Philadelphia (CW Philly) — Levi, the retriever who portrays Pretzel, Murphy’s trusty guide dog in In The Dark, is not trained to lead the blind; he’s an actor. Show consultant Lorri Bernson talked about the decision to cast a regular dog instead of a certified guide dog in The CW series.
First, Bernson mentioned that casting a guide dog would take away from someone who actually needs one. Additionally, she said the many rounds of repetition involved in acting could confuse a guide dog.
“When we repeat things, it’s because he made an error… a guide dog in acting wouldn’t know what he’s doing wrong and could start to lose other elements of his training, as he tries to figure out what you want when you’re asking him to do it again,” Bernson explained.
Violetta Hessing, who owns and is the head trainer at V’s Talented Animal Performers, trained Levi for his role in In The Dark and elaborated on Bernson’s point about repetition.
“A performer dog waits for cue words such as ‘yes’ or ‘good’ to know she’s doing a good job, even if it’s over and over,” she said.
Hessing went on to explain how she trains performing dogs to listen on set.
“We use toys and food and praise. It depends on the energy of the scene. If we need high-energy, I’ll use some food; if we need low-energy, it will just be a pat or a kind word,” Hessing said.
Low-energy mode can be difficult for Levi since, according to Hessing, he naturally “goes from zero to 60 in an instant.”
Despite his high-energetic demeanor, Hessing feels fortunate to work with Levi.
“There’s so much crazy that goes on in this industry, and to find a dog that takes it all in stride and loves every minute of it, it’s like winning the lottery.”
In The Dark airs Thursday nights at 9 p.m. on The CW Philly.