Every good superhero has an origin story, and on “The Walking Dead,” Dog is no exception.
Dog, played by a Belgian Malinois named Seven, came on the AMC show as Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) canine companion in Season 9. Sometime while living alone in the woods, Daryl had apparently found Dog, giving him that very original name and letting him tag along on his search for Rick (Andrew Lincoln).
Or so we thought ...
On Sunday night’s episode, “Find Me,” Dog was finally given a doggone backstory, and it was a story director David Boyd was excited to tell.
“I won’t stop talking about Dog. That animal is fantastic,” Boyd told HuffPost in an interview prior to the episode airing.
Apparently, years ago while in the wilderness searching for Rick, Daryl came across Dog, who led him to a cabin that was being overrun with zombies. Unfortunately, the owner of the cabin, a woman named Leah (Lynn Collins), wasn’t too happy to have some random crossbow-wielding dude come barging in.
It turns out Dog was really Leah’s this whole time. She was the one who gave Dog his name — not Daryl, who’s not all that impressed with it — and the pair have been together ever since the night Leah’s son died from a zombie bite. He wasn’t her birth son, but “he was mine,” she explained.
“I said goodbye to him the same day Dog was born,” Leah says.
Daryl and Leah get off to a rough start, but eventually get romantically involved. Now, in the present, Daryl doesn’t know where she’s gone, and ... blah, blah, blah. Enough about that, let’s get back to Dog.
According to Boyd, adding animals to a script is expensive, and it’s not uncommon for them to get “kicked off the budget.” The show had apparently “tried over the years” to add them before.
But with Dog, things were different.
“This guy has a brain, and he’s got an acting spirit,” Boyd said. “In prep, you go, ‘This dog is never going to do any of it,’ right? You read the script and you go, ‘OK, he goes there and stops there and he barks there. It’s never going to happen. It’s going to take 19 hours to get one thing out of this dog.’ But no. Take one. Boom! We go, OK. We look at each other and say, ‘Well, do we need another take?’”
He continued, “There’s a little bit scripted where at the beginning of the episode, dog runs right at camera and is supposed to come to a screeching halt and kick up some dust. And we read that and go, ‘Well, that’s never gonna happen,’ and take one. Perfect. We just said, ‘Well, what the hell? Now we’re an hour ahead. Let’s do another take.’ And same thing. Perfect. Exactly right. Excellent.”
Time after time, Seven hit his mark, tearing up floor boards on cue and chasing things like a pro. The director started getting “greedy” with the trainers — who he said were “cool cats,” by the way — asking Seven to do increasingly complicated moves.
“They go, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ Damned if that dog didn’t do it. Every single bit of it. That dog can perform for four minutes and just keep going. That’s amazing. I love him,” Boyd said.
The only difficult thing for Seven? Knowing when to stop.
“They say that the danger with this breed is that they just won’t give up. And so if you lose contact with them, if you’re in the real world and you’ve given the dog a task, it literally will drop dead to do it. So, all of us, the trainers especially, have to be aware of how far that dog will go. If you lose contact, that guy is going to run through the woods,” Boyd said. “We had him chasing a motorcycle for a while in a later episode. And that day we had to be very, very certain that we didn’t just exhaust him.”
For Boyd, when it was time to wrap on the new episodes, there was one farewell he had to make.
“That dog is unbelievable. I found myself sitting on a curb in Alexandria next to that dog when it was time to say goodbye to everyone. That dog is awesome,” he said.