ASTORVILLE – Four-legged stars are set to steal the show in Christmas
“Everyone on the set loves the dogs. They’re always asking how the
puppies are doing and coming over to play with them,” said animal
wrangler Sherri Davis, owner of BRB K9 in Oakville, during filming at a
private home in Astorville on March 14.
The star of the film is Tucker, played by Nella, a one-year-old
“She’s very young for this,” said Davis. “For a one-year-old to be
doing a film of this magnitude is amazing.”
Nella has a stunt double to take over in the physically intense
“Spitfire does a lot of the running and agility scenes because we
don’t want to burn Nella out,” explained Davis. “It’s a lot of work.
They’re working every day.”
The storyline takes place over the course of 10 years, so 15-year-old
Rowan, whose claim to fame is being the Tim Hortons dog as a puppy,
came out of retirement to join the cast as Tucker in his later years.
The catch – all three of the dogs playing Tucker are female.
In addition to her three Tuckers, Davis also supplied two pups, Bella
and Tucker – named for the movie – a brother and sister team of
eight-week-olds who make their appearance in the final scenes of the
Davis has had an impressive career, training animals for film,
television, and still photography.
She was on the set with dog Charlie, known as Marilyn in the movie,
during filming of the 2006 flick Snowcake, starring Sigourney Weaver and
Alan Rickman. The following year, she was wrangler for 16 dogs in the
Ana Gasteyer film, Finn on the Fly. Although Davis specializes in dogs,
she also trained four cats, as well as squirrels and rats for the film.
“I don’t do a lot of reptiles, but if they have four legs, I will
train them,” said Davis with a laugh.
Davis’ animals have been involved in countless advertisements for
businesses, including a commercial for Harley Davidson and still photos
for Scotiabank and Time Warner, as well as numerous appearances on TV
shows Nikita and The Rick Mercer Report.
But it was her work on television series Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye that led
the way to her becoming the wrangler on Christmas with Tucker.
The character of Sue Thomas has a hearing-ear dog named Levi, a
golden retriever. Davis worked as a wrangler on the show, where she met
director Larry McLean, who directed the television series from 2002 to
When McLean signed on to the Hallmark production, he contacted Davis
to supply the dogs.
“He’s amazing to work with,” said Davis. “He’s an animal lover.”
Davis said the entire crew working on the film was extremely
“You’re under a lot of stress because you don’t want the dog to screw
up the take,” said Davis. “It doesn’t help that I’m a perfectionist, so
it drives me nuts if we don’t nail it. ”
Davis said sometimes the repetition and extra takes can start to wear
on the patience of the human actors. But she got lucky with the cast of
James Brolin, who plays the grandfather role in the film, said he has
a good understanding of the type of commitment that is required for a
dog to be successful in its training.
“It’s all about repetition,” he said. “They love it. The more you
work them the happier they are. It’s the same as with horses.”
Brolin said although he has owned dogs in the past, he doesn’t
currently have a pooch companion of his own.
“I’m gone so much it wasn’t really fair,” he said, as he took photos
on his cell phone of Davis’ youngest two pups out for a walk.
Although Brolin said he’s a dog lover, his character isn’t.
“This is about a guy who doesn’t have a fond relationship with the
dog,” explained Brolin. “The story is more about the boy and his dog.”
The movie is an adaptation of a book written by Greg Kincaid, but in
the book, Tucker is an Irish setter. For the screen, the breed was
changed to a golden retriever, which is the breed used in the first
movie, also an adaptation of a Kincaid novel, A Dog Named Christmas.
“They changed the dog to be the all American dog,” said the director,
McLean, noting golden retrievers are one of the most popular breeds as
family pets in North America. McLean said choosing a more popular breed
could help audiences relate better.
“It’s a love story between a boy and his dog and the audience has to
love the dog and the relationship between them,” said McLean, who shares
his home with his long-haired Jack Russell terrier, Louie, and his
Currently based out of Los Angeles, Calif., McLean has an extensive
background in film and television. Having started his career as a stunt
co-ordinator, he later went on to direct numerous projects, including
episodes of Relic Hunter, Republic of Doyle, and Due South.
He said working with animals poses unique challenges.
“The dogs have certain functions and marks, but there are only so
many hours in the day,” explained McLean. “That’s one of our challenges
working with animals. We need them to hit their mark and stay in the
frame, while they do their acting.”
The entire time her dogs are onscreen, Davis is to the side of the
camera coaching them with verbal commands and hand gestures.
McLean said thanks to technology having Davis’ voice commands
recorded during the filming isn’t an issue.
“We can draw that out as long as the actors aren’t delivering their
lines over it.”
Davis said Nella, who she started training at eight weeks of age, is
doing a fantastic job.
“People always say, ‘My dog can do a sit-stay,’” said Davis. “But the
question is, can they do a sit-stay with a crew of six people and
lights and cameras.”
Davis said the challenge for her is to get the dog to look at the
right eye level without casting a shadow of herself onscreen.
Over the years, Davis has proven herself a pro in her family’s line
“My grandfather and great-grandfather were breeder-trainers, so I
just followed in their footsteps,” she said.
Christmas with Tucker is expected to be released in November of this