making movies with dogs

Domesticated dogs are highly sensitive to social cues and they interact with human in such a way that might provide a sensorimotor – using both senses (sight/sound) and movement of limbs – ability to imitate (Range, Huber, & Heyes, 2011). Dogs have a sensitivity to human body language and state of attention, use of gestures like pointing, head turning, gazing, and nodding can indicate where hidden food is located (Udell, Dorey, & Wynne, 2009). Meaning that dogs have the capacity to learn tricks or specific actions that can be used in a movie, with just a simple gesture. Dogs can also rely on auditory cues, without visual cues or scents to guide them, such as an exciting tone directed at an object to guide them to an object or treat (Rossano, Nitzschner, and Tomasello, 2014). This gives the director the options to direct the dog, to find a hidden object without being on screen, or being restricted to hand movements or the need to be seen by the dog.

It may be that behaviors that resulted from training with an object, like a toy, can be recalled without the presences of the object, thus forming a retrieval cue for a specific behavior (Fugazza, Pogány, & Miklósi, 2015). The trainer can then get the dog to learn a specific action that without the object could not be learned, increasing the dog’s range of movements. Furthermore, Fugazza, Pogány, & Miklósi (2015), found that dogs were able to imitate actions that were demonstrated even after delay that lasted from one hour to 24 hours. This means that dogs have the potential to retain the actions needed while filming and that they can be recalled at the appropriate moment.

Dogs have been trained to do tricks like shake a paw, which uses imitation – as the owner reaches out with their hand with an expectation the dog will do the same and extend a paw (Range, Huber, & Heyes, 2011). With a bit of practice and a lot of treats, my dog (Kiya) has been able to learn to roll over. First we grab her attention with a treat, then while turning hand in a clockwise motion to indicate the action to be perform, the trained uses the “roll-over” command. Range, Huber, & Heyes (2011), found that when a command accompanied the gesture to be imitated it aided the dogs ability to understand that the owners actions were cues or that it was time to learn a trick.

To capture the dog’s action at the right time is a feat in itself, and proper staging will make a difference. One of the quickest and easiest way to create a narrative movies is to record the stage in a boxed off area (Laurier, 2014). To build the story line of the movie Laurier (2014) suggests a few tips:

  • To convey a grammatical relationship between clips, the use of the cut, the sequence, and the transition are used.
  • Only three transitions are important to the home movie maker: the fade-in, the fade-out and the cross-cut dissolve.
  • Cuts and transitions allow movie makers to express continuity, metamorphosis, progress, parallel action, and narrative.
  • The cross-cut dissolve indicates the passing of time or a flashback.

It is important to be aware of your back-drop and lighting source. During the editing process contrasting colors and highlights/shadows can be manipulated too help guide viewers through the story. Editing the story for narrative that flows, makes it easier for the viewer to understand and focus on the performance of the dog.

© 2015 Laura Adamson –  All Rights Reserved


Fugazza, C., Pogány, Á., and Miklósi, Á. (2015). Do as I… Did! Long-term memory of imitative actions in dogs (Canis familiaris). Animal cognition, 1-7. Retrieved from!_Long-term_memory_of_imitative_actions_in_dogs_(Canis_familiaris)/links/5630f28608ae0530378cfa1a.pdf

Laurier, E. (2014). Dissolving the dog: the home made video. Cultural geographies, 21(4), 627-638. Retrieved from

Range, F., Huber, L., and Heyes, C. (2011). Automatic imitation in dogs. Proceedings: Biological Sciences, 278(1703), 211-217. Retreived from

Rossano, F., Nitzschner, M., and Tomasello, M. (2014). Domestic dogs and puppies can use human voice direction referentially. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 281(1785). Retrieved from

Udell, M. A. R., Dorey, N. R., and Wynne, C. D. L. (2009).  What did domestication do to dogs? A new account of dogs’ sensitivity to human actions. Biological Reviews, 85(2), 327–345. Retrieved from