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The Heidi Chronicles, Part 5: A working dog needs a job

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This is Heidi. Earlier this year, she was ‘discovered’ in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Times Staff Writer Diane Haithman. And this is her “head shot”: That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.

Besides being deterred by the $3,995 price tag for Levels I and II of the ‘acting program’ offered by the animal talent agency -- we didn’t stick around long enough to find out what Level III would cost -- industry insiders were assuring me that animal talent agencies were not the best way to get Heidi’s name above the title.

So, what was the best way? Heidi’s former obedience trainer, Ron Hutchison, who has trained dogs for TV and movies, said that usually the director or producer will contact a trainer or animal company that can provide the right dog for the job. Many such dogs, he said, are rescues. For the TV series ‘Any Day Now,’ for example, Hutchison trained a dog that had been abandoned in a Dumpster.

But Hutchison, who concentrates more on private training than the entertainment industry, was frankly not so enthusiastic about a Hollywood career for Heidi. ‘The life of a studio dog is extremely stressful,’ he says. ‘Just like for actors, there’s a lot of sit-around-and-wait time. It’s not something I would wish on one of my own dogs.’

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While Hollywood offers a better life for dogs from the pound or the streets, he added, it’s hardly the cushy life of the pampered house pet.

Heidi, however, is a shepherd, a working dog. She’s always looking for something, or someone, to herd. Note the gleam in her eye in the photo at left, shot during her herding aptitude test last year at Drummond Ranch, which offers herding training as a competitive sport for dogs.

Lest you think that at this point I’ve tried to get Heidi into everything from piano lessons to Harvard Law School, this ranch visit was a birthday present for my husband, just for fun. But from now on, let the sheep of Studio City beware.

Stress notwithstanding, it seemed to me that Heidi was the type (that is, type A) to benefit from having a job. And if I was determined, Hutchison said, why not interview trainers at some of Hollywood’s top animal companies for tips?

Hutchison dropped a few names. Later, I headed back to the Internet to search for their websites, plus any others I could find on my own. Heidi stood guard by my desk, alert to any possible attack by sheep.

Want to catch up on Heidi’s story? Read Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three and Chapter Four.


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