Meet Mr. Howl-i-wood - Mike Alexander, Animal Trainer Extraordinaire!..Michael Alexander
When it comes to dealing with challenging actors, Mike Alexander is a master, paws down. As Hollywood's top dog in the world of animal training, Mike brings out the talented best in all types of critters, from dogs to even squirrels. His latest feat: corralling dozens of shelter-rescued Chihuahuas in the new Disney movie, "Beverly Hills Chihuahua." Mike is also famous for training the dogs in "Eight Below" and squirrels in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Tune in as Mike unleashes some tips and trivia about celebrity pet training.
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Man’s voice: What’s this show called?
Announcer: Oh Behave!
Man’s voice: No, really, what’s this show called?
Announcer: Oh Behave, with your shagadellic host, Arden Moore. What’s happening Arden, yeah baby, yeah yeah tell us yeah.
Arden Moore: Welcome to the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio, I’m your host, Arden Moore. In the movie classic, The Ten Commandments, the director made the Red Sea part. In Titanic, you can actually feel the chill of an iceberg crushing into this ocean liner, but if you want to talk about true Hollywood magic, true Hollywood challenges, try rounding up dozens of Chihuahuas and getting them to act on cue. Holy Taco Bell! But that’s the task mastered by our very special guest today, Mike Alexander. You may not know his name but you definitely know his acclaim. Mike is head trainer & animal coordinator for the new Disney movie, Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Welcome to “Oh Behave” Mike.
Mike Alexander: Hi, thank you.
Arden Moore: I’m looking forward to seeing the movie as everybody is. We’re going to get into, test your movie trivia and separate Chihuahua fact from fiction with Mike Alexander right after this commercial break.
Arden Moore: Welcome back to the Oh Behave show on Pet Life Radio, I’m your host, Arden Moore. Aye yae yae yae, get ready for the Chihuahua invasion. October third kicks off the release of a must see movie, Bevery Hills Chihuahua. You know, there’s a movie does feature some famous Hollywood two-leggers. There’s George Lopez, Jaime Lee Curtis, Drew Barrymore, Andy Garcia, and more. But the heart and soul of this movie belongs to a pack of dogs and other critters well trained by our special guest, Mike Alexander. Mike is the head trainer and animal coordinator for Birds and Animals Unlimited, he’s quite an in demand Hollywood animal trainer. Mike, thank you for being on our show.
Mike Alexander: Thank you.
Arden Moore: Wow, you’ve trained squirrels and sled dogs and now a pack of Chihuahua. What’s the difference? Which one of these were the toughest, sled dogs, squirrels, or Chihuahuas.
Mike Alexander: You know, I think they all have their own challenges, they were all, they were all unique and all very different in their own way.
Arden Moore: Well, let’s get a little background on you. I know, were you born petting a dog or what’s your animal connection as a child and what a great job you have now?
Mike Alexander: I’ve always been an animal lover but when I got out of high school I started working for a lady here in Los Angeles actually that rescued wild animals, and I worked for her for awhile and sort of fell into the movie industry and here we are.
Arden Moore: Yeah, we you’ve got quite a good list of titles for all the folks listening out there. You know, some of the animals in such movies as A Night at the Museum, the one that starred Ben Stiller, that was, I loved that movie, and then you had Eight Below, wow. That was not an easy terrain to be able to do with the, the sled dogs and all, and then, I guess you had trained some squirrels in director Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So let’s talk a little bit about those and then we’re going to get right into the heart and soul, the Chihuahuas. Sled dogs, in a very arctic environment, what was the biggest challenge you faced there?
Mike Alexander: That, you know, the whole thing was a real challenge. The dogs actually do very good in the cold weather. Those dogs are, are built for the cold weather, so I think the trainers and the human staff had more difficult time with the cold. Logistically, it was a hard movie to shoot too, we were in very remote locations, we helecoptered in to many of them. So there was a lot of challenges with that movie.
Arden Moore: And what about squirrels? How do you train squirrels?
Mike Alexander: You know, that was, we were sort of in uncharted territory with that, the script was bold and they, Tim really wanted a lot of performance out of the squirrels, very detailed, meticulous sort of performance, and so, you know, we started that, we had all these squirrels and it was really just a big experiment in, in squirrel training and, and it worked out very well.
Arden Moore: Do you use operant conditioning when you train animals?
Mike Alexander: Yeah we do and we use a lot of food reward and things like that, a lot of, sort of, communication, food reward, a lot of positive reinforcement.
Arden Moore: Ok, so now we’re getting ready for your biggest new challenge, Chihuahuas. How many Chihuahuas were actually on the set? How did you even screen them to be contenders for this movie?
Mike Alexander: We looked at a lot of different Chihuahuas and we wanted to find good, outgoing, energetic dogs, we didn’t want shy dogs, we wanted real outgoing dogs, so we, we screened a lot of dogs, looked at a lot of pictures, met a lot of dogs and then we finally cast the Chihuahuas we wanted to use and we, you know had about fifty Chihuahuas on the set at one time.
Arden Moore: Wow. Now, speaking of that, there’s the two stars, for the folks ready to go buy their tickets, Papi is a beautiful big-eared Chihuahua who’s real name is Rusco right, that you found I guess in a shelter.
Mike Alexander: Yes, we did find him in a shelter, yeah.
Arden Moore: And [unclear] his voice. So tell me a little about Papi and his character, and what made you say he’s the one for this movie?
Mike Alexander: We, you know, they had the, the script written without a dog cast for that part of Papi. So, when we began our, our hunt for that dog, we looked at a lot of different dogs and I think the people at Disney really knew what they wanted, they really wanted the certain expression, a certain sort of energy out of Papi, and so, like I said we looked at a lot of dogs, a lot of shelters. They always knew I think that Papi shouldn’t have been a sort of proper, purebred Chihuahua, they wanted him to have a little bit of an edge to him, so we looked a lot at the shelters. And then we saw Rusco’s picture on the website of one of the shelters here in Los Angeles, and we called them and, they said he’d been there for a little while and we’d better hurry if we want him and unfortunately that day I didn’t make it down there in time. When I drove down there they were closing the doors for the day so we went back before they opened in the morning and, and luckily he was still there, and once I met Rusco and saw his personality, we knew right away that this is going to be Papi.
Arden Moore: He has such an expressive face and I think those big wombat ears just crown him nicely don’t you think?
Mike Alexander: Absolutely, he’s got a wonderful face, and he’s also got the wonderful personality to go with it.
Arden Moore: Now, Chloe is a, a more of a rare looking Chihuahua, a white deer head Chihuahua who’s real name is Angel and tell us a little about Chloe or a.k.a. Angel, and I guess landed a pretty good home, if I was a dog, that’s definitely a home I want to be with.
Mike Alexander: Yeah, Angel, she’s a real special dog. She’s very outgoing, I like to say she’s a big dog in a little dog’s body. She’s got a lot of heart, a lot of soul. We spent a long time looking for her also. We had, they had a very specific idea of what they wanted Chloe to be, and, you know, when we finally found her we knew that this was going to be Chloe and she’s a, she’s a very unique, very special dog.
Arden Moore: Now, she is now, the, the voice is Drew Barrymore, and she’s the pampered Beverly Hill Chihuahua that somehow ends up in Mexico, that’s the, the basic plot, but you ended up adopting her didn’t you?
Mike Alexander: I did adopt her, and yes she lives with me now, yeah.
Arden Moore: Wow! That’s a pretty good testament. How rare are white, deer head Chihuahuas?
Mike Alexander: You know, there are a few around. She, you know, you always, when you’re doing movies you always need to find a dog that has the right look, but you also need to find a dog that has the right personality. So that’s, I think, one of the biggest challenges in casting the dogs for this movie. You find someone with the right look but they’ve got to have the right confidence and the right personality to become an actor also.
Arden Moore: Now, those two main characters, there’s no stand in for Chloe and Papi right? They have to be there and do the scene.
Mike Alexander: Yeah, they have doubles but because they’re so unique, and because their personalities are so special, they both did ninety-five percent of the movie, but we did have some shots that Angel had to do a lot of very serious acting, and before that we were doing some shots where she was you know, running, we would use one of her doubles for the running. We have a great double named Rita, who’s just a little firecracker, she’s just, she’s got so much energy and just, she’ll run and run all day and her tail’s wagging and she just loves it.
Arden Moore: Wow, does she got a Duracell in her?
Mike Alexander: Yeah, I think so.
Arden Moore: Now, you know, we always hear about chemistry between actors and movies. What’s the chemistry between the Chihuahuas playing Papi and Chloe?
Mike Alexander: Well they live together now, you know, they have a great relationship, I guess, sometimes it’s a little steamy but, you know, they have a great relationship with each other. They, you know I’d say they’re definitely best friends.
Arden Moore: That’s very good, now we know there’s a zillion Chihuahuas but there’s also a couple other dogs in the movie, there is a German Shepherd who plays Delgato, and a Doberman Pinscher playing El Diablo, and those are being voiced by Andy Garcia is the German Shepherd and Edward James Olmos is the Doberman. So, tell us a little about the characters are and training those two dogs.
Mike Alexander: The German Shepherd, Delgato is one of the heroes of the movie and he sort of, is a act police dog that’s living on the streets of Mexico City now, and so he sort of takes Chloe under her wing and takes care of her and El Diablo, the Doberman, is the evil villain in the movie.
Arden Moore: Ok, well you know, Edward James Olmos has that voice, you know and I think having the voices with these dogs, that’s key isn’t it?
Mike Alexander: Yeah, they, I mean, they did a great job casting the voices, they, what more could you ask for?
Arden Moore: You know, when this movie comes out, I wanted to ask you if you had some cautions for people. We don’t want this to spill out to be like 101 Dalmatians where a zillion people rush out and blatantly just gobble up a lot of Chihuahuas. You know, Chihuahuas are dogs, and even though they’re recognized as the smallest breed of dog, I did a little homework, they’re the twelfth most popular breed. Are there some special things that you’d like to say about Chihuahuas that will separate fact from fiction, so that people will realize that when they go to adopt, what they need to keep in mind?
Mike Alexander: I think the main thing with Chihuahuas is you got to keep in mind they’re very small dogs. You know, Chihuahuas generally are in the neighborhood of seven pounds, give or take a couple, you know, and a person is a hundred and fifty pounds so, you know they, they can be fragile, you have to be careful with Chihuahuas. They’re, they’re small dogs, you know if, if they play rough with a big dog obviously they can get hurt. So I think those things you really need to think about if you want to adopt a Chihuahua.
Arden Moore: We’re going to be talking more with Mike Alexander. He is the head trainer for the new movie by Disney, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, right after this commercial break.
Arden Moore: Welcome back to the Oh Behave show on Pet Life Radio, I’m your host, Arden Moore. We’ve been talking with Mike Alexander, the head trainer for the new movie by Disney, Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Is there any parting comment you’d like to tell people that really gets them to rush to the theater when it comes to this great movie?
Mike Alexander: You know, it’s a great movie. It’s got a fantastic human cast. The voices are great and, you know, it’s probably in my opinion the most talented group of dogs ever assembled for a movie, so definitely worth seeing.
Arden Moore: Well, paws up to you Mike and all your talented crew that made this show possible, and I look forward to maybe talking to you the next time you hit the lights with dogs, squirrels, rats, whatever you could do. It seems like you can work magic with any four-legger. So, I really do appreciate you being on our show.
Mike Alexander: Thank you. I can’t wait to do it again.
Arden Moore: Alright, take care Mike. Aye yae yae yae! What a great guest, Mike Alexander, he’s the head trainer for the new show, Beverly Hills Chihuahua. I was sniffing around his bio because he’s one of those talents behind the screen, but I found out a little movie trivia. He actually did have bit role as a person on Spiderman 3. He played a New Jersey policeman, but he’s really very talented when it comes to training Hollywood animals. He has trained for animals that have been in the Harry Potter movie, Cheaper by the Dozen, Garfield, you name it, and you know what? That’s a pretty big talent to be able to do that. Now he’s dealing with a bunch of Chihuahuas and I wanted to give you all a little bit of knowledge, fact and fiction, about Chihuahuas. First of all, it’s important to know that Chihuahuas are recognized as the smallest dog breed in the world. But that said, their brains, proportionally are largest of any breed, compared to their bodies. So, we’re talking some Einstein in little pint size bodies. They were also considered very sacred to the Aztec tribe in Mexico. And if you’re doing popularity contests, even though Chihuahuas are quite cute, it is the Labrador Retriever that is top dog among the American Kennel Club Association. Labrador Retrievers remain the most popular breed and the Chihuahua is the twelfth. Among little dogs, they’re third, they’re behind Yorkies and Shiatsus, but I think with this movie coming out, there’s a possibility they may move up a notch or two. The Taco Bell dog, we’ve all heard that commercial. Well, everybody thought it was a boy dog, but it actually was a female, and her name is Gidget. Yes, Chihuahuas, it’s a slam dunk. They originated in Mexico. They’re said to love to sunbathe, but make sure you put a little of that sun block on their little noses so that they don’t burn. And according to the world record books, the largest litter of female Chihuahua has ever given birth to is ten little Chi-wow-wows! And, even though they are recognized as the smallest breed, the smallest dog on record is not a Chihuahua, but actually a Yorkie that weighs about one pound. The other thing about Chihuahuas is those ears, and most Chihuahuas are born with floppy ears, and as they get older, that’s when they pop up. So, it the main character, Papi, who in the Beverly Hills Chihuahua movie, he’s got huge ears. So, just look for that and believe it or not, this is a fact, Chihuahuas in ancient times were actually used as hot packs for aches and pains. Ow, I guess that’s called creature comfort. And, they are quite noted for being very small but being very noisy snorers, so make sure of that when you have them on your bed. Now, here are some myths that we need to bust right now. There is no such thing as a Teacup Chihuahua. A Chihuahua is a Chihuahua is a Chihuahua. There’s no such thing as a miniature Teacup or Toy Chihuahua. The only difference is some are bigger than others. They’re around, up to seven pounds, but they can be as little as three or four pounds. The other thing that I really want to get cleared up right now is, you know what, if a Chihuahua really gets all excited and animated, for some bizarre urban legend out there says that his eyes will fall out. No, no, no, no, they’re not going to fall out, that’s not true. There’s also another urban legend that I’m going to bust right now about a vacationing couple that said they bought a “Chihuahua puppy” only to get home and find it’s a sewer rat. Now, that’s not funny. A Chihuahua is a Chihuahua is a Chihuahua, they’re not a rat. When you do have little dogs, it is important to realize that housetraining is key. Just because they’re little and their bladders are little, don’t make excuses for a Chihuahua. Once you get your dog, housetraining is very important, you know, I have a little dog now named Cleo and, and you know I say things like “good potty!” Make it very positive, never punish your dog if they do an oopsy in the house. Dogs of any size need to get into a routine. When you first get up, they go potty. When they eat, they go potty. When they get done playing, they go potty. When they get up from a nap, they go potty. You get them into a routine and they will be able to not have any oopsies in your house. Please don’t rub their noses in any oopsies, that just makes them stealth pee-ers. They will pee behind your couch and in other places so they don’t get in trouble by you. Also make sure if you do have a dog of any size that seems to be having some little deposits and puddles in your house and you don’t know why, check with your veterinarian and make sure there’s not a medical cause first. Finally, when it comes to little dogs like Chihuahuas, they are very popular. People say they’re like potato chips, you can’t just have one. But be careful, they don’t belong living only in purses and in jackets and dressed up all the time. Chihuahuas are dogs. They like also four on the floor, just like Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers do. It’s important to let a dog be a dog. Maybe on special occasions, some dogs do like to wear clothing, other dogs, you know you can see the signs of stress, you know, they’re like, resisting getting the clothing on, they’re trying to take the clothing off, their eyes are pretty tense, their body’s tense, if you have a Chihuahua like that, you know what, they’re giving you the message as best they can, saying please, please, please, let me just have a collar on. Chihuahuas do tend to bark, but their volume isn’t as load as, you know, some other dogs. But, just like dogs of all breeds, it’s good to have a dog be trained so you acknowledge what they’re barking about, and then give them something to do. In other words, if somebody rings the doorbell, and your Chihuahua goes Yai, yai, yai, yai, yai, you need to train your dog to say I got it and train your dog to go sit on a bed or some other place, so that they get acknowledged for alerting you, but they don’t become marathon barkers. Chihuahuas are great dogs because of their small size. They get to be able to travel. They can fit in a nice, airline approved carrier under your seat in the airplane. I have a good friend, Dr. Jack Stevens, he is the founder of Pet’s Best Insurance, and he has about four Chihuahuas. He has a special one named Tori, he nicknames “the little tornado.” This dog is only about three and a half pounds, and the dog travels with Dr. Jack everywhere. In fact, I was in Boise, Idaho yesterday, working with Dr. Jack. I’m writing his book, it’s called “Dr. Jack’s new voice,” and Tori is running the show at that office. The office has employees that also bring their dogs to work, after all, it’s a pet insurance place and dogs and cats are welcome, but the littlest is the mightiest, and that is Tori. In fact, Tori actually has a little column if you go to PetsBest.com, and you can read about the attitude of this little dog. But Dr. Jack was getting ready to pack his bags because he was heading to Chicago, and then on to New York, and guess what? Tori’s going with him. She goes everywhere with Dr. Jack. I think Chihuahuas are great dogs with the right people. Give them good training, be clear, consistent, and concise, and you’re going to have a wonderful little dog will love you, who will be well behaved around others. And I hope you do get a chance to go check out Beverly Hills Chihuahua. I think it’s got a great concept. The movie is about what really matters in life. It’s not having the most bling. It’s having good friendships, and being true to yourself, and others. So for now, I want to take this time to thank again our special guest, Mike Alexander, the head trainer for the Disney movie, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and of course, my cool producer, Mark Winter, who makes everything happen on the technological end, and to Disney too, for giving us this opportunity to chat with Mike. We also invite you to go to the PetLifeRadio.com site. Sniff around, we have a listener’s survey, we have a lot of great gifts on not only Oh Behave but the other shows on our network. We’re growing and growing and getting better and better and we’re reaching out all over the world. Please our, our radio shows with all your friends. It’s free, and just download them free on iTunes and other podcast options. So for now, this is your flee free host, Arden Moore, delivering just two words to all you two, three, and four leggers out there, oh behave!
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