A Dog’s Way Home

A dog who was taken from her family travels hundreds of miles to find her owners.         

  • Starring: Ashley Judd, Jonah Hauer-King
  • Director(s): Charles Martin Smith
  • Producer(s): W. Bruce Cameron, Gavin Palone
  • Screenwriter(s): W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon
  • Distributor: Columbia Pictures
  • Animal Coordinator: Canine Costars, Puppy Tracks, Paws For Effect, Greater Vancouver zoo
  • Release Date: Friday, January 11, 2019
  • Rating: Outstanding

Featured Animal Action

Throughout the film, there is a hero dog named Bella, who is seen performing such action as sitting/standing/lying, being held or petted, and walking/running on or off leash. For all of these scenes, trainers used hand signals and verbal commands to cue the mild action, which the trained dog was accustomed to performing. The barking/growling was also a trained behavior.

In the opening sequence where we see cats, puppies and kittens in a crawl space below a demolished house, all of these scenes were filmed on a stage. Prior to shooting these scenes, the floor was cleared of sharp debris. The sand on the stage was clean. No smoke was used with the animals on set. The trainer used a green glove to get the puppies and kittens to lay down or stay. The green glove will be erased in post production.

When we see the puppies nursing from their mother (and the kittens with their mother), they were filmed documentary style. The puppies and their mother were filmed on stage with new heated flooring. There were no other animals in the room prior to filming. Green screen placed on floor and slightly up the wall. The breeder chose three puppies and carried them from the whelping room into the room where they were filming, placing them in front of the green screen. The mother followed the trainer, lied down on green screen before the puppies crawled to her and started nursing. In post production they made it look as if the puppies and mother were in the crawl space.

In the same sequence when two men from animal control invade the area and capture the puppy with a net, this scene was filmed on the same set. The main dog was brought to the set and placed in the corner. The trainer was present with a large net that was about twice as wide as the puppy. On action, the trainer slowly placed the net over the puppy and held the net against the ground which ended the shot. Following this shot the puppy was removed from the set and a prop puppy was placed in the same location. The trainer then netted the prop animal but completed the action by scooping it up rapidly. After this shot another trainer donning a glove, with only the glove seen by camera, picked up each of the puppies individually as if animal control had grabbed them. After filming, the puppies were placed in the other room that was heated.

When the mother cat picks up her kittens and the puppy with her mouth, the trainers actually picked the animals up by their scruff with a green glove. In post production they made it look as if the cat picked them up. First the trainers placed three kittens on their mark. Then the actor picked them up one at a time by placing hand around body, handing them, one at a time, to another actor who then turned around and handed them to trainers, out of shot. In this same scene, when we see the men place a dog pole noose over the pit bull’s head and pull him away, the dog was prepped to have a catch pole noose placed over his head. The dog was comfortable and the noose was never tightened. The pole was locked into position so the noose could not be accidentally tightened. When the cats and dogs run in different directions, production took several shots of the animals running around to make it look as if they’re in the same room and it was happening at the same time, although it wasn’t. When we see the mother cat picking up the puppy and cuddling him, the puppy was brought to the set by his trainer. A green screen pillow was on the ground depicting the cat that the puppy in the storyline would be nursing from. The puppy was placed facing away from camera lying down with its mouth in contact with the pillow by his trainer. The trainer donned a green screen glove and applied some baby food to the pillow. The puppy licked and mouthed the pillow giving the impression of nursing. The cat was placed in place of the pillow in post-production.

In the scene where the puppy runs out of the abandoned house and encounters the actor, a trainer was off-camera and used a buzzer to get the puppy to run to the actors. The actor was already acquainted with the puppy, so it was easy for the puppy to show affection. When the actor brings the puppy home to his mother and she greets him, trainer was off-camera again and placed the buzzer near the actress. As the dog walked in the house, the trainer used the buzzer and the dog ran to the actress. 

In the scene where the dog chases the squirrel outside, and barks up a tree, trainers used a fake stuffy squirrel on a string as bait to get the dog to look up the tree and bark. Trainers also placed a buzzer in the tree to cue the dog’s attention. The squirrel was created by CGI

When the actors plays fetch with the dog in the snow-filled playground, the dog was accustomed to playing in snow. The dog was also trained and accustomed to playing on the slide.

In the scene where the actor takes the dog to the closet and walks out and the dog barks, trainers cued the dog to lie down and bark.

In the scene where Bella jumps onto man’s lap in wheelchair, the actor in the wheelchair and dog were introduced before shooting. On cue, the trainer off-camera cued the dog to jump on the man’s lap. In the subsequent sequence when the vets hide the dog in the couch from their administrator, the couch only had a frame, all supports and springs were removed so dog could jump in more easily. On action, the trainer cued to dog who jumped into a hole in the couch, and the actor replaced the hole with a cushion. Under the couch, the trainer fed the dog to keep him in place.

When the actors walk the dog on leash towards the construction site and we see a few cats run out of the abandoned house, trainers released cats three at a time. Another trainer was stationed behind the camera, and retrieved the cats. It was a closed set. No traffic.

In the scene where Bella runs down the sidewalk towards her house, the trainer was off-camera, using a whistle to call the dog to her. On action, the trainer whistled and the dog ran sixty yards around a small corner with grass and a hedge.

When Bella sees the squirrel and jumps out the window, chasing her, trainers opened the window, and placed the desk near the window for the dog to jump on. Blankets were placed on ground outside for the dog to land on. The screen was loosely in frame with each corner tied to a piece of monofilament held by a crewman on a ladder. When the dog touched the screen it was pulled back and out of dogs way. On action, the trainer cued the dog, who jumped on the desk, then outside the window. The squirrel was created through CGI.

When the dog runs outside with the screen over his head and almost gets hit by a car, the road was locked up. The car and the dog never worked together. The window screen was made of soft plastic with a large hole which fit easily over dog’s head. Starting on the sidewalk, on action, the trainer released the dog. The trainer was also holding a fishing line attached to a belt strapped around the dog’s waist. A waist tie was used to control dog’s speed. Dog is wearing windows screen around neck, resting on shoulders. Kibble was placed at points on street to get the dog to look like she was not paying attention to the road and following a scent. The car was filmed separately and placed in the scene in post.

When the actor gets out of the car, takes the screen off the dog’s head, and animal control places a control pole over the dog’s head, the pole did not tighten (by design). Pole with cable noose is withdrawn and lead actor picks up dog and carries her to animal control van. When the actor places the dog in the cage in the back of the van, the actor and dog had rehearsed this scene, so it did not frighten her or come as a surprise.

In the scene where Bella is led through a shelter and we see other dogs in cages before Bella is placed in a cage, all the dogs were trained and accompanied by their trainers. Likewise, a trainer led the dog out of the cage and into the other room.

When we see Bella in a kennel in the back of a car, as it travels across several areas, the trainer lied down in the back seat of the car. The road was controlled by production, stopping traffic. Dog was given food and water after each take.

When Bella wakes up in new house and looks at parrot in cage, this was the bird’s own cage, which was secured to the ground. The trainer cued the dog to look at the bird.

In the scene where Bella runs up a slide and jumps over the fence, the slide was sired to the fence. A platform was placed on the other side of the fence and was padded with blankets. A buzzer was placed on the bottom of the slide. On action, the dog’s trainer click the buzzer, and cued the dog to jump off the chair, run over the slide and jump to the other side of the fence. Another trainer was on the other side of the fence and helped the dog land when he jumped over the fence.

In the sequence where we see Bella walking on the side of the road as the car drives by, the dog was walking up a slight incline while the car was going in opposite direction. There was a cement barrier located between the road and the shoulder where the dog was. The dog was never in danger of coming in contact with the car.

In the scenes where we see Bella walking up mountainous regions in the woods, the area was checked for hazards beforehand. Trainers were always off-camera cuing the dog to walk from an A to B trajectory.

In the scene where the dog discovers a fox in the woods with is front feet elevated, production used a fake stuffy fox to block shots. A CGI fox was placed in the scene during post. On action, the trainer cued the dog to place his front paws on an apple box, then used the stuffy to get the dog to look into the camera. When the dog walks through the forest, then runs after a rabbit, a green collar was attached to a line and held by one of the trainers to prevent escape. The dog ran from A to B after a stuffy. Again, the rabbit was CGI.

In the scene where Bella encounters a pack of dogs going through a garbage can, trainers placed the dogs on their mark and spread kibble around the area where the garbage is.

In the scene when the dog pushed the trash can over, trainers placed bait on top of the garbage can. On action the trainer cued the dog, who jumped up on the can, and when can fell over the bait spread on the ground and the dog rooted through the garbage on ground eating bait.

In the scene where Bella discovers a dead deer, the taxidermy deer was placed on deadfall. A buzzer was placed on the carcass. On action, the trainer clicked the buzzer and the dog walked to the carcass and sniffed it. Then the trainer yelled for the dog to “dig,” and the dog dug around the carcass. When Bella encounters the baby cougar, the cougar was created by CGI. Production used a stuffy to illicit the dog’s responses. A trainer also used a green glove for the scenes which featured the baby cougar. The Cougar will be added in post.

When Bella runs to the back of a car, jumps in, picks up a grocery bag and runs off, the dog wore a waste tie made of a nylon strip, wrapped around her rib cage. The bag of groceries was placed in the car by the trainer with its handles facing out to make it easier for dog to grab them. On action, the trainer called the dog and she ran from the tree, jumped in the back of the car and grabbed the bag of groceries and ran away. Trainers had the dog run same trajectory in the scene with the fishing basket.

When Bella looks up at the sky and watches the thunderstorm, the thunderstorm was created by visual fx. Rain is fake and never fell on dog. The cave was a mixture of real rocks and a cover constructed by production.

In the scene where the dog and (cgi) kitten are surrounded by wolves and Bella barks at them, trainers brought several coydogs to the set. On action, the trainers called the coydogs to their marks, and piqued their interests with a stick and stuffy. The dog was filmed separately from the coydogs.

In the scene where Bella and the cougar play on a frozen lake, the scene was filmed on a stage in front of a green screen. First, the trainer placed the dog on the platform. Trainer cues the dog tp speak, and then on her feet, it looks like she is trying to get the cougar to play. The trainer then cued the dog to bow and speak and jump. Then the trainer threw the toy across the platform and the dog fetched in. In post, the special fx team made the platform look like a frozen lake.

When the dog and the cougar walk across the fallen tree, which is like a bridge, this was actually our hero dog on stage, walking across a large fake log bolted up on two apple boxes. All equipment was secured. The log was two feet off ground. The camera was placed on the ground looking up. The trainer placed the dog on the fake log. He then used a bait stick to get the dog to look down as if she’s looking in the deep crevasse. A

green screen panel was used for the crevasse.

In the scene where the dog jumps out of the snow on the side of the mountain, this scene was prepped carefully before shooting it. The dogs were brought to the set on the side of the mountain in kennels secured with straps in the back of the trailer. On set, portable rest areas were very close to where the animals were established. These areas provided warmth and blankets and were floored with wood and blankets. Production prepared snow trails for the dogs. The snow on the ground was packed down and easily accessible. For the scene in question production placed the crates on the flooring, with a comfortable foam material, open for ventilation. A trainer was always present with the dog in the crate. When exiting the dog was on a belly band connected to the trainer in the crate. On action, the dog exited the crate without an issue.

In this same sequence, when we see search and rescue dogs in the snowy mountain, the dogs were prepped for the scene and accustomed to the snow. The dogs were brought to the secure area after shooting the sequence.

In the scene where Bella jumps into the laundry basket, the trainer brought the dog to the living room and had her sit near the actor with a laundry basket on the couch. A buzzer was added to the basket. On action, the trainer clicked the buzzer and the dog jumped into the basket.

In the scene where Bella sees a moose near the mountain range, the moose was CGI, and the area was cleared of sharp rocks and debris.

In the scene where Bella runs into the grocery store, grabs a bag of chicken and runs out, the dog was brought to the front of the store by her trainer. Two other trainers were positioned on either side of a roast chicken display. A mark was placed in front of the chicken display. The chickens in the display were rubber. On action the trainer sent the dog through the front automatic dog. Then the dog ran straight to the chicken display, stopped at her mark. They cut camera. On the next take, the trainers cued the dog with a clicker. The dog immediately jumped up, grabbed the bag of chicken and ran off.

In the scene where Bella sits with a homeless man in a gazebo at night near a lake, the dog had a rope collar/leash tied to the gazebo, she cannot reach the bucket but can move around a bit and get comfortable. The trainers were nearby to get looks from dog. The actor was very good with the dogs. The dog and actor were under a gazebo not in the rain.

In the scene where we see Bella exhausted, near-death at the river bank, the trainer placed the dog on her left side with her head down, making her look as if she collapsed trying to get to the water. The chain on the dog was lightweight and very loose on the dog’s neck. The dog was taken off the chain between takes.

When Bella wakes up to see buffalo in the field, the buffalo were actually filmed in a buffalo enclosure. In post they took that footage and made it look as if the dog was there with them.

In the scene where Bella approaches the busy highway with oncoming cars, this scene was actually filmed on stage in front of a green screen. First, the dog was placed on a large platform four feet above the ground by her handler. A green screen was positioned in the background. The dog was instructed to look to the left and right by her handlers, as if she were looking at passing cars. The dog was NEVER near moving cars on a highway. In post-production the special effects team used the green screen to make it look as if the dog were crossing a highway.

When we see the dog actually cross the highway, get hit by a swerving car, this scene was filmed at a truck pull-out. Several cars were parked on the truck-pull out, including the UPS truck the dog jumps into. The truck pullout consisted of four lanes and two shoulders, separated from a busy highway by a large cement barrier. One trainer was always holding a long line attached to the dog’s waist tie.

The dog that looked like she was hit by a car was actually created through CGI. The cars that were seen moving down the highway were filmed separately and included through split screen. Again, the dog was never near any moving vehicles The trainers cued the dog to jump into the UPS truck and to walk from point A to point B. Car fish tailing and hitting CGI dog was added in post production.

Whenever we see the dog limping, which takes place over several scenes, the dog was trained to limp. Trainers also placed a device on the dog to exaggerate the limping. The device was designed to come off on its own if the dog walked on the ground for more than a couple seconds. The dog was never uncomfortable in the limping scenes.

In the scene where Bella jumps into her owner’s arms, production placed a cloth screen about fifteen inches high and four feet wide in the dog’s path so she can jump. The dog was accustomed and trained to do this type of jump. The trainer stood behind the camera, holding a toy. On action, one trainer released the dog as the other trainer called her to the camera. The dog ran forward, jumped the screen and continued upward to reach the toy Teresa was holding. The highest jump was approximately 5 feet high. The dog landed on a padded mat. They cut camera and placed the dog in the actor’s arms to make it look as if she landed in his arms.