The Man Behind the Dogs of 'Legally Blonde'

Elle and Bruiser

For those several thousand theatregoers who made the trek to the Playhouse to see Penn State Centre Stage’s production of Legally Blonde, you may recall Claire the Chihuahua as Bruiser, and Popeye the Bulldog as Rufus. You probably wouldn’t realize that dogs don’t just ‘perform on cue.’ In fact, most don’t—just ask almost any dog owner. But the dogs of Legally Blonde did perform on cue and to get to that point they had to be trained. Enter John Jones, the man who trained the dogs for Legally Blonde.

John is the owner of Wholistic Canine Concepts, a dog training facility in Oak Hall. John, a State College native, first became enamored with dogs and dog training when he adopted a rescue dog named Max. Max exhibited some pretty aggressive behavior to other bipedal creatures like John, so he felt it necessary to find a way to curb this bad behavior. In the process of working with Max, he met a trainer named Randy Kromer (with whom he later would apprentice) who helped open John’s eyes to the world of dog training. Through this relationship, John developed his skills for dog training and his work has been for the dogs ever since! 

Legally Blonde was John’s first experience with show business. He was immediately taken by the dedication and hard work that performers put into their roles, and realized that the dogs' work had to match the work being put on stage so that they would complement each other. Each dog had to be comfortable not only with John, but with the performers handling them. John and his dogs became a regular fixture in the rehearsal room to make them feel comfortable with all the noise and action taking place around them. In addition to working with the dogs and the actors in rehearsals, John also had to learn the actors' lines in the show so that he could practice with the dogs when the performers were not around. He would work with the dogs anywhere; his home, the parking lot, the hallways, making sure they heard the cue lines for each character and entrance.  According to John, “Not only did I learn the lines, I also tried to recreate the blocking for each scene so it would remain fresh and constant in the dog’s minds.” One can only imagine what his neighbors were thinking!

According to John, all training is individual. Training is based on the dog and each dog is different. Bruiser, the Chihuahua, had experience as a show dog and was comfortable in groups. Rufus, the bulldog, was old, blind in one eye, and on one occasion had a sort of nervous breakdown, where John had to carry him home. But the next day Rufus perked up and was back on the boards turning heads with his adorable bulldog waddle across the stage. It’s clear that dogs bring great joy to John and his dedication to each animal is evident.  They are, in some ways, his children.

People bring a variety of dogs to John for training. Perhaps his least favorite experience is when people bring him a dog and say “train him or I’m putting him to sleep.” Most people don’t take the time or provide the nurturing stability to properly train their dogs. Having a well-trained dog is “a joy” according to John. He adds, “It gives the owners and the dogs a lifetime of pleasure.”

For fun John enjoys being the ‘perp’ in police dog training, otherwise known as "the bite victim." John enjoyed hockey in his younger days and getting to wear the bite suit and being attacked by police dogs brings back fond hockey memories! John trains all breeds, but does have a soft spot for German Shepherds. For awhile John worked exclusively with German Shepherds, even traveling to Germany where he worked with a three-time world champion German Shepherd trainer. After a brief stint in Florida, John missed the seasons and the location and relocated back to State College to continue his work with dogs. John wants each dog to be the best dog it can be and he strives to provide the best trained dogs around.

For more information, John can be reached at Wholistic Canine Concepts in Oak Hall. Or you can email him at eichenhalle@aol.com.

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