Thoughts on the Controversy over “A Dog’s Purpose”

A reader recently asked me what I think of the controversy over the movie A Dog’s Purpose, particularly allegations that a dog was abused during filming.

I had had tickets to a preview showing that was a fundraiser for a local dog rescue organization. However, the preview was canceled and the rescue organization took a loss once the film clip showing the alleged abuse was released, so I was already following this controversy.

Here’s my take on it.

First, a caveat: We’ll never know the whole story. There have been good questions raised about the film clip like, how much it was edited, why the person(s) who had it waited more than a year to release it, and why they filmed rather than intervening. I don’t know the answers to those questions.

But. I watched the film clip several times. That dog is terrified. His tail is tucked and he is using every bit of his strength to try to get away. Out of the water. Away from the edge. At one point, he leans, hard, into the person who is pushing him toward the water. He is doing absolutely everything he can to say, “No. I don’t want to do this.” He’s scared.

Actor Dennis Quaid claims the dog was just tired and not afraid. The video does not bear that out.

American Humane says the dog was never in danger, he was not forced, and the film clip shows footage from two different times edited together. This could all be true. It does not change the dog’s body language, though. The dog felt that he was in danger, and he let the humans, who are supposed to keep him safe, know that. They responded badly.

Various responses say that there was a diver ready in case Hercules (the dog) needed help, the water was warm, etc. That all might be true too.

The bottom line for me, however, is that, even if the dog was not actually harmed; even if the humans nearby knew that he was in no danger because they were standing by to rescue him if need be, the dog was scared. Terrified. Even if ultimately the trainers did not force Hercules into the water, they clearly asked him to do something that he was very, very uncomfortable with. They persisted, even pushing him, holding him to keep him from escaping. To me, that is forcing him into a terrifying situation. Hercules had no way of knowing that a diver was ready to “save” him. He probably wasn’t worried about whether the water was too cold. He might have been tired. If so, to me, that just points a finger back at those who were supposed to be Hercules’s advocates.

Hercules was being used to film a movie. A movie. To entertain, well, us. The audience for that movie is dog lovers: Me. You. Nearly all of my friends and family. I personally do not want to be “entertained” by something that was created by scaring a dog (or possibly several dogs) and working him to the point where he is so tired that he freaks out.

You want to use animals in entertainment? Then train them, humanely, patiently, and sufficiently that they can do what is asked without fear or force. Work them in short spurts, make sure that they are treated well on and off the set, and ensure that they are always safe and they always feel safe. Even without knowing all of the facts, I feel comfortable saying that I do not think that those conditions were met for Hercules.

 

About Pam Hogle

Pam Hogle is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on dogs. Her Thinking Dog Blog (www.thinkingdogblog.com) looks at how dogs think and learn and encourages readers to challenge their dogs' minds as they improve their relationships with those dogs. Pam also teaches at the Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park, California, an accredited university that focuses on the human-canine partnership. She lives in Petaluma, California with two thinking golden retrievers, Jana and Cali.
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4 Responses to Thoughts on the Controversy over “A Dog’s Purpose”

  1. Thanks for your comments. I cannot be in more agreement. I watched those clips a number of times and the dog is screaming help. If the train saw this and went– we need break took the dog off let is chill and see if trying a second time to see I could have accepted that but the trainer just tried to muscle this poor terrified dog — my clients asked me on this and I responded the same way. I used it as a teaching moment for my people trying to show them there is a right a wrong way to handle it and this is the difference between a knowledgeable trainer and a uninformed one.

  2. mnoyes83@gmail.com' Melissa Chow says:

    Pam, an excellent response and a very clear one at that. I agree with you completely and I’m sure the rescue in which you were supporting by planning to attend the viewing was just one of the many who lost money due to the same situation. It’s very sad to me that the producer issued an “apology”, but then defends himself completely, so one of those I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry apologies. He states he has advocated against AHA’s ineffectiveness, but then AHA is who he chose to monitor the scenes with live animals in his movie? I would be much more interested if everyone just took responsibility and took this as a wake up call to make changes. After all, if this was a Zoo animal being pushed down or forced into something, everyone would be in an uproar trying to shut the zoo down.

  3. flds@comcast.net' Freda L Driscoll-Sbar says:

    Pam, thank you for your post. I agree wholeheartedly. It is inhumane, immoral and just wrong to knowingly put a dog in a condition of fear. I honestly do not care the reason. I am not surprised at the ‘trainer’, as some such trainers are in it for the money. I am aghast at the Humane Society. If they lack comprehension and are unable to adequately protect animals used in movie sets or other working environments then perhaps we need a new oversight body that does have a deeper understanding and commitment.

  4. I agree Pam and have given the same explanation to those who asked whether I was going to see the film. No, I do not wish to positively reinforce those who produce films in which animals are not treated fairly and safely.

    Just before this controversy arose my wife and I went to see “Star Wars: Rogue One” and I was amazed to see Peter Cushing represented in the film, knowing he passed away years ago. It was a convincing bit of digital special effects as were many other things in the film. In another entertainment product “The Walking Dead” TV program recently included a digital tiger in two episodes, and the director created a behind-the-scenes segment proudly explaining the technology involved. Could those who created “A Dog’s Purpose” not have used special effects for the scene with Hercules and the water? I expect so.

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