Dog Year, A

Jon Katz (Jeff Bridges) is going through a midlife crisis. He looses his family but gains a new dog, one who is needier than even he is. Both Jon and the dog crave love and attention, so together they form a lasting friendship.
  • Starring: Jeff Bridges, Lauren Ambrose, Domhnall Gleeson
  • Director(s): George LaVoo
  • Producer(s): Liz Manne
  • Screenwriter(s): George LaVoo
  • Distributor: Picturehouse Entertainment, HBO Films
  • Animal Coordinator: Birds and Animals LTD
  • Release Date: Thursday, September 03, 2009

Featured Animal Action


Five Border Collies were on call for the part of Devon — four males named Ryder, Trip, Solar and Shep, and one female named Lucy. Crew members were limited to only those who needed to be there and remained quiet and still during filming. The dogs’ coats were treated with Henna vegetable dye to match each other. Whenever the dog was in a car (whether in the crate or not), trainers hid inside the moving vehicle with the dog while other trainers stood just outside the vehicle with bait stick or hand signals to get dog to look in certain directions. Whenever any dog action is mild, such as the dog sitting, walking around, running (in an airport, around a bed or actor in circles), barking/growling or being picked up, trainers stood off camera used a combination of verbal cues, hand signals and food rewards to get the dog to perform the action. Spaghetti and any other food items eaten by dogs were deemed safe for consumption.

When Jon first brings Devon home, Devon appears to bite him. The actor and dog were well rehearsed for this pantomimed bite. An off-screen trainer pointed to the actor’s hand and verbally cued the dog to “pick it up.” The dog was trained to put the actor’s hand into his mouth but not bite down on it.

In a grocery parking lot, Devon intimidates a Pomeranian on a leash by pulling on his leash to try to get closer to the dog. The trainer handed the Pomeranian dog named Dino to the actress and then stood off camera holding the eye-line of the dog by holding up Dino’s favorite toy. The trainers put the dog inside the parked vehicle right before filming began. When the actor opened the door of the vehicle and leashed Devon, a trainer hid under Donna’s car showing the dog his favorite toy and encouraging him to run to the end of his leash and bark, appearing as if the dog is straining to get to the Pomeranian. It was a game to the dog but appeared as aggression to the audience. A trainer was hidden in the back of Donna’s car as she and the dog exited the parking lot. The actress handed the dog to the trainer before driving away slowly. Trainers stood on the side of Jon’s car and used hand signals to get Devon to jump back into the parked vehicle.

Devon and Jon play in the ocean at the beach while the other two dogs, Stanley and Julius, sit on the sand and watch. A trainer placed the two Labrador Retrievers on their marks while another trainer stood just behind the camera holding a stick with a toy attached to get the dogs to look in certain directions. The well-rehearsed dog loved water and swimming, so the trainers merely scattered some food and the dog’s favorite toys to entice the dog to walk around appearing as if he was pulling the actor on the leash. Several trainers stood just off camera to supervise. This section of the beach was closed off during filming.

Devon tries to jump out the window of the moving vehicle. The two Labradors laid in the backseat with a trainer hidden back there too. Devon was wearing a waist tie, which was tethered to the car seat so that the dog could stick his head out the window but not jump out. The car isn’t actually moving — it is riding on a moving trailer with trainers standing just outside the window and using a bait stick to get the dog to look in different directions.

In the beginning of the film, near the cargo area of an airplane, a dog inside an old dog crate is rocking the crate. After placing the dog in his crate, the trainer used verbal cues to get the dog to move around inside. As Jon opens the cage to meet his new furry friend in the baggage claim area, the dog takes off running through the airport and Jon chases after him with a leash in hand. A trainer stood off camera with a bowl of food, calling the dog. As the dog proceeds through the airport, he runs around a woman and then up the moving baggage carousel. This was filmed in separate shots. An off-screen trainer verbally cued the dog to circle the woman. Then another trainer called the dog to run up the carousel. Still another trainer stood nearby and called the dog to come over and receive a treat. This was filmed in a real airport that was closed during filming.

For scenes in the vet’s office, the role of veterinary assistant was played by the trainer. After the vet and the assistant put the dog on the table, the well-rehearsed actress playing the vet pretended to perform an exam on the dog. The dog wore non-toxic makeup to make him appear dirty. When the vet euthanizes Stanley, the needle was a prop and the dog was happy to lie down and get cuddled and kissed for this scene.

While Jon is searching for his lost dog Devon, the dog pops out of the bushes and into his arms. A trainer hid in the bushes next to a ramp. The dog was well-rehearsed to run up the ramp and jump into the actors arms. Baby food was placed on the actor’s face to get the dog to lick him.

Devon pulls himself out of his collar and chases a car driving down the street. He jumps on the trunk and then the top of the car and rides on the car roof. When the driver stops the car at a stop sign, the dog jumps down. This scene was filmed in separate shots and edited together in post production. The loose-fitting collar was easy for the dog to slip out of. The actor cued the well-trained dog to slip out of the collar and run to an awaiting trainer. The street was closed off to traffic. A hiding trainer cued the well-rehearsed dog to jump up onto the top of the stationary car and to stay and then rewarded the dog with treats. The trainer then cued him to jump down and onto the pavement, which was kept at a cool temperature. For the portion of the scene in which the car moves, the dog was well-rehearsed to stand on a rubber pad on the car roof wearing a harness that was tethered and secured through the sunroof. A stunt driver then slowly drove the car a short distance while a trainer hiding in the car ensured that the tether stayed secure.

While attempting to walk three dogs at once, Jon gets tangled in leashes. The actor walked the leashed dogs while two off-camera trainers called to the lead dog from different directions, causing him to walk erratically and create the tangle. The actor then exaggerated the well-choreographed tangling action.

After discovering Devon on a shelf above the washer and dryer, Jon picks him up and places him on the floor. The trainer placed the dog on the shelf right before filming began and retrieved the dog after the actor set him down. The items falling off the shelf were triggered by the off-screen prop master, not by the dog.

Devon scratches and jumps at the window of the house when the school bus drives down the street. He then runs to the front door, jumps through the glass and chases the bus down the street, attacking the front tire. This was filmed in several separate shots. For the first part of this scene, one trainer placed the dog by the window while another trainer stood outside behind the camera and used hand signals to get the dog to bark and jump. For the next part of this scene, a trainer cued the dog to run through the glass, which was prop breakaway glass, and to the awaiting trainer for a treat. The dog, who was well rehearsed to chase the bus, wore a waist tie that was attached to a six-foot plastic pipe with a 10-foot cord threaded through it. The trainer wore a harness that was attached to the bus door and held onto the waist tie to help control the dog’s position and eye-line. The trainer also used verbal cues. A fake bus fender was attached to a golf cart. One trainer drove the cart while another trainer held a bait stick below the fake fender so the dog will duck his head under the fender to get the treat on the end of the stick. Another trainer ran alongside the dog. The film was sped up later in post production. The street was closed off to traffic and the dogs were well rehearsed for this action. Later in this scene, Jon picks up the dog as the bus passes and then tosses him down on the grass to yell at him. The trainer placed the dog on his mark in front of the parked bus. The actor picked the dog up and the bus drove away. A nine-foot cardboard ring filled with foam blocks was placed just off camera. The actor gently tossed the dog into the ring, which had a trainer sitting inside of it. After being placed on the grass, the dog appears to wrestle with the actor. An off-screen trainer cued the dog to roll over and stay during this playful, fake wrestling action.


A Border Collie named Twist played the part of Lois’ dog, Joe, who shows Jon and Devon how to herd sheep back into their corral. Joe was well rehearsed for this action and also had the added help of the actress and off-screen trainer calling out commands. Twenty five sheep were used. The entire area was fenced in as a precaution. The grounds were checked ahead of time to make sure they were safe for all the animals.

When Devon attempts to herd the sheep, the trainer verbally cued the dog to run around or toward the sheep, making it appear as if the dog didn’t know what it was doing.

Sheep were allowed to roam freely within the fenced in area. These sheep were accustomed to being herded and none of them seemed bothered by the dogs’ actions.