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Dog Modeling: Secrets from a Professional

| Published on February 13, 2015

Think your dog has what it takes to be a dog model or actor? Is he too cute to not be in a commercial? Have you ever wondered how to get into the business? Michele Ryan is a professional dancer turned professional certified dog trainer (ABCDT-Level 2) who owns Train Pawsitive, a dog training facility that includes special classes just for those wanting to get their dogs involved in modeling and acting/performance.

We asked Ryan to share her secrets to a successful doggy modeling career.

What made you decide to become a dog trainer?

I have 46 years of dance, theatre and performing experience, professional 28 years, owned a dance studio and competitive Dance Company for over 20 years in Northeast Pa.  I currently instruct recreational dance and teach Zumba classes in South Florida.  I have always loved animals and enjoyed teaching them tricks growing up.  I volunteered at the SPCA and shelters for years. In the early 90’s I received a call from a local Kennel Club, and they were looking for someone to choreograph a few canine freestyle routines for competition. The routines took 1st place and I started working and training with them. A few years ago I decided I needed a “second act” I asked myself “what is your passion beside dancing and teaching?” The answer was animals and helping people with their animals. I went back to school and received dog training certifications from a variety of training organizations, foremost being the Companion Animal Sciences Institute. I am now studying for my CPDT-KA!  I consider myself a working breed!  “Never stop learning or progressing.”

How long have you been teaching a modeling and acting class for dogs? What made you start this class?

I have been handling dogs who were in performance events and theatre since the late 80’s. This is my second successful year instructing my Animal Modeling, Actor and Performance Class. I started this class so dog guardians can do something fun, different, entertaining, and engaging with their dog.  It is all about showing off the tricks and their obedience skills as handlers, and of course their cuteness. Dogs that show a talent and aptitude are invited to progress to the next level with me. They go on to more advanced training and working on a set with lights, camera, and action. I even include a photo shoot with a photographer.

Michele and Lola, a student’s dog. Image source: Train Pawsitive

What kind of “work” have your own dogs done?

My pointer mix Mikki really enjoyed the limelight.  He did print ads, events, demonstrations and Santa photo ads for a few stores. In addition, he also did a few theatre shows, runway modeling and canine freestyle! Gator is great in photos and has been featured in art shows, magazines and marketing brochures. Currently, I’m now working with my girl Remi who is very entertaining, enthusiastic and loves tricks.

What’s a typical day like on the set of a photo shoot or a commercial?

Fun, unpredictable, and entertaining! You need to be calm, positive, and ready for “what if’s.” No room for high strung dog owners. Keeping your sense of humor is a must!

Do they pay well?

Pay differs for each gig. Most dogs get paid anywhere from $150.00 and up, depending on how long the shoot goes for.

What type of dog does best in this line of work?

A dog that enjoys this kind of environment and is a natural performer.  A well socialized dog who is well rounded and has a good temperament. It is important to be calm around crowds, bright lights, different environments, and loud noises. They should also be engaging and eager to please.

Is there a size, age, or breed(s) of dog that tends to be more “in demand” than others?

Absolutely not! Any breed, mix, size, or age can get into “show business,” it depends entirely on what the client or Production Company is looking for.

No dog is too big (or small) for a career as an actor or model. Image source:
No dog is too big (or small) for a career as an actor or model. Image source: Train Pawsitive

What skill set does a dog need to have in order to be successful at modeling? Commercials?

Basic obedience (solid and reliable), distance training (sit, down, stand, stay, come, etc.), and tricks; the more tricks the better.  Whatever you’re working on with your dog, you need to practice frequently in varied surroundings with high distractions. Training should be continuously ongoing to keep your dog’s skills sharp and fresh. This includes training classes or better, Animal Modeling, Actor and Tricks classes.

To land that job, the more tricks the better! Image source:
To land that job, the more tricks the better! Image source: Train Pawsitive

How do people learn about jobs their dog can audition for?

You can get your dog’s pictures and bio on our social media site and do an internet search  for “Dog Talent Agencies, Dog Auditions and Auditions Free” in your state/area. There’s many out there, take the time to search. You need to read the print very carefully. There should be no charge to sign up or post your animal pictures.

Any “secrets of a pro” tips you have to share with people aspiring to have their dog become a star?

Keep up with your dog training! No matter what age, good manners is for life and never stop socializing or engaging with your dog. Make sure you have updated professional photos on hand at all times. Some dogs truly enjoy doing tricks and performing, some enjoy just modeling. You need to find out what your dog loves, try a variety!  If your dog’s body language is showing signs of stress, don’t push it and try something else like tracking, nose work, etc. As with any performing art industry, the competition is tough, there will be disappointments. However you need to look at the positive for both you and your dog! It’s always a learning experience for both of you. What’s great about working with dogs is you will always be a rock star to them whether you get the gig or not!


About the Author

Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She is the founder of A Fairytail House. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.

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