It hardly seems believable that we are coming up to performing our 100th show of Legally Blonde in Sydney. It seems like only a short time ago I had two baby chihuahuas in toe who would one day (hopefully!) fill the big role of Bruiser Woods in the Australian production of Legally Blonde the Musical. Well, fill they have, especially our little canine lead, Sparrow.
Being the dog trainer, thinking about reaching the 100th show mark brings home to me just how many times the dogs have gone out on the stage, done their stuff and got their reward. It also makes me think of all the bits of bbq chicken, roast lamb and beef sausages they have devoured. Cause for the dogs of Legally Blonde, that’s what it’s all about.
I would be a rich woman if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I think the dogs like performing. In fact ensuring that the dogs enjoy what they do is one of the main aspects of my work as the shows dog trainer. When you perform in eight shows a week loving what you do is a must, no matter how many legs you have.
When any one of us – humans and dogs alike – are asked to do the same thing over and over again how we feel about the job at hand plays a huge part in how we perform and indeed, if we bother to turn up at all. Learning the various behaviours is really a very small part of it – it’s the continuous experience of doing those behaviours that is the important part in developing how we feel about our work. For Sparrow and brother Quinn who share the role of Bruiser Woods and Luka, who owns the stage in the role of Rufus, enjoying their work is vital. They can’t ‘act’ like their human cast members. What you see on stage is real doggy emotion. So enjoying their job is paramount. That means there is no “do it or else” in our world. Using force and coercion would show up on stage. Every training session, since we began in May, every rehearsal with the cast from August and every show since October has them performing to get something they want. This sets the scene for them to want to do the same thing again the next time round. Sure, there are lots of really good food treats on stage, but there is also very strategic attention from myself and the cast and crew, play sessions, games and indeed training sessions that occur directly after the dogs comes off stage. This way they link all this good stuff with playing their role on stage and this in turn makes them want to do it again. It is the same reason why most dog trainers will tell you not to call your dog to you to give it a bath or cut their nails. When you need to do these things, go and get the dog. Only call them to you if you are going to deliver something that’s greatness to them. Why? Because that way they will always come to you happily, because history tells them something good is going to happen!
So how can I tell if I’ve done my job well and the dogs are enjoying the work they do? I listen to them. Well, I actually listen with my eyes because like all dogs, Sparrow, Quinn and Luka speak with their body language. Every time there is a chihuahua or a bulldog on that stage I am in the wings watching every move they make. Because I know these dogs so well, even tiny movements tell me about their internal state. Like humans of course, they have their good and not so good days and of course I take that into account, but all things being equal their attentiveness to the job at hand, how they hold their tail, their ears…. all give me information if I they are comfortable and happy or if I need to talk to the director and actors about changing something around for the dogs. I guess in a way you could also consider me a translator – I listen to what the dogs say, then I translate their needs. Like learning any new language, it takes a while to learn, but if you enjoy the company of dogs it is well worth the effort! And yes…. the chihuahuas do have an accent!