With the world premiere here this month of “Benji the Hunted,” in which Benji turns in his most impressive acting performance to date-a searing, powerful portrayal of a dog on the run-we thought it was time to figure out what Benji’s owner knows that we don’t. We need help. We can’t get our dog to move from his favorite position on the couch. Meanwhile, in the latest movie written and directed by famous Dallas dog movie mogul Joe Camp, Benji runs between a bear’s legs and gets washed around in the ocean and barks and cocks his head in that way that makes children all over the world exclaim, “Look, Benji’s thinking! He’s thinking!”
Benji is owned by animal trainer Frank Inn of California, who, it seems, can train anything. He trained all of Elly May’s critters on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” including such stalwart acting specimens as Bess the Chimp and Earl the Crowing Rooster. He trained Arnold the Pig on “Green Acres.” He trained Lassie for seven years. He trained Tramp in “My Three Sons.” What a life this man has. He puts down a bowl of dog food, shouts “Supper,” and about twenty Hollywood stars come running to eat.
So we called Frank in California for his training tips. Dog owners, brace yourselves.
“Well, first off,” says Frank, “I can’t get that doggone Benji to stop digging for gophers in the back yard.”
“Where is Benji now?” we ask.
“Asleep on the couch,” he says, a bit pitifully. “Won’t sleep anywhere else.”
“How do you feed him?”
“Table scraps. Benji sits at the table and begs. The dog will give this silly little woof to get attention.”
We’re starting to feel encouraged. The famous Benji acts just like all those other neighborhood dogs who like to play in the alley trash cans and put their muddy noses on your freshly starched shirts. We especially feel cheerful when Frank Inn reveals that Benji, simply to irritate his master, tries to take as much time as possible in the yard outside the movie studio going to the bathroom. “Benji pretends he’s looking for the perfect spot,” says Frank. “I have to get red in the face and yell at him before he’ll finally go.”
So how does Benji do all those wonderful movie scenes? Why is he such a good actor that this new movie needs only twelve minutes of dialogue from humans? How can Benji bark on cue and pull those ropes up the sides of cliffs and look happy and look sad?
“Well,” admits Frank Inn, “to get him to run happily across the set, I stand on one side, and on cue I hold up a big yellow cat that he loves to chase. To make him look happy, I hold up his best friend, a little white dog that goes with him everywhere named Tiffany. To make him look sad, I yell,’Bad dog.’”
We are ecstatic at this point. We yell, “Bad dog,” at our dogs all the time. Maybe they could become famous, too! What do you think, Frank?
“Well, maybe so,” he says, a little too tentatively for our taste. “But I have to tell you something about Benji. He’s the smartest dog I’ve ever seen. If I say, ’Climb up that hill,’ he does it, To teach him how to pull the rope up the cliff, I said, ’Pull the rope up the cliff.’ After a couple of times he figured it out. Don’t ask me why. He understands the English language. He understands everything I say. Heck, I think he understands everything I think.”