DOG WATCH AUG. 4, 2022
Sarah Clifford has spent the last 20 or so years working with actors who also happen to be animals. “I’ve had dogs that know they’re actors,” Clifford said in a phone interview from the ranch she shares with her 16 very good pups. “They know they’re on set. They know what ‘action’ is. They know what ‘cut’ is.” And now, they know what getting press is. We wanted to learn as much as we could about the dogs who play Dave and Carol, guardians and best friends to Jeff Bridges’s old man on FX’s The Old Man. Clifford dished about finding the perfect pooches, training them to be somehow more perfect, and why most of you reading this should not adopt a Rottweiler.
Dave and Carol are actually five whole dogs.
Just like with Michelle Tanner, multiple actors work together to bring Dave and Carol to audiences. Creed, Cain, Freya, and Finnelly are their real-life names, and a stunt dog named Daisy joined the crew for the big episode-three fight scene in Zoe’s house.
They’re all new to the biz. Before their co-starring roles in The Old Man, none of the dogs had ever worked in Hollywood. While that may raise some nepotism alarms, we can assure you they didn’t even go to Harvard. Creed was just days away from being euthanized at a shelter in central California, where he’d found no luck getting adopted after losing much of his fur to a food allergy. (“We switched to a lamb-based food and all his hair grew back almost right away,” says Clifford.) Freya was a breeding dog in Atlanta whom Clifford rehabilitated to socialize with humans. Finnelly — who goes by “Finn” — immigrated all the way from Budapest, Hungary. And Cain is just a good NoCal boy from San Francisco.
They’re having fun pretending to maul people. The dogs went through thousands of hours of training to create the appearance of a terrifying attack, and are motivated to perform with either treats or toys depending on whichever they respond to most. For the attacks in the first episode, Finnelly was slowly trained to jump up and grab a toy off a stuntman’s jacket; it was eventually sewn onto the jacket so she’d shake him around to try to get it off. Cain was taught to very gently hold a human being’s neck in his jaws in exchange for a treat, a skill that will surely stand out on his résumé for future gigs.
Oh, there was also one CGI dog. Even with a professional stunt dog on hand, no one on set wanted to risk injury, and so visual effects created the pup who gets thrown through the glass door at Zoe’s house. For another scene depicting dog abuse, Clifford had the art department craft a foam wall for Finnelly to fling herself into in pursuit of her favorite thing in the whole world: a toy.
Jeff Bridges and Amy Brenneman are true friends to the dogs. Clifford always tries to get the actors to bond with the dogs they’re performing with, but actors are notoriously busy on film sets. She wasn’t expecting much when she asked if Jeff Bridges would put in some extra time with the dogs, but he actually asked to do more rehearsals with them and even got his own fanny pack full of treats so he could reward the dogs himself. Brenneman, meanwhile, had fewer scenes with the dogs but — as a dog owner herself — was very skilled in the art of petting and rolling around on the floor with them. She also keeps up with Clifford’s whole brood on Instagram.
The dogs require a lot of maintenance on and off set. Clifford emphasized that Rottweilers are extremely energetic and require a lot of attention. Cain, for instance, goes for a five-mile run every day before he goes to set to shake off that extra energy. And Clifford brings giant bone-shaped inflatable pools to set so the dogs can swim around and play between takes (apparently Rottweilers are obsessed with the very idea of water). As for what they do when they’re not working, well, let’s just say almost nothing on Clifford’s ranch hasn’t been chewed, down to the electric wiring on her front gate.
Do not immediately go out and get a Rottweiler just because these particular Rottweilers are so perfect and good. While they’re now angels on set, it took months of full-time work to get Creed, Cain, Freya, and Finnelly there. Clifford implemented strict rules on set regarding how and when people could approach and pet the dogs, because Rottweilers are not naturally social with strangers. While any decision to adopt a dog should be a carefully made one, this is what Clifford describes as a breed for an “advanced owner.” That’s how great these pups are at acting: They make having a Rottweiler look easy! Hello, Emmys!