The Call of the Wild

The Wild “Tail” of the Dog at the Heart of The Call of the Wild

By Zach Johnson

Buck embarks on an incredible journey in Twentieth Century Studios’ The Call of the Wild—and the story of how the dog’s real-life inspiration found its way into director Chris Sanders’ life is just as incredible. “Oh, he’s real!” Sanders says. “I actually live with him.”

Terry Notary served as the live-action reference for Buck, who was digitally animated onscreen opposite Harrison Ford and the rest of the cast. “When we first started the film, we cast every dog and we scanned every dog as a shortcut to building them and to making them believable,” Sanders recalls. “But the only dog we were struggling with was the lead, Buck. He’s a very specific mix of two breeds, as described by Jack London in the book. We were trying to build him from scratch and we were struggling.”

Finding an actual St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix was proving difficult, so at one point, Sanders recalls, “We even tried to make him look a bit like a Bernese Mountain Dog.” Dejected, he admits, “It was beginning to look like that dog was not ever going to work.”

The Call of the Wild

As luck would have it, and while production was already underway, Sanders’ wife found the perfect dog online. “She called and said, ‘Oh, my gosh! I just found a dog that is the exact mix of the two breeds that is described in the book. He’s in a shelter in Kansas, found as a stray wandering the streets. And they named him Buckley.’” (Anyone else getting goosebumps?) So, she drove two days to Kansas to pick up Buckley. Says Sanders, “Then she bought him for $25, because he was marked down. He was on sale! She drove back and she walked onto set with him, and everybody took a look at him and said, ‘If that’s the same dog from the story, let’s just make him that dog.’ So, we took him down to Gentle Giant Studios and we scanned him—and that’s him in the film!”

The real Buckley is “so sweet,” Sanders adds. “He’s a big baby. If you leave for too long and come back, he needs to work out his feelings.” Like the character whose look he inspired, “He’s very good-natured. People just fall in love with him when they see him.” Unlike Buck, however, he hasn’t heard the call of the wild: “He likes the call of the nap!”

The Call of the Wild opens in U.S. theaters today.