A new series from Animal Planet will showcase rescued dogs who turn into rescuers.
Based on UK indie Plimsoll Productions’s Channel 4 format, Rescue Dog to Super Dog follows professional dog trainers Nate Schoemer and Laura London as they assess and select two dogs from rescue centers and shelters and pair them with people that have a range of physical and mental disabilities, from anxiety disorder and PTSD to mobility issues and Cerebral Palsy.
The six-part series follows the process as trainers and service dog recipients work together to harness rescue dogs’ strengths and “turn them into true super heroes.”
According to Grant Mansfield, CEO and founder of Plimsoll Productions and EP on the series, Rescue Dog to Super Dog is a series with a heart and purpose, which for Plimsoll, is the “sweet spot” in this genre.
Rescue Dog to Super Dog premieres Aug. 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Animal Planet. Mansfield, Karen Plumb, Lauren Girion serve as executive producers for Plimsoll, while Keith Hoffman serves as executive producer for Animal Planet.
Realscreen chatted with Mansfield and Plumb, head of factual entertainment at Plimsoll and EP, about the inspiration behind the series and why they decided to bring it to the U.S.
Karen Plumb: We heard about how difficult it is for people with disabilities to access fully trained assistance dogs – they’re expensive and in very short supply. We discussed that it was a shame rescue dogs weren’t used for this job and we then had a spark of an idea. Could a rescue dog be trained to be a companion dog and be trained to do a few, simple specific tasks for the person in need and improve their life immeasurably?
We talked to some experienced rescue dog trainers and asked if it was possible. They explained that rescue dogs have just as much potential to learn and perform assistance tasks as any dog and that, with the right training and selection process, a disabled person could train their own dog to perform important support tasks.
Once we had that reassurance, the format was born.
Why do you think there is an appetite for a program like Rescue Dogs?
KP: Because it’s a genuine feel good story.
A life lived with a disability can at times be an isolating experience and watching a person in need and a shelter dog work together to improve each other’s lives is a very rewarding experience. It’s a love story at its heart but of course it’s not without hard work and struggle. The show’s expert dog trainers Laura and Nate bring their expertise and passion for training and the project to every scene of the series.
What challenges did you face with production?
KP: Finding the right dogs is a challenge. For the series, we needed to find shelter dogs that are keen to work, super social and highly food motivated as all the training is food reward based. The trainers spent many days visiting shelters and rescues looking for the right dog for their clients.
And, even when the ideal dog is found, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to train them to learn their assistance tasks. It’s a big commitment that takes a lot of hours, love and dedication to pull off. It’s not a production that fits into the standard model.
Why will this series appeal to audiences?
KP: Watching a dog from a shelter that has become unwanted with no purpose in life transform into a well-loved helpful companion is a genuinely rewarding viewing experience. Our trainers Laura and Nate’s passion for the project and their joy at seeing their clients succeed is a treat. It’s also a series that evokes real emotion. It’s authentic with a genuinely life changing journey at its heart.
What did you learn during the production of this project that you think would be valuable to other professionals in the industry?
KP: You cannot rush or short cut the training of a dog. Dogs need to be happy to learn, so make sure you build enough training time into your schedule. And, the dogs are really the stars of the show — we had to focus on their needs as much as everyone else on the series.
What’s your favorite moment from the series?
KP: My personal favorite is when Jesse Swalley, an amputee, who got around by using his skateboard and his hands for propulsion, succeeds in training his rescue dog to help pull him by using voice commands. The joy and pride of the trainer and Jesse always brings a tear to my eye.
How does this fit into the Plimsoll brand?
Grant Mansfield: It’s a series with heart and purpose. For Plimsoll, that’s the sweet spot in this genre.
What does the show mean for Plimsoll stateside?
GM:The U.S. is an incredibly important and exciting market for Plimsoll and we’re obviously hoping the show attracts a large enough audience to trigger a second series. More generally, we see a lot of untapped potential for the company. Previously, I lived and worked in LA for three years, launching The Secret Millionaire and Celebrity Wife Swap on ABC. Plimsoll is already making several series for U.S. networks and with a newly established base in LA, we are optimistic about further growth.