Book Review – Citizen Canine: Dogs in the Movie

Is there any other animal more beloved in the movies than dogs? For a while horses were in the running, but when you examine the past century of film, it is clearly canines who have dominated. In the lightly amusing Citizen Canine: Dogs in the Movies, Wendy Mitchell writes about the performances of sixty cinematic pooches in their signature roles.

Citizen Canine: Dogs in the Movies
Wendy Mitchell
Laurence King Publishing, 2020

Mitchell covers a satisfying array of films, from the silent era to the current day. Each entry has a photo, a brief blurb about the dog’s performance in the movie and its history as a movie actor, and a couple of bits of trivia.

The entries don’t run deep, there’s only so much you can write about a performing dog, but it was interesting to learn about the many ways different directors approached working with these animals. Some of them wanted elaborate tricks, while others simply wanted a dog doing its thing.

Mitchell’s film selection also covers a wide range of moods. We tend to think of dogs being in either sweet, sentimental movies or horror, but in film they have been in as many different scenarios as their human counterparts. There’s a lot of variety between Benji and Cujo.

I was amused to read about the different ways the dogs approached filming, with some of them seemingly eager to work and many especially adept at performing. Trainers have used creative methods to get the animals to do what was needed for the camera, the most amusing being a pair of glasses lined with meat and the trainer who had to shut himself in a coffin so that a dog would follow it in a funeral procession as if in mourning for his owner.

For classic film fans the usual suspects are present, including Asta, Lassie, Petey, and Toto. Dogs from older movies take up about a third of the book, so there’s a satisfying representation, even though most of the entries are for modern films. It’s a fun book; not appropriate for young children because of some the films it covers, but essentially light in tone.


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