The Prince and the Pea is the Canine Fairy Tale to Make You Happy Right Now

The classic fairy tale has been given a modern and canine twist by The Academy for Dog Trainers. Watch the video and read my interview with Kristi Benson about how she got these cute dogs to take part. 

A dog wearing a princess hat sits on the edge of the forest. The Prince and the Pea is the canine fairy tale to make you happy right now.

By Zazie Todd, PhD

I can’t stop watching The Prince and the Pea. It’s the latest video from The Academy for Dog Trainers and features a cast of cute dogs to retell a classic fairy tale with a modern twist. I spoke to Kristi Benson CTC, staff member at The Academy, about how she wrote the script and put the video together. 

Watch the fairy tale of The Prince and the Pea here, followed by all the behind the scenes info on the dogs and trainers who took part. Link to video for email subscribers.

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Zazie: What inspired you to make the video?

Kristi: I think we were all really feeling the pressure from the pandemic and how it was bringing us down. In the beginning of the pandemic there was a lot of uncertainty about how are dog trainers going to handle this, how long is it going to last? It was a really stressful time. And Jean, my boss at the Academy, is super generous with the time of her staffers to give back to the dog training community. 

We did this one silly video that was a dog training take on the toss it videos that were going around at the beginning of the pandemic. We did this fun toss-it video with people who would throw bait bags to each other and do a trick with their dog and then throw a toy and do a trick. It ended up being a really fun thing. So the people who did it had a lot of fun with it and then people had a lot of fun watching it and sharing it. 

So we said, let’s do more fun videos. This is the year for it and we can keep our community engaged, and keep our students and graduates doing fun things with their dogs. One of the ideas we came up with was let’s have our dogs act out a fairy tale. It was just off-the-cuff, let’s do this, it’ll be fun, it’ll be no big deal.

The Tidy Prince from The Prince and the Pea, canine fairytale. A handsome dog wearing a bow tie and standing in a field.ing a
The Tidy Prince. All photos copyright The Academy for Dog Trainers.


Zazie: It’s fantastic. Did you decide on all of the story and scenes in advance, or did some of it change as a result of things that the dogs did? 

Kristi: Mostly I came up with it in advance. I opened up a Grimm’s fairy tale book and I looked for one that was short and had a nice number of characters. The one that came up was The Princess and the Pea. I re-wrote it with a modern slant, like the Zoom dating slant, mostly keeping the same wording but just throwing in an extra idea here and there. And then I wrote the shot list, where I listed what in my own mind was going to work. 

That said, there were a couple of times when the dogs did something a little bit different and we’ve included that. Like in the scene when Kaslo, who’s the princess, put both her little paws on the computer mouse and put her little chin on the computer mouse, that was not in the shot list. It ended up looking so cute that it stayed in. Mostly it was fully pre-scripted and the people who participated filmed exactly what was on the list and sent it in. 

The princess from the Prince and the Pea (canine fairy tale) rests her head and paw on a computer mouse
The Princess, played by Kaslo Charbonneau


Zazie: How did you cast the dogs for particular roles? 

Kristi: We have a sign up list. Anyone in the Academy who wants to participate in our videos is welcome to sign up. So we have this list, and if you do a video, you go to the bottom of the list. The people who bubbled up to the top of the list were the people who were offered a role. 

We emailed the 8 people who were up next and said, Do you want to do this fairy tale video? If so, please send us a headshot of your dog with a little bit about their training and personality. And then we just matched people. We saw the picture of Kaslo and we thought, this is the Princess. And the Olde King needed to do a set of behaviours which would maybe take a bit of time to train, so when we saw that Noodle was available, we knew he already had quite a few behaviours trained up so we matched him as the Olde King. 

The Old King (dog) sits on a chair wearing his crown. Extract from The Prince and the Pea, the canine fairy tale to make you happy right now
The Olde King, played by Noodle Karunungan


Zazie: What kinds of training were involved for the dogs? 

Kristi: It ended up there was quite a bit of working with what the dogs already knew. Noodle, for example, already had a go-to-a-set-place, so Maria [Karunungan, of Fetch the Leash dog training] grafted that on to the chair. He had to hop up onto a chair and look in a particular direction. So she took his existing training and added it into a new context. 

In some cases there was new training that had to happen, in particular the dogs who had to put their paw on a mouse. A couple of dogs had to do that. So that was a new training task where they had to train their dogs to do this. It was typically free-shaping and lure-reward, so nothing fantastically out there, just these two ways that trainers train behaviours mostly. The other videos were more like, get your dog to do something fun and silly with a bunch of toys in a messy room and get it on video. 

In the end, Timber had to step up last minute to be the Prince. Timber is my dog, and originally I was not going to participate. I didn’t take that spot! And the fact that he was the Tidy Prince, because I don’t happen to be a very tidy person, it really made me laugh. The back of the room where Timber was being filmed was probably a big half-renovated mess and then there’s Timber against this nicely  painted wall. 

The Tidy Prince, from canine fairy tale the Prince and the Pea, rests on his pile of dog beds looking uncomfortable. The canine fairy tale you need right now
The Tidy Prince, played by Timber Benson


Zazie: What did you learn about training for video?

Kristi: You know what, it was harder than I expected. I did this great series where I chatted with three of the trainers who helped us out with this video. I learned just how much effort it took to get the exact right thing, particularly the paw target on a mouse. When dogs are trained with positive reinforcement they get really quite excited, so we had dogs that were excited and they were pawing the mouse. In one of the blooper reel shots you’ll see Noodle pawed the mouse so hard that it went between his back legs and was like, woah, what happened there?! 

So the amount of training that it took to get the things that in my mind, when I was just coming up with them, the amount of effort and the amount of incremental steps it took to get the dogs from A to B kind of surprised me. And we were trying to get them to not just look at the camera with that gleeful look as they hit the mouse! Mostly it was fine but there were a couple of things where, when we first put the shot list up and discussed it in our Facebook group, I realized I don’t already have that information about how to train X, Y, Z behaviours. So that was interesting for me as a dog trainer because I don’t do tricks training. It was all quite new to me.  

The Prince and the Pea, canine fairy tale, being narrated by Jean Donaldson while her dog Brian listens
The Prince and the Pea is narrated by Jean Donaldson while her dog, Brian, listens. Jean also plays the music.


Zazie: Did you run into any difficulties when you were making the Prince and the Pea?

Kristi: The video was a little bit drab on the first round. It just wasn’t coming together as awesomely as I thought it could, so I was a little bit stressed and depressed about it. Then I had this idea that we’d make the Zoom screen, but we’ll make it royal. It’ll be the royal purple and I’ll have little icons that are all royal icons along the bottom. And all of a sudden it came together when that happened. I think because of the fact that it was cheeky and super-relevant for the pandemic time. Like we’re on a Zoom meeting right now and I’ve had so many Zoom meetings this year. Even working from home for 15 years, I’ve never had as many Zoom meetings as I’ve had this past year. So I think the Zoom dating service really is what pulled it together. 

Zazie: What’s your favourite part of the video?

Kristi: I'm not sure I can pick a favourite part! I found myself loving the untidy princes, of course, who were having a blast and just being very good dogs. The combination of the sort of mournful piano music and their hijinks was particularly satisfying. But honestly, I marveled at all the whole thing when all was said and done.

One of the untidy princes from The Prince and the Pea, a black dog playing with a toy, while the Princess (dog) looks on
One of the untidy princes, played by Kovu Squire


Zazie: My favourite part is Timber turning around and around in the bed and looking and sniffing at the bed like there’s something in here.

Kristi: I know it just came together so well! I wish I could say I’d planned that, but he just dropped a treat. I was giving him treats for laying down on one side, because he’s learned lateral recumbency as part of the Husbandry Project. So I lured him over on his side and I’d get out of the frame for a couple of seconds. And I think he coughed a treat back up, and then he was like, where is it? I can’t let that one go! So then I got all this footage of him snuffling around for the treat. And it ended up being perfect!   


You can see for yourself in the video above. It includes The Prince and The Pea, at the beginning, followed by the behind the scenes video which includes interviews with three of the dog trainers whose dogs took part, and a blooper reel. Here’s the link to the Prince and the Pea video for email subscribers.

 

Kristi Benson is an honours graduate of the prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers, where she earned her Certificate in Training and Counseling (CTC).  She lives and works in the Parkland Region of central Manitoba Canada, where she teaches dog obedience classes and helps dog owners in private consultations – both in-person and via video chat – for a full range of dog problems, from basic obedience to aggressive behaviour. Kristi is on staff at the Academy for Dog Trainers, helping to shape the next generation of canine professionals. Kristi’s dogs are rescue sled dogs, and for fun she runs them with a dog-powered scooter and on skis.

Contact her through her website and check out her blog, Facebook page, or Twitter for training tips, articles about dogs and training, and more. Kristi is also a special correspondent to Companion Animal Psychology and you can find a list of her blog posts here

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and two cats.

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