Working with Animals on Set
Updated: Jan 20
When we watch film or television and see an animal on set, we do so effortlessly and mindlessly. The dogs, cats, horses, and other animals we see on the screen seem to seamlessly complement their human co-actors, and that makes us feel as though we truly are watching real-life unfold, albeit through the keyhole that is the camera.
However, what most people don’t know is that getting animals to participate this way as the camera starts rolling actually takes a lot more work. Behind the scenes, animal wranglers – as they are called – train animals for a long period of time to prepare them for their scene in film or tv.
But no matter how much work it takes, celebrities who love animals and have worked with animals on set know just how much light and joy they bring to the set, and audiences as well can see how much their presence and their roles improve the show or film they are watching.
Animals, my childhood companions
I have always had a deep love of animals. I belong in a family that works closely with animals, both domestic and wild ones!
I grew up on a tropical area near Byron Bay, in beautiful Northern New South Wales, Australia. My mother and father not only ran a tropical fruit farm but also worked tirelessly with animals and animal care, rescue, and rehabilitation efforts. They kept many animals on the farm I grew up on. My mother gained her knowledge and love of animals from her father, a prolific explorer Captain Neptune Blood.
The farm was home to birds, geese, ducks, peacocks, chickens, rabbits, sheep, fish, snakes, cats, dogs, turtles, lizards, eels, chickens, horses, draft horses, and even a donkey! My mum and dad also acted as the local vet and wildlife rescuer in the area. My parents our community's ‘go-to’ for help whenever there was an animal that needed to be rescued and/or needed urgent medical attention and any rehabilitation from there, it was our family that provided.,
Because I was always with animals growing up, I’ve always been really comfortable around them. At the farm, I watch my parents closely and help out in their efforts. I learned so much growing up on our farm and was I lucky to be hands on with so many species in general. I fell in love with each one I interacted with, additionally I effortlessly picked up on my family’s natural instincts to care for animals of all kinds.
Animals as co-actors
Now that I work as an actor, I am always excited whenever there is an opportunity to work with animals on set! To me, it feels just like I am reconnecting with old friends. I love watching fellow Australian celebrities work with and share their interactions and love for animals too, I hope combined it may help younger generations care more about animals and see how fulfilling and fun it is to work with them.
If you are currently on a project or are auditioning for a project that involves working with animals, here are a few tips I can share with you:
Tip #1: Be in the right mindset: on set, they’re your co-actors
We might view animals as pets, and while they are our loving companions, on set, they become our fellow working actor who also has a role to play, no different than human actors. It’s important to view them that way because then you’re able to respect their boundaries or understand their wrangler or trainer’s suggestions and its important also to work with productions and organisations that are all about the proper treatment of animals. I am forever proud of the many celebrities that treat animals kindly.
Of course, in between scenes, you can always bond and play. Again, no different than when you hang out with co-actors!
Tip #2: Follow your instincts
I do believe you need a true innate ability to read and bond with any animal, especially when you are about to work with them as co-actors.
But if you didn’t grow up with many animals around, there’s absolutely no need to worry. I believe every human is capable of finding connection to wildllife! After all we too are animals, if we think about it, and humans and animals have always had a close loving relationship. As long as you keep an open mind, stay curious, and interact with them with the best intentions, I believe you will develop that bond quicker than you thought!
Tip #3: Listen for their body language
Even though animals can’t speak, believe me, they communicate. And if you’re able to pay close attention, you’ll see that they communicate pretty clearly! That’s why it’s imperative to establish a connection and be confident in your ability to take charge with whatever species you are wrangling on a film and television set.
Animals have different ways of ‘speaking’ their body language. Take dogs, for example – perhaps one of the easiest animals to read! You’ll know they are happy when their tails wag or they’re in their bow position, meaning they’re excited to interact. They could be anxious when they have their backs curved, or when they’re obviously backing away. A little research on a specific animal’s body language goes a long way!
Tip #4: Do as much research as you can
A clear understanding and lots of training can help. For those who want to be an animal wrangler for film and TV, it’s best to get certified before embarking on this choice of career. I suggest you seek out your local study institutions or enroll in courses in zoology, wildlife care, dog training, and other relevant programs.
For actors, if your role requires you to interact closely with the animal, it’s best that you make the effort to bond with them outside work or during breaks on set. Get them familiar with your presence and have a good grasp of their personality. This way, not only will you have an excellent co-actor by your side, but you’ll also make an awesome new friend!