed in a new location, a park in the city, with members of the public walking strange dogs past the set.
Loki worked for four hours that day and thanks to his participation, we were able to deliver everything the client asked for.
When the video comes out, I will be sure to post the link.
Congratulations to Loki, and big thanks to his family for their faithful follow-up training! It’s pretty amazing that in one year’s time, you were able to make such a difference in his life.