When Dennis Quaid was 12, his family moved from one Houston suburb to another. He lost the gang of kids on his block just as he was entering junior high and transitioning into puberty. His only constant? Gertrude, the family’s new basset hound who became the boy’s companion while his parents were away at work.
“I still get choked up when I think about her,” the actor, now 65, said of the dog he had until he was 19. “She was just totally devoted to me. She was my best friend.”
Quaid said he sees parts of Gertrude in Peaches, the 18-month-old miniature English bulldog he has now. That’s part of why he was attracted to “A Dog’s Purpose,” the 2017 film in which he played a man whose childhood dog, a red retriever, is reincarnated into a Saint Bernard-Australian shepherd mix who helps him out of a midlife depression.
“It’s a nice idea. It kind of gives you goosebumps,” Quaid said. “Peaches is kind of like Gertrude revisited. She’s my buddy.”
With Peaches by his feet, the actor discussed his role in the just-released “A Dog’s Journey” — the sequel to the W. Bruce Cameron adaptation — and why dogs have played such a meaningful role in his life.
Q: How did you find Peaches?
A: I was in Branson, Missouri, and I saw her brother because I was grand marshal in a parade there. I saw her brother in the parade with his family, and he was a little puppy. I said, “Where did you get that dog? I want that dog.” They said, “You can’t have that one, but he’s got a sister.” So we called the breeder and there Peaches came. I also have her half-brother, Tigger. He’s like 7 months old.
Q: Where is he today?
A: It’s easier with one than it is with two — the same thing as with twins. You wind up being a referee. We got Peaches for my kids, but she became my dog. It was a natural thing. They were fighting over who was gonna sleep with Peaches, so I got another for my [11-year-old] twins. Now they don’t have a fight about who is gonna get to sleep with the dog.
Q: If you Google “Dennis Quaid + Peaches,” a lot of images come up. It seems you take her everywhere.
A: She’s a little dog, but she’s a big dog. She has such a great demeanor about her. She’s a real people person. She has her eye on me, because I guess that’s the way I’ve trained her. A lot of that has to do with not letting other people feed her, so she won’t be looking to other people to feed her. … I like being able to take my dog anywhere, because it makes me feel more at home when I’m on the road.
Q: And most places are accepting of that?
A: A lot more than they used to be, in fact. She goes on a plane and she’s a designated comfort dog for my “high anxiety.” I’m telling you, I actually do have anxiety if she’s not there. [laughs] I do. But anyway, she just comes on the plane. She knows where to go and where to sit, and she’s easy.
Q: Does she ever come on set?
A: Yes, in the trailer. It’s air conditioned. She’s living the life. She was on [the Amazon series] “Goliath.” She just goes on set. We’ll be rolling film, and she’ll be underneath [the shot]. She became like the mascot. Everybody falls in love with her. She’s got her own Instagram my daughter started. She’s got more followers than I do.
Q: Is it difficult to act alongside a dog?
A: There’s a lot of actors that are harder to work with than dogs. We had great trainers that really worked with the dogs well beforehand about the sort of behaviors they were gonna do. It’s just like any other actor; you come to set and start forming a relationship. It happens over time. It doesn’t happen every day. And the best way is by attraction. I found that a pocket full of bacon will really kind of make you look like the dog whisperer.
Q: Did you pick up any tips from the animal trainers?
A: They taught me quite a few things. Just certain simple things about attraction and focus. A dog will look at your hand before they’ll look at your face. It’s about learning to catch them at the right moment that they make little baby steps toward what you want them to do, and then you reward that real fast. Then it was about getting the dog to focus on me instead of the trainer. For close scenes, I came up with my own idea and put peanut butter on my face so he’d lick it off.
Q: Dog movies are a pretty reliable box office draw. Why do you think that is?
A: Bruce Cameron —he wrote “A Dog’s Way Home” too that just came out —I think he’s really just hit a nerve with people. He really gets that relationship that we have. I think the appeal, really, of the movie —or the secret of it —is that people come to see the film with their past or present relationships to their own dogs. That’s what they come with, and that’s why it has such an emotional impact. … When I was offered the script for the first one, my agent called me up and I said, “Well, what’s it about?” And he got three sentences into it and I said, “You’ve gotta stop, because I’m welling up and I’m not gonna bawl with my agent on the phone.”