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How Rescue Dogs are Trained to Play Sandy in ANNIE
It’s no secret that the dog who plays Sandy in ANNIE has been stealing the spotlight at every show since the musical first premiered in 1976. And it’s no exception for the latest national touring production starring Ellie Pulsifer in the title role.
Since ANNIE’s inception, Bill Berloni has been training the Sandys. The dog, according to the script by Charles Strouse, Thomas Meehan and Martin Charnin, is described as medium-sized, sandy color of an indistinguishable breed.
Before ANNIE was on Broadway, Berloni, who was a20-year-oldaspiringactor at the time, was asked by one of the musical’s producers to find a dog and train it to be Sandy. From that moment, he made training rescue dogs for the stage his passion and career.
For the new national tour, Addison and Georgie play Sandy. “We look for dogs with well-balanced temperaments. That's it. If they're well-balanced, then they can learn anything,” Berloni said of what makes the perfect candidate to be a stage dog. Sandy has a pivotal role in the story. The character is on stage for about fourteen minutes with 15-20 stage cues a show.
And the Sandys cast are always rescue dogs.
Training the dogs to be on a big stage with thousands of people in the audience takes about two to three years. First, they get healthy and housebroken. Then trainers use a basic obedience course where the rescue dogs learn how to walk by your side, sit, stay, lay down, sit up and come when you call them.
“Our training begins a conversation with them unlike any conversation they’ve ever had before,” explained Berloni of his process. “Every behavior has a reward. And for the most part, the reward is love. So, there’s never any, ‘if you do that, this is your punishment.’ There is: ‘I’d like you to do this. And if you do, you’ll get a reward.’ It’s a much slower process.”
Once that’s mastered, the dogs learn their cues. For this production of ANNIE, the rehearsal process with the cast began about a month before the first performances. Pulsifer spent many hours bonding with Addison and Georgie. “What differentiates our dogs [from other pets] is that they learn to listen to other people, as opposed to just listening to me,” Berloni said. If at any time the dogs don’t want to perform, they don’t have to and they retire from their stage careers.