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The totally focused Boxer, Jack, soars over a hurdle at the at the Mid-Coast Kennel Club of Maine September Agility trial. Photo courtesy Schooner Hill Photography.

There are days when Nina Daniel feels like a gymnast while penciling in Jack’s schedule.

With fluidity and flexibility, the Starksboro, Vermont, dog owner finds herself writing in Agility entries for the 8½-year-old Boxer for events weeks and months ahead. But when it comes to Jack’s other life – TV commercial acting – that’s a whole different matter.

“Lots of creative minds are involved in the process,” Daniel says. “Things change from moment to moment. You may get a call a few days before to ask if your dog can do behaviors XYZ and if you are available on these dates. Slight changes are normal, a day or two later. You must have an easy-going temperament and be willing to go with the flow. Each shoot is a new behavior training challenge while working in the moment.

“Fortunately I have a very flexible boss (Comfort Hill Kennel in Vergennes, Vermont, where Daniel teaches classes in Agility, Rally, and Obedience) who allows me to juggle my schedule last minute when I am called.”

The 63-pound Jack also dabbles in Rally, Obedience, Scent Work, Tracking, and Trick pursuits. Tracking is his favorite aside from Agility. “It’s fun to be outside encouraging your dog to use its nose and learn to read it,” Daniel notes. This develops teamwork and trust, key qualities required in Agility and commercial film work, which has been the pair’s focus for three years.

Jack’s first shoot presented plenty of training challenges. The filming was in January 2016 in New York City for a Vince Camuto shoes commercial. “We were hooked after this,” says Nina Daniel. It aired on Super Bowl 50 a month later. The 30-second spot follows Jack helping his owner pick a pair of shoes to complete her outfit. The dog rummages through a walk-in closet that is filled floor-to-ceiling with Vince Camuto shoes.

From Sports to Spotlight

Asked what AKC sports qualities serve Jack well in filming, Daniel answers, “Obedience and Trick Dog behaviors are the most useful. Having those behaviors completely proofed and under stimulus control is a must. Just like a trial setting, your dog must be focused and ready to work and comfortable around unfamiliar dogs, people and environments.”

In that respect, Daniel lists Jack’s stellar qualities as driven, smart, a fast learner, and the capability to work with duration and not shut down. Add to those, she says, “Expressiveness is a big one. He has a face and eyes that will melt your soul. He seems to know where the camera is and work it. Plus, he has a way of connecting with people on set without being overwhelming.”

Daniel credits trainer Cassy Lamothe for much of Jack’s successes. “She introduced me to Positive Reinforcement training, clicker training, and agility. She has a keen eye for tailoring training to the needs of each dog and handler. She is like family.”

Jack is at a point where Daniel’s top priorities are keeping him fit, flexible, and strong, which includes weekly agility training. “We are a comfortable team that reads each other well. But it’s important for me to keep his mind enriched and challenged. I am always trying to come up with new Trick challenges for the two of us to learn, just for fun. We are also working on CDX Obedience behaviors and may enter the Obedience ring again at some point. Scent Work of all kinds is in the future for him, too.”

Being in the Moment

It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for the pair. He posed plenty of challenges at an early age, but Daniel concedes, there were plusses, too. “Ultimately he led me to my current career path (dog trainer and AKC Canine Good Citizen and Trick dog evaluator). He wasn’t being bad or stubborn, I simply wasn’t communicating with him in a manner that he could understand.

“I came to learn he is very intelligent, sensitive, and eager to engage and work with me. Struggling through this and learning together has built an incredible bond between us. He knows what I’m thinking even before I do.

“This can be double-edged, however. When we step to the start line together, whatever the sport, I need to be present for him in that moment. I need to let go of all my external human worldly static and just have fun. Otherwise whatever else is going on with me will creep in and he knows. I love this, letting go and just being in the moment with my best friend.”

The tightly bonded owner and dog enjoy a minute together in the backyard of their Starksboro, Vermont, home. Photo courtesy of Thom Daniel.

So Why a Boxer?

“I adore its athleticism, loyalty, loving nature, tidiness, and clownishness. It is the perfect fit for our family (that includes husband, Thom, and son, Truman, 25, at home). It is equally comfortable going for a run, guarding your home, or simply being a couch potato. It is wonderfully intuitive to your moods and lives to be a part of whatever you are doing.”

Jack, along with five other Daniel dogs, live on an idyllic 11-acre woody setting on the side of a mountain, which includes five acres of cleared land with a manmade swimming pond. Conversely, the other side of the mountain is home to two major ski areas.

The trim Boxer’s ability to adapt to polar opposite settings is a testament to his charisma and character. His comfort zone seems to have no boundaries, whether it’s cavorting about his remote setting at home or in Manhattan, where he competed in the Masters Agility Championship at Westminster in February.

This was Team Jack’s fourth Westminster, but he’s been to New York City numerous times for commercial jobs, too. “He loves all the different smells and upbeat pace in the city,” says Daniel. “Our first Westminster left him a bit put off by the crowds and he was not himself. So all year, we worked on his mental game, proofing large crowds so he could work comfortably. We came back the next year and he had a lovely double QQ and we even placed in one our runs.”

The hardest thing for a country dog visiting New York City, Daniel laughs, is where to go to potty. Surely not the sidewalk. But Central Park certainly has its allure for this Vermont Boxer, where Jack finds the bold squirrels “irresistible.”

Jack rests on the bed with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the background of this October 2016 Intel 360 Replay commercial which aired during the 2017 Super Bowl. In the shoot, Brady makes some pancakes, one of which flips on the floor right in front of Jack. Brady outhustles Jack for it and shoves it in his mouth. After filming, Jack received his just reward: a couple pancakes from Brady.

Go! Go! Go!

Daniel and Jack compete chiefly in New England, although they have traveled further to the American Boxer Club National Specialty (Indianapolis), AKC National Agility Championship twice (Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Perry, Georgia.

Agility, Daniel concludes, produced one of her most embarrassing moments in AKC dog sports. In 2015, as she was nearing the end of a clean run – three jumps in a straight line sprint to the finish – she was cuing Jack to “Go! Go! Go!” A few steps into the final dash, Daniel wiped out with a face plant as Jack finished with a qualifying time amidst lots of cheers and “Oh, my gosh” comments from the concerned crowd.

“Jack ran back and pounced all over me,” Daniel recalls, “licking my face nonstop. Me laying on the floor was the biggest reward in the world to him. A chance to give me a face wash. I was not hurt, just a bit embarrassed, but really proud of my dog, who always seems to find a way to make me look good and forgive my mistakes.”
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