Animal Actors: Training you pet to play behind the camera


Have you ever watched a commercial on television where a dog tracks mud on a new kitchen floor, and found yourself saying, “Hey, my dog can do that, he does that now”. What about the finicky cat that just lies there on the couch and will not eat her food because it is not the brand she wants? Your cat does that too! You see this every day on television and in magazine ads and it makes you think – how can I get my pet into show business?

Bruce Pelaccio, animal agent and trainer for the east coast animal agency, All Creatures Great and Small of NY, Ltd., says, “In order to have your pet become a star, whether it be a simple print job for a magazine or a part in a weekly sitcom, you need to spend quality time with your animal – quality time and plenty of positive reinforcement. Them, after all the training, he or she may not want to have anything to do with camera and flash photos,” he warns. “Maybe your pet just wants to stay home and bewith you or play all day long,” Pelaccio suggests. “If that happens to you, then have to realize that your pet just wants to be your best friend, and isn’t that really the perfect vision of pet and companion?”

If it’s the stardom you pet is after, Pelaccio believes that, “socializing you pet with other animals and people is very important, not only for the entertainment business, but for basic training.” To better socialize your pet, and get your furry friend accustomed to new places, people and environments, Pelaccio recommends pet lovers, “try to always take them with you when you go out, to park, shopping plazas, etc.” These situations are similar to photography studios and television sets, according to Pelaccio, where distractions abound.

Pelaccio began training dogs many years ago. One day while training dogs for episodes of Saturday Night Live and the soap opera The Guiding Light, he was asked ti train a particular pup for an episode of Mad About You. A few days later he recruited by agents Catheryn Long and Ruth Manecke to join All Creatures Great & Small of NY, Ltd. (ACG&S), and began a carrer of animal training working with every type of of animals from dogs to tigers to rabbits.

For the apst three years, Pelaccio has been the dog trainer of ‘Rags’, the suicidal do on the hit television series, Spin City starring Michael J. Fox and Heather Locklear. “The key to training Rags, (whose real name is Wes),” says Pelaccio, “is getting him to sit and stay in one spot by using hand signals. Sometimes, I am as far away as fifteen feet, trying to stay off camera. I will wave my hand around to get Wes’ attention, and he will stay in one spot until I drop my hand. He does this because he knows that when I have my hand up, he is going to get a treat – usually a small piece of cheese, his favorite.”

Pelaccio’s 3-year-old Golden Retriever, Max, is also up an up and coming star. Max has worked on a number of advertisements for companies such as Konica Camera, Neiman Marcus, and Discover Card, and has also done television commercials for ESPN, St John’s University and Seton Hall University.

Max, weighing in at a very healthy 80 pounds, has befriended his slightly less weighty canine counterpart, Wes, who tips the scales at just 9 pounds. Pelaccio attributes the gentle giant’s loving nature to being raised with the family rabbit, Race. A 4-year-old Jersey Wooly belonging to Pelaccio’s son Brian, Race is also in show biz. He is the star of Nickelodeon’s live action adventure series Race Rabbit on KaBlam! “It’s pretty funny,” says Brian of Max’s relationship with the show biz bunny, “with all the time they spend together, Race thinks his a small dog.”

Pelaccio’s philosophy on animal training is centered on love and care for the animals with which he works. “I am always aware of the fact that all of these animals are just that, animals, and they look to us for companionship and protection,” he says. “When an animal does not want to do a certain task in front of the camera because of shyness or nervousness, or whatever the casem ay be, then it’s time to stop. They are never forced to perform. Animal safety and protection is always a priority with me.”

–            By Brian Michael