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Adorable to abandoned: Hollywood's role in deserted dogs

Experts fear Channing Tatum's newest film "Dog" may have families rushing to buy a Belgian Malinois without doing their research.
/ Source: TODAY

Channing Tatum's newest movie, "Dog," may induce swooning over the human-animal bond, but some experts worry it could lead to more abandoned Belgian Malinois, the dog breed featured in the movie.

In the film, Tatum plays U.S. Army Ranger Jackson Briggs, who is taking Lulu, a dog who served in Afghanistan, to the funeral of her handler.

"The average owner should not get a Belgian Malinois,"

VINNIE SOMMA, "Say It Once Dog Training"

Lulu, played by three different Belgian Malinois canines, is portrayed as incredibly smart, albeit a mischief-maker.

The "Hollywood Reporter" review of the movie stated, "If the film is a hit, kennels won’t be able to breed Belgian Malinoises fast enough."

And that is exactly what makes experts nervous.

"The major mistake people make when they are selecting dog breeds (is) they think that every dog breed is created equal like people," Vladae Roytapel, the self-proclaimed “Russian dog wizard,” told TODAY. "They are anticipating behavior that dogs are not designed for and that is the root cause of the problems."

Dog trainer and owner of "Say It Once Dog Training" Vinnie Somma agreed.

"The average owner should not get a Belgian Malinois," Somma told TODAY, adding that the portrayal of Lulu acting like "a hellion" was accurate.

Channing Tatum leans against a pick up truck with a dog popping it's head out of the back over the ledge.
Courtesy MGM

Roytapel said the breed is known for extreme agility and drive.

“High drive, high anxiety, high work ability, requires a lot of physical and mental stimulations,” he said.

The American Kennel Club describes the Belgian Malinois breed as smart and confident.

"Problems set in, though, when this people-oriented dog is underemployed and neglected," the AKC states on their website. "Exercise, and plenty of it, preferably side by side with their adored owner, is key to Mal happiness."

Somma added that failure to both mentally and physically stimulate a Malinois becomes dangerous.

"If you don’t genetically fulfill a Belgian Malinois, they're going to be a liability," he said, adding that he feels sport work should be a requirement for ownership. "This breed has a huge financial responsibility. The amount of training and cost for that training is something people need to think about. They are not bred to be standard house pets."

Somma said that even people who are familiar with dogs need to be prepared "for a whole new ballgame" when getting a Malinois, and cautioned against those lured by the well-trained behavior portrayed in the movie.

"After $50,000 to $100,000 dollars of training and thousands of hours of training, (the dog) can become that. That is why the breed is so amazing," Somma said. "(But) the dog doesn’t come to your house knowing how to protect. Because they're untrained, that protection (instinct) becomes a liability."

Abigail Lightning-Bingham, director of Cecil County Animal Services in Maryland, told TODAY she hopes anyone interested in the Malinois breed as a result of the movie "Dog" does "as much research as possible."

"As a director of a busy, open-admission animal shelter and experienced Malinois owner, I can’t help but worry about the future implications surrounding new and inexperienced Malinois owners as a result of movies such as this," Lightning-Bingham said. "Our shelters could very well see an increase in this misunderstood breed resulting in a burden on local shelters to find adequate placement."

It's not the first time the silver screen has created increased demand for a specific breed.

After the 1996 release of Disney's "101 Dalmatians," shelters reported seeing the number of Dalmatians nearly double the following year. As a preventative measure, The Humane Society of the United States ran campaign ads to prevent abandoned Dalmatians.

"This is exactly what we had feared," Leslie Isom, a spokeswoman with the Humane Society of the United States, told "The New York Times" in September 1997. "What we’re trying to get across is that Dalmatians require a tremendous amount of time and energy and these are things that a family with small children may not have."

After the debut of "Legally Blonde" in 2001, starring Reese Witherspoon and her Chihuahua, Bruiser, shelters began seeing an influx of the breed. One shelter in California hosted a weeklong “Adopt-a-Chihuahua” campaign after 100 of the small dogs were abandoned in a single day.

"While the new movie 'Dog' is well-intended and celebrates the unbreakable bond between a handler and his working dog, Malinois ownership is not for the average pet owner," Lightning-Bingham said. "Malinois are truly brilliant animals, and with the appropriate training, make a stellar addition to a household that can provide a Malinois a job and a true sense of purpose."