Dozens of hopeful future actors and models lined up in front of a camera recently at an open casting call in northeast Minneapolis.
They posed for photographs standing, sitting, lying down and perched on a table as a talent scout evaluated them for possible work as models for print ads or actors in commercials, television shows and even movies.
You might think they were motivated by the potential for fame and fortune, but most of them probably were there for the dried beef lung treats.
That's because these would-be thespians and wannabe models were dogs.
The audition was an event held by the Twin Cities Obedience Training Club to give pet owners a chance to show off their animals in front of Debi Pool, longtime owner of Animal Talent Pool, a Twin Cities animal talent agency.
The canines — plus at least one cat and a couple of rabbits — strutted their stuff before Pool with talents that included balancing toys on their heads, wearing funny glasses, speaking or waving a paw on command, fetching a can of soda out of a cooler and generally just looking adorable.
Several dogs — and their owners — took it seriously enough to spend the previous six weeks getting ready for their shot in showbiz by taking a new class offered by the Twin Cities Training Obedience Club.
The class, "Camera Ready: Green Room," was sort of a four-legged version of "Fame" in which dogs learned skills that would come in handy when the time came for their close-up.
Minneapolis resident Sandy Shipp enrolled her 5-year-old chihuahua/terrier mix Taco in the class "because he so danged cute."
"I figure someone would want to take pictures of him," Shipp said. "He would be a wonderful dog model if he works on his impulse control."
Lyn Wayne of Minneapolis took the dog acting class with their miniature poodle Millie because they thought it would be fun for both of them.
"We don't have any particular showbiz career in mind," Wayne said.
But "I do think she's funny and photogenic," Wayne said. Plus, "she likes to work, to be focused. She likes to have a job."
Erin-Grace Mauren of Fridley also thought her confident, three-legged "super mutt" Roma has showbiz potential. She might even have a Blue Steel modeling facial expression.
"Sometimes when I take a photo, she gets a goofy look on her face," Mauren said. "She looks unique."
In the class, veteran dog obedience instructor Jane Jacobson led Taco, Millie, Roma, Zane, Jenny, Penny and their owners through a series of exercises on how to stand, sit, lie down and hold objects on cue.
The goal was to get the dogs to hold still in one exact spot for 30 seconds, a minute and then two minutes at a time while the owners stood 3 feet, then 6 feet, then up to 12 feet away.
The dogs were trained to ignore distractions that might occur in a busy photo shoot, such as strange people walking by, interesting objects on the ground or a photographer's assistant eating popcorn next to them.
"If you're at a photo shoot and someone set their Subway sandwich on the floor, they need to leave it alone," Jacobson said.
The dogs sat on a table to pose for photos and held strange objects in their mouth like tools, a piece of cloth or a little bucket.
Penny, a 4-year-old Labrador retriever owned by Rachel Maino from New Brighton, held a roll of tape in her mouth.
These represented products someone might want to advertise by having a dog hold them.
"You'll never know what you'll be asked to pick up," Jacobson said. "If you get hired for something, they're going to want something weird."
The dogs and their owners also worked on adorable behaviors that might come in handy in a photo shoot, like lying down with their heads resting on their paws, bowing with their butt in the air or tilting their head quizzically.
"It's very cute. That is something you will see in ads," Jacobson said.
All the dogs in the Camera Ready class were veterans of one or more of the many other classes offered by the Twin Cities Obedience Training Club that teach dogs tricks, walking manners, impulse control, agility and obedience competition.
When the dogs did something right, the owners would let the dogs know by hitting a clicker and handing out training treats, part of the club's positive-reinforcement training technique.
"If your dog is working hard, it needs to get paid for it," said Scott McKenzie, another obedience club instructor.
The dogs also learned to respond to silent hand signals, a skill that might be needed in a video production.
Jacobson said that when you see a dog in a scene on television, "there's someone back there behind the camera who's cueing what the dog is doing, because the [human] actors are generally clueless."
After the last class, dog owners attended a talk by obedience club member Karen Radford, who has trained her dogs for work ranging from Best Buy and Target ads to a feature film.
Radford's tips for dogs and owners who want to get into showbiz included making sure the dog's nails are trimmed, because long nails really show up in photos. Be sure the dog has had a potty break before the job, she said. Be punctual. Time is money in video productions.
But also make sure the work is a positive experience for the dog.
"You are the advocate for your dog," Radford said. "Your dog didn't ask to do this. It's doing it for you."
All are welcome
Having a flexible schedule can help dogs get work, but the most important factor is "the look," whether the dog has the appearance that the client wants. The role may be for an elegant purebred or a scruffy mutt, depending on the job.
"Every dog, every breed, every size, there are opportunities out there," Radford said.
"Target is always looking for mutt-like dogs," said animal talent agent Pool. "We try to find handicapped dogs, too."
Radford, however, said that "dog modeling, like in the human modeling world, does have a preference for younger dogs."
And while you can make some money, "it's not a huge amount," Radford said. She said she's gotten $125 to $150 for a photo shoot lasting a few hours. A labor-intensive movie that could require days of work might pay a few thousand dollars.
Unlike human actors, dogs don't get residuals.
"A dog is like a prop. A dog is like a kitchen table," Radford said.
Still, more than 40 animals gave it their best shot when Pool recently held a daylong casting call at the Twin Cities Obedience Training Club.
Maino's Penny showed off her skills by holding a glass jar in her mouth and doing a play bow.
"It was very nerve-racking," Maino said. "But it was fun to do that with Penny. I think she did really well."
"She's very cute. She's nice and maneuverable," Pool told Wayne after Millie was photographed in different poses on a table.
"I'm super proud of her," Wayne said.
Kris Scheller, who lives near Brainerd, Minn., has trained dogs to do tricks featured on "America's Funniest Home Videos" and David Letterman shows. He brought Sport V, his fifth dog named Sport, to show how it could fetch him a canned beverage out of a cooler.
Chad Sivertson brought Bryce, a two-year-old tabby cat. Bryce photobombs Zoom meetings so often from his home in Andover that his owners thought he could be a model.
"I think it's his personality. He just likes to be around people," Sivertson said. "He's totally chill."
Some of the dogs let the excitement of the opportunity get the better of them, choosing to run around the room instead of sitting for the camera despite pleas from their owners to focus.
"Work with her more. Let me know if she starts calming down," Pool told one dog owner.
Taco got a case of stage fright when he was asked to pose for Pool and the camera.
Shipp said he acted like he was going to the vet.
"For whatever reason, this environment scared him," Shipp said. She said she might try again after more practice.
But "if he doesn't enjoy it, I don't want him to do it," she said. "I don't want to be that parent."