Tony Richling has been around dogs his entire life, and has operated Liberty K9 Dog Camp in Hawesville, Kentucky, his family-run dog training business, for almost ten years. Tony has always been fascinated by military working dogs, specifically the Belgian Malinois, a medium-sized breed, and short-haired version of a Belgian Shepherd. This is the same breed of dog used by Navy Seals and by Secret Service agents to guard the White House. Tony says that, “comparing a Belgian Malinois to a German Shepherd is like comparing a Corvette to a station wagon. They run faster, jump higher,” and have an increased field of vision.
His first Malinois was a dog named Clipper, “in honor of a Vietnam scout dog” by the same name. After reading two books on Marine Corps sniper Carlos Hathcock, he was amazed at how the Marine could appear so laid back, yet be so focused and intense in the line of duty. He saw those same qualities in a small, Belgian Malinois puppy they had bred, “he could attack you and love you with the same intensity. He had gusto.” He named the dog Carlos, after the Marine Corps sniper, having no idea that this dog would soon be portraying a Marine himself.
When Warner Brothers was casting for the major motion picture, Max, a fictional film inspired by the viral videos and photos of service dogs mourning the loss of their military handlers, they consulted Jennifer Henderson. Jennifer is the East Coast Operations Manager for Birds and Animals Unlimited, a company that has been responsible for providing and training many of the animals that we have seen in commercials, television, and major motion pictures for the last fifty years. They have trained animals for such popular films as: Harry Potter, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, The Shaggy Dog, Because of Winn Dixie, and Evan Almighty. Jennifer said that when they are doing a “really big film” like Max they “have to go searching the entire country” to find just the right dog. In this case, they knew that they wanted to use a Belgian Malinois and that the dog needed to have “a particular look.” Jennifer first saw Carlos on the website of Liberty K9 Dog Camp and says, “The minute we saw Carlos, we knew he was the dog.” From there, Tony sent Jennifer a videotape of Carlos, and then head dog trainer, Mark Forbes came out to meet him. Tony says that “as soon as Mark Forbes met Carlos, he knew right then he was going to take him.” After working out all of the specifics, Tony and his (then ten year-old) son Josh made the journey to California to drop off Carlos. The two had quite the adventure over the ten-day trip, including a surprise greeting by the owl from Harry Potter, as well as Josh’s proud feat of consuming seventeen cheeseburgers in ten days.
Once in Hollywood, Carlos underwent six months of one-on-one training, including sixteen weeks of preparation for the role of Max. Jennifer said that they could not have been more pleased with the results. “Carlos is an amazing dog. He is super focused and incredibly brilliant. (Not to mention) his face is perfect for film. He has the ‘it’ factor when it comes to dogs. He is incredibly handsome. He is the George Clooney of dogs.” What makes Carlos so unique is that he does not have the typical “black mask” markings around his eyes like other Belgian Malinois. After Carlos was selected to play the lead role of Max, the company continued casting to find dogs that matched his look. Since the additional dogs cast did not have his unique markings, Jennifer says, “the other dogs went to an L.A. groomer that specializes in dying dogs, (because) everyone else has to look like Carlos.”
Now that filming is complete and the movie Max has been released, Carlos has done a little traveling and made several appearances. When he is not traveling, he lives with dog trainer Mark Forbes, who brings all of the dogs he is training home to live with him. Last year, his family sadly had to say goodbye to the Shaggy Dog. As for Carlos’s future, Jennifer says, “Carlos will continue to be a movie star and train with us until he’s an old dog, and then he will go on to live with someone that loves dogs.”
The Warner Brothers film, Max, is now playing nationwide. If you would like more information on in-home dog training, private lessons, or are interested in the Belgian Malinois breed for your family, please contact Tony Richling at (270)927-8646 or www.libertydogcamp.com