Hollywood's favorite on-set dog trainer Mark Forbes tells us how he wrangled 70 pooches for the new movie.

By Alexis Chiu
Updated January 26, 2009 12:45 PM
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With more than 70 pooches running wild on set, the Hotel for Dogs shoot had lots of ruff moments. But for the film’s dog trainer, Mark Forbes, who has worked his magic on the set of other movies like Marley & Me and The Shaggy Dog, getting pooches to fetch, sit and eat on command is all in a days work. He talked with PEOPLE about how he kept things rolling on the movie’s L.A. set.

Q: What was it like having that many dogs on set?

A: It was a little chaotic. Kids and animals – a lot of animals. We had days where I had more than 70 dogs on set, over 40 trainers. The hardest stuff was the scenes with five, six, seven dogs in the frame, all doing something different. That’s harder than 75 dogs running down the street, because they’re all doing the same thing.

Q: Tell us about the main dog in the film, the Jack Russell terrier named Friday. Why did you cast that dog(s) for the part?

A: Two dogs played him: the lead was Cosmo, 4, and backup was J.R., 3 1/2. Really [we liked] his look – he has a very unique look. A little bit longer hair than most Jack Russells. Cosmo’s the face, J.R.’s the rear end; he was much more of a stunt dog. Cosmo was actually a little more leery in situations where J.R. was pretty fearless. Overall, though, he’s a very outgoing, very happy dog. Very intelligent. [Cosmo] came from a private home [the owners were getting rid of him] and J.R. was a rescue from a shelter in the Bay Area.

Q: Tell us about the dogs that play Georgia in the film.

A: Three dogs played Georgia, all of them Boston terriers. Nip, Tuck and Nubbins. Nip and Tuck were pretty much 50 percent the leads – both very outgoing, smart. Nubbins was more of our stunt dog – lots of running, a scene when Georgia has a bone and she’s racing through the hotel – that was Nubbins. Nip and Tuck were both rescue dogs – they’re sisters. Nubbins was a second generation rescue. Nip and Tuck came from Florida … the hardest thing was getting them used to the sound of the fetch machine; they love to play fetch.

Q: Can you give us a breakdown of your canine cast?

A: Eight main characters, each had a team [of dogs playing them]. About 18-20 dogs total for them. Then there were 45-50 background dogs. The main characters, we had about 5 or 6 rescues, and then about 40 percent of background dogs were rescues. A lot were dogs that were already trained that were in our stable, that we had rescued in the past.

Q: Are rescue dogs easier or harder to train?

A: There’s not much difference in terms of their trainability; it just makes the trainer feel more warm and fuzzy to work with a rescue.

Q: Was it hard keeping track of all those dogs?

A: We had a trailer for the dogs, and everywhere we went we had them set up a kennel/dog run area so we could let dogs out to do their business. A little doggie camp. It was more under control than it seemed; we were trying to create controlled chaos. We definitely lost track a few times, but we always found the dog around the corner.