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Training the Dogs of the Wizard of Oz Musical

The real stars of the Australian production of The Wizard of Oz Musical are arguably two Australian Terriers named Trouble and Flick who share the role  of Toto, Dorothy’s loyal companion.

Hailing from Seymour in Victoria, these two vivacious siblings caught the eye of experienced dog trainer Luke Hura who needed to train them in under eight weeks for the Brisbane premiere! With a dog training career which started in 1973 and spans over 35 years training many dogs for the film, TV and theatre, Luke immediately saw their potential for the stage because of their ‘beautiful temperaments’, both dogs being clever and confident around other dogs and people.

Having started his dog training career attending the local Dog Obedience school, Luke quickly excelled at all the trials he competed in. However he also grew disheartened witnessing  the old-fashioned methods used in the ring and their outcome - creating fearful dogs. He decided to try something different and ventured out on his own: he started training dogs for other people, which was not a very common occupation back then.

Dealing with over 300 dogs of all breeds - each coming with his own set of issues  - in a few years certainly taught him the importance of connecting quickly with a new dog. Luke started applying the methods of Hollywood dog trainer Henry East using his book written in 1946! 

They say that practice makes perfect...

Fast forward to ten years later and Luke is now applying his well-honed training methods to dogs used in TV shows and movies – he got his big break into the industry with Bouncer from Neighbours

Luke loves unlocking a dog's potential, like Koko - the star of the film Red Dog - or RSCPA rescue dog Buddy who starred in the musical Annie in 2012. Luke also rescued and trained Meeko, the Maremma who appeared in the movie Oddball.

For the Wizard of Oz, Flick and Trouble had to learn some special tricks including travelling in a ‘flying house’, being carried in a basket by Dorothy as well as some scary encounters with the Wicked Witch of the West!

Luke shares that he had a wonderful time training his leading star Trouble and understudy Flick, drawing on their natural instincts or what he terms ‘working with their energy and minds’ which means using only positive reinforcement methods. These two have a soft spot for rumpsteak, which Luke takes the ‘trouble’ of cooking himself to use as high-value rewards during training.

However ‘dogs will be dogs and some days they may decide to lie down or start grooming at the most inappropriate time!’ says Luke. The trick is to correctly 'read the dogs and anticipate the issues’. ‘Magic does not just happen’, only when you’ve taken the time to establish a real connection with the dog, can you create real magic!

Samantha Dodemaide who plays the lead role of Dorothy also bonded with Trouble, spending a lot of time with the dog off stage and their bond is evident to the audience. 

“Last Tuesday night the applause we received after that performance was the loudest I ever got for any dog I trained!” enthuses Luke. In his eyes, Trouble stands out as 'a dog who truly understands what’s happening both on and off the stage. 

Trouble stars as Toto (Photo: Brian Geach)

He could be called almost ‘human’ in his interactions with people' explains Luke, greeting daily all members of the cast and crew and jumping on their laps!

Over the weeks, Luke has developed a special connection with Trouble, as with all the animals he’s previously trained. They do have a habit of ending up living with him after the curtain is finally drawn but some will eventually move on to live with friends, however it's always the dog who does the choosing!

Luke concludes ‘I am so grateful to be able to work on a show like this. I love music and entertainment generally but this is star-studded cast of extremely talented people’.

Alongside Trouble and Flick, the cast includes Anthony Warlow as The Wizard and Professor Marvel, Lucy Durack as Glinda the Good Witch, Jemma Rix as the Wicked Witch of the West and Samantha Dodemaide as Dorothy.

The London Palladium Production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz premiered in Brisbane at the Lyric Theatre on November 4 with the final performance on December 3.

The show then travels to Sydney’s Capitol Theatre from December 30 followed by the Adelaide season from April 3 and the Regent Theatre in Melbourne from May 15.

As Dorothy discovers ‘there is no place like home’, so it seemed a logical step for the show producers to strike a rewarding partnership with the RSPCA in each state to raise money and awareness for rescue dogs and help them find a new forever home.

To raise funds for RSPCA NSW an allocation of tickets will be sold to the performance of The Wizard of Oz at 5pm on 31 December 2017 at the Capitol Theatre. The fundraising tickets will go on sale soon. Funds raised from the sale of the tickets will be donated to RSPCA NSW to support their local animal care and adoption facilities. The dates for the RSPCA SA and RSPCA VIC fundraisers will be confirmed soon.

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