As a veterinarian and trainer, respectively, both with a lifetime commitment to equally honoring the physical and emotional well-being of the animals we care for, we were profoundly disturbed by the leaked footage of a dog suffering terror on the set of the movie A Dog’s Purpose.
In looking at this video, it appears the dog was shoved and physically forced to what he clearly thought to be his death in a tank of rough water. Watching him frantically clutch at first the trainer who was pushing him in, then at the sides of the tank, was agonizing for us both.
We don’t know how this one dog, Hercules, was trained, or what led up to this footage. We do know that what we saw is not necessary to get a dog to enter the water. For example, working with a dog who likes the water to begin with, breaking the task into small components and positively rewarding each one until the desired behavior is achieved, is a successful approach used by the majority of modern trainers to teach dogs effectively and humanely. It works to train dogs to walk on a leash, come when called, and lie down and stay – and it also works on the set of a movie, as thousands of trainers can attest and demonstrate.
This video portrayed a betrayal of the bond between dog and human, and appears to show Hercules being put in physical danger as well. The few seconds at the end clearly demonstrate at least some of the observers were concerned he was drowning. It was horrifying to watch.
As a longtime supporter and board member of American Humane, Dr. Becker reached out to them and asked them about this situation and what is being done about it.
“When the dog showed signs of resistance to jumping in the water, the scene should have been stopped,” they wrote. They said they immediately put the safety representative who was on the set on administrative leave, and initiated an independent third party to conduct a full and complete investigation into this matter. I very much agree with their actions, and we all need to make sure that no animals are ever harmed for the sake of entertainment.
The book A Dog’s Purpose was a powerful testament to the bond between dogs and people. Both of us were looking forward to seeing it. Now this beautiful story has been forever tarnished by the shadow of these images of abuse of the trust of a dog.
Fear Free was created with these goals in mind: to prevent, minimize, and eliminate fear, anxiety and stress. That means eliminating the task of getting the “job done” for the long-term goal of protecting the pet physically and emotionally, and safeguarding the human animal bond that’s forged through trust.
Dr. Becker has made it his life’s work to end fear, anxiety, and stress for pets in all aspects of their daily lives, from the living room, to the car, to the vet’s office or the park.
Mikkel Becker works every day to do the same, helping individual pets and people with training, and creating videos and articles that demonstrate Fear Free techniques for dealing with everything from nail trims to extreme separation anxiety.
We know experiences such as this cannot help but damage a dog. We know this footage has now damaged what should have been a celebration of the human-animal bond. We know such damage and betrayal of trust are avoidable, and what we see in this footage should never should have happened. Regardless of the circumstances of this specific situation, we need to see much stricter adherence to humane and current approaches to handling of animals involved in movies and television. That scrutiny needs to extend off-set, to include the methods used to train dogs and other animals before the cameras are rolling.
Things like this should not be happening, and must not happen in the future. The entertainment industry needs to hear this wake-up call. If something cannot be done without traumatizing an animal, then it should not be done. — Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian,” has spent his life working toward better health for pets and the people who love them. In recent years, “taking the ‘pet’ out of ‘petrified’” and ensuring every pet and pet owner can experience a Fear FreeTM veterinary visit has been his area of greatest commitment and dedication, culminating in the launch of Fear Free certification for veterinarians in March of 2016. He was the resident veterinary contributor on “Good Morning America” for 17 years and is a founding member of Core Team Oz for “The Dr. Oz Show.” He is author or co-author of 23 books that have sold more than 7 million copies, including three New York Times best-sellers — one of which is the fastest-selling pet book of all time, Chicken Soup for the Pet-Lovers Soul. His new book, From Fearful to Fear Free: A Positive Program to Free Your Dog From Anxiety, Fears, and Phobias, was co-authored with his daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, and board-certified veterinary behaviorists Dr. Lisa Radosta and Dr. Wailani Sung. It will be released in the spring.
Mikkel Becker is a certified trainer specializing in dogs and cats, co-author of five books in the “Ultimate Pet Lover” series, and the resident trainer for Vetstreet.com. In her professional work, Becker uses positive reinforcement and non-force training strategies based in scientific learning theory. She is an honors graduate of the rigorous and prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers at the San Francisco SPCA, a graduate of the Purdue University Dogs and Cats course, and a graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy. She shadowed Dr. Nicolas Dodman and Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil at the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, and is a certified professional dog trainer through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a certified dog behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, and the resident trainer for veterinary behaviorist Dr. Wailani Sung.