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Folks...This is what a dog in REDZONE looks like...

For anyone that has not seen this behind the scenes clip during the filming of

‘A Dog's Purpose’ it is posted below. For those that don’t want to watch it again (or for those uninterested in seeing an animal wrenched into a stressful situation for agenda of a movie) I will explain what it shows.

Basically, there is a German Shepherd on the edge of a pool designed to simulate rapids and current. Clearly the dog is in extreme duress and the handler struggles to force him into the turbulent water. Later on in the clip you see the dog disappear under water as the current slams him against the edge of the pool and you hear panicked calls to shut off the water…All for a F*#&ing shot in their stupid movie.

Before I dive into the rest of this blog. Going to go ahead and make the statement that this is absolute bullshit and anyone with a reasonable sense of professionalism in the dog world should have known that this dog was not ready for this type of stunt. Either bring in a dog that is accustomed to the conditions of turbulence and rapids or take the time to train this dog PROPERLY on how to deal with these conditions. What this video shows is laziness, ignorance and the human agenda being rammed down the throat of an unprepared canine for the sake of a movie…safe to say I will go ahead and skip seeing this one.

What this video shows is a dog in a REDZONE. Anyone that has trained with me has heard my spiel on load zones in dog training. Here is a diagram that briefly outlines GREEN vs YELLOW vs RED:

  1. GREEN ZONE: When training in the green zone your dog is a pro. They nail commands effortlessly and with confidence.

  2. YELLOW ZONE: This is where the MOST training takes place (with proper consistency). It is here in a world of increased distraction, distance and duration that your dog will learn the most gaining a deeper understanding of their commands thus building confidence. MOST optimum learning level is on that back edge of yellow zone.

  3. RED ZONE: Your dog is overloaded. Too much distraction, distance or duration for where they are at in training. In this zone you are either causing stress on the dog or discrediting yourself as a trainer since you cannot maintain consistency in behaviors. Or both.

As you continue training in the yellow zone while properly rewarding the dog for success, the zone shifts... Spend time in yellow = green expands. If you push into red…Identify that you have gone too far....and take a step back.

Using the example of the dog above – clearly the Shepherd is in a red zone. This is beyond zones even...he is fearing for his life. Had this handler not had his head up his ass perhaps they would have introduced the dog to this scenario in a way that brought him back to yellow and allowed him to learn and build confidence. A few simple examples of yellow zone steps:

  • Meet pool with turbulence off

  • Work commands dog is confident in around the sound of the engine/turbulent water

  • Make playing in this particular pool fun

  • Slowly increase current as opposed to starting it right off in 'the gauntlet' stage from the movie 'River Wild'.

I mean these are just a handful of suggestions. I don’t know this dog/the trainer/or how this all went down. But when the dog is THAT stressed out there were obviously major yellow zone steps that were left out of his training in preparation for this scene.

This obviously pisses me off. Apologies for the ‘I would have done differently’ blog post…But as a passionate advocate for dogs (and particularly the German Shepherd Dog), best I can do is try and take this unfortunate situation and use it as an example so that we all pay a little more attention to whether we are pushing our own dogs too far. Although this is an extreme example: Redzones can come up in all aspects of training. It doesn't necessarily need to come in the form of fear. Teach a dog to sit one day then try and ask them to do it again at the dog park with 100 dogs around is another example of trying to work them in a redzone.

Lets take a human example. You read a book on climbing mountains and decide to give it a go. You summit a lower elevation peak with easy trail access (yellow zone). Your next move is NOT climbing everest (redzone). The next step may be to tackle a mountain with tougher climb or a higher elevation (shift in yellow and green). Be consistent and move forward properly managing your own load zone and you will be the next Conrad Anker... This is why proper training is such an important process in confidence building (both for humans and dogs). Imagine if that German Shepherd HAD been properly worked through his load zone to be confident in his abilities that the variables of turbulence, rapids and a screaming camera crew didn't matter. Would have been great for him! Just like that mountaineer struggling to reach the summit and planting that flag at the top - could have been an amazing accomplishment that could ALSO have been a great scene in an entertaining movie. Win win. Instead, things were rushed...this dog probably now has a huge aversion to ever doing anything like this again...and I (as I imagine many) won't endorse the film/give the industry my ticket money. It's a shame all the way around.

It is interesting to see the reaction online to this TMZ video. Everything from angry and shocked to those brushing it off and telling folks to get over it. As a professional that has worked in the world of production AND dogs here is my reaction:

THE DOG SIDE: I am angry that such bush league negligence and bad training procedure was apart of this film. Any trainer worth their salt would have approached this scenario EXTREMELY different. I mean a dog, inherently, is programmed to avoid water like this. Take the time to break down this crazy scenario and make each step of it fun.

THE PRODUCTION SIDE: I know that there were probably at least 20-30 people involved in this shot taking place. I don't care how little the crew understands dogs - SOMEONE should have had the sense to take their earpiece out and question whether things were being done correctly. Anyone with half a brain could see this wasn't right...

I have had this video shared with me by a number of friends, family and dog enthusiasts. One can only hope this incident was isolated and not a part of a trend of bad decisions that plagued the canine cast of this movie. I don’t think I could handle seeing much more of this…

…Unless the German Shepherd got pushed too far and appropriately turned on his handler and bit his ass. THAT is a movie I would pay to see…

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