Filming with animals – a guide

The Durrells Babe, Free Willy, Hachi, The Artist, the upcoming films Tarzan and Ben Hur – all movies that heavily feature animals. But how easy or difficult is it to include a dog, a horse, a wolf or a bear in your production? Charlotte Fussell explains.

Before filming with animals there is a basic check list that needs to be completed. Although it looks daunting, the process is simple enough if the correct steps are taken, and common sense is used. It is imperative that anyone looking to film with animals adheres to this process, for both the safety and wellbeing of the animal(s) and crew, as well as the integrity of the shoot. 

Firstly, to make certain that you understand the legal processes involved, you should look under the guidelines for working with animals in the film industry. If filming in Britain then you should check out the UK government’s guidelines regarding the welfare of performing animals.


You will need to make sure that the animal supplier holds an animal trainers licence, registered under the 1925 Performing Animals Act. In addition, the trainer must have Public Liability Insurance. It is vital that all the correct documentation is accounted for, as some suppliers might only have one and not the other. 

CITES, which stands for the ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’ is a treaty that prevents wildlife from exploitation, and many exotic and domestic animals are listed here. You need to confirm that the supplier of your animals has found out whether the species is on the CITES treaty and if they are that the relevant paper work has been completed. 

To see a list of animal providers and animal wranglers for film and TV, check out our listings page

Uggie The ArtistThe Weinstein Company 

Communication and co-ordination

It’s foolish to simply assume that your animal trainer has worked with the specific species being filmed; make sure the company you go with has knowledge of that animal prior to filming. If they don’t have the experience, the welfare of the animal could be compromised and cause disruption on set and delay filming. 

The Knowledge spoke to Trevor Smith, managing director of Animals Work, who says that successful film work featuring animals is “all down to good communication and co-ordination as well as good production”. 

Smith flagged up a variety of points that line producers should be aware of when getting a animal wrangler on set. An example of what needs to be discussed between the wrangler and the production team is the use of certain cameras. Some cameras can create an environment that is too hot for certain animals. Another point to take into consideration is that filming on a floor that is very slippery, without any grip, can cause dangerous issues too. 

The Durrells

Animal trainers also need to know specifics such as will there be traffic; if you will be using SFX; will there be children interacting with the animal? All issues that can affect the animal’s performance and all issues that need to be resolved before filming.

Smith says: “The biggest problem [animal wranglers] generally have is timing, make sure when you’re speaking to production that the animal is not being filmed for hours and hours.”

A good animal wrangler will, he says, have an “understanding of the camera, production, and animals” and production needs to remember that it is the trainer’s job to maintain the welfare of the animal and that this should be paramount to whatever is being filmed. 

Hiring a vet 

By law a vet needs to be hired by the production company, and understandably he or she should have experience of the film industry. Trevor says that it is the vet’s job to “make sure that the animal being filmed is healthy”

Click here for a list of vets for film and TV.


Doc MartinITV


Transport and risk assessment 

There are several more crucial points on the check list that need to be taken into account by the animal supplier. They should be asked to complete a full risk assessment on the job in question. Moreover, you must make sure the supplier has done all the paperwork on animal transport movement on farm stock species, and they must have been approved to use their own transportation for the supplying of the animals within the industry. 

There must also be parking as near as possible for the wrangler on all filming jobs. This ensures that the supplier can easily park and transport the animal on and off set.

The main thing to remember is that the filming experience should be straightforward and also enjoyable, so long as a professional attitude is used and the right steps are followed.