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The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 17: Heidi 'learns' to snarl

November 10, 2008 | 12:41 pm

Heidi_2 This is Heidi. She was "discovered" this year in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Times staff writer Diane Haithman. And this is her “head shot”: That longing look was the result of seeing a biscuit just out of reach.

Heidi does not want me to write today’s chapter. She would rather play with her ball, as evidenced by the fact that she keeps bringing her ball to me in her mouth and spitting it at me as I sit at the computer. Or else she just stands there chewing on it; a German shepherd panting with a rubber ball in her mouth sounds a lot like Darth Vader from "Star Wars."

I must constantly remind the dog that "The Heidi Chronicles" is about her career, honey –- not mine. And today’s topic is something even scarier than Darth Vader sucking in air through that black mask: We are introducing the "snarl device," a Hollywood trick designed to make a good dog look b-a-a-a-d.

In previous chapters, we learned that Heidi, as a German shepherd, would need to learn how to speak in order to play the heavy-barking roles that are open to her breed: police dog, guard dog, junkyard dog. There is only one category in which typecasting works in favor of a good-tempered GSD (that’s German shepherd dog) like our Heidi, says her trainer, Sue DiSesso.

These days, says Sue, it is possible that more Labradors are being trained as service dogs or leader dogs for the blind than GSDs, but Hollywood still clings to the stereotype of the German shepherd as leader dog.


But Sue has introduced us to something that can help Heidi and other sweet canines play the tough roles. When Sue holds the snarl device in her hand, it looks sort of like a retainer from the orthodontist’s office: clear plastic and wires. But once inside the dog’s mouth, as you can see from the photo, it makes smiling Heidi look like she’s ready to go for the jugular.

Well, she doesn’t look that way to me, because the way we persuaded the vain Heidi to let Sue insert the device was to tell her over and over what a pretty, pretty girl she was when she wore it. But if you don’t know the back story, she looks very scary. In fact, I should never have e-mailed that photo to my mother-in-law.

What we’re going for here is not the bark, but the snarl. Sue explained that, for many dogs, the only way to get a snarl out of them is to provoke the dog to the point of responding with aggression, and you don’t want to have an aggressive dog on the set. After the snarl device is in and the close-up shot is in the can, the producer of the movie or TV show can dub in the appropriate snarls. Instead of a voice-over, I guess this is a growl-over.

The best thing about the snarl device is that Heidi seems to like it. She apparently works better when she has the appropriate props to help her get into character.

Photo credit: Diane Haithman/Los Angeles Times

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