Hollywood superstar Channing Tatum is making a return to the box office after a five-year hiatus, starring in and co-directing a movie that puts military working dogs in the spotlight.
The MGM movie “Dog” is about the relationship between Army Ranger Briggs (Tatum) and Lulu, a Belgian Malinois military working dog. Tatum’s character is tasked with transporting the canine soldier to her former handler’s funeral in a comedic and tumultuous race down the Pacific Coast.
In a live United Service Organizations Q&A with the military community last week, Tatum, co-director Reid Carolin and producer Brett Rodriguez admitted filming “Dog” was more challenging than expected. Not only was production halted by COVID-19, but they learned making a movie with a Belgian Malinois star is a breed of its own.
Three different dogs played the role of Lulu, and Tatum spent almost a year warming up to them. He admitted that he still finished the movie with a “smiley face scar on his buttock” and a gash on his face from a scene where he had to grapple with one of the dogs over a stuffed unicorn toy.
“Truly, there’s been a lot of actors and actresses that are a lot harder to work with than dogs,” joked Tatum. “I can’t tell you how many scenes in the movie are only one take because that’s all we got.”
According to the Department of Defense, about 1,600 military working dogs are keeping the nation safe. They serve in every military branch, skilled in everything from enemy incapacitation, search and rescue and drug and explosive detection.
The movie’s depiction of a rocky journey to create a bond with a new working dog is familiar for many handlers, including Fort Bragg’s 550th Military Police Working Dog Detachment handler Sgt. Cassandra Trulock.
“When you are first paired with the dog, in the first two to three weeks, you’re spending every second that you are at work and even some of your personal time that you sacrifice to come in. You’re making them understand that you are their to-go person,” said Trulock, adding that her partner, a three-year-old Belgian Malinois named Flaco, took some warming up.
“When he was done with his initial training, he never really wanted to work,” she said. “We kind of had to go back and forth, and it took a while for us to find a groove and balance between playtime and training.”
Cpl. Dominic Pastino also serves in the 550th detachment and added that being a handler isn’t for everyone; it requires a lot of patience.
“Military working dogs kind of act like toddlers in the sense of there’s some days where they wake up, and they’re like ‘I’m not going to do what anybody says; I’m not doing anything,'” said Cpl. Pastino, who works with a 6-year-old German Shepherd named Mex. “It takes a certain kind of person to do this job.”
But when that bond finally forms, it’s hard to break.
“At the end of the day, we struggled together as a team, but when we succeed, we succeed as a team,” said Sgt. Trulock.
“Even though they can’t talk, they have so much to say,” said Cpl. Pastino. “We work with them so much that they have to be your best friend. Really it’s awesome, and it’s that companionship that you can’t really get from a human.”
The handlers say the antics of Lulu in the film “Dog” are very realistic, as working dogs often won’t respond well to people who are not their handlers.
“Dog” isn’t Tatum, Carolin and Rodriquez’s first film about military canines. The trio worked together to produce an HBO documentary in 2017 called “War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend.” The Army Ranger dog handlers they featured in the film served as consultants on the set of “Dog” to ensure the movie was somewhat accurate.
“Being exposed to them and hearing everything they’ve done and gone through was the most illuminating and interesting thing that we experienced,” said Rodriquez, who is a military veteran himself.
“It’s impossible for Hollywood to get these movies correct, even on one level, because I think it’s really complex what the military and service members, in general, have to sacrifice and do,” said Tatum. “Hopefully, we made you giggle in the movie a couple times as a tribute.”
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