With so many dogs featured prominently in the movie, it was imperative that the filmmakers find the right ones, particularly for the part of Friday. Mathilde Decagny, who'd trained the dog that played Eddie on "Frasier," rescued the wire-haired terrier Cosmo from a shelter. "He was a scared little dog and now he's so outgoing," she says. Cosmo had to learn several tricky sequences including one in which he followed the aroma of a hot dog through city streets and a kitchen scene in which Lisa Kudrow remains oblivious to his presence.
Three Boston terriers played the role of Georgia, a compulsive fetcher, but four-year-old Nubbin, a male rescue from a puppy mill, had the most screen time. "He was the action dog," says trainer Melinda Eichberg. His trickiest stunt required him to be in a harness and be catapulted through the air. He now has a recurring role on the sitcom "Kath & Kim."
Cross-gender casting was also in play in casting the "couple" Romeo and Juliet. Dolly, a female Chinese crested, was the principal Romeo and Dash, a male poodle, was the main Juliet. To get them to lick each other's tongues, something dogs don't do as a rule, required creativity. "We put a piece of Plexiglas between them with food on each side, and they licked," reveals Thor Freudenthal. Then in post-production, "We took the partition out and extended their tongues a bit. It was really the only digital manipulation we did."
It didn't take as much effort to get Buster, a four-year-old bulldog, to adopt the behavior of chew-happy Cooper. Ironically, sighs trainer Kristy Gerosky, "He had just outgrown the chewing habit when he got this part." Buster did the lion's share of the work. "We did have a double for him but she only did a couple of scenes," Gerosky reports. "She was better behaved but wasn't as good at chewing up everything."
Freudenthal would choose dogs for a particular task based on their demeanor and talents. For example, in a scene where Georgia plays fetch with a tennis racquet, "One dog was very good at fetching but then just stood there. We combined two dogs in the same scene."
While the actors rehearsed with the dogs for several weeks during pre-production, ultimately food was the secret weapon on set. "We would put baby food on our finger and they would lick it off," reveals Emma Roberts. "They smeared chicken-flavored baby food on my face whenever they needed the dog to lick me," adds Jake Austin.