How to Train Your Pets According to a Woman Who Has Coached Animals for Harry Potter Movies

Pets such as dogs and cats can bring their owners lots of joy. But training these animals properly can prove to be tricky.

One woman who knows a thing or two about this subject is Julie Tottman. She has been rescuing and training animals for the movies for more than two decades, with credits including Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and 101 Dalmatians, among many others. She spoke with Newsweek about her advice for training dogs and cats.

Newsweek: What are your top tips when it comes to dog and cat training?

Julie Tottman: Patience is the absolute key thing—you have to be patient. Don't get frustrated, be consistent. You can't do a training session and then a month later do another one and expect the animal to remember. I train my dogs four times a day. Now, obviously, that's different. But it's important to do it regularly. And don't expect too much.

So each day, do a quick training session with the animal and make it fun. Don't nag them—a lot of people will ask their pet to sit repeatedly, for example. You ask them. And make sure to play. So, consistency, fun and patience are key.

What is a good place to start?

Start off with the basic things, for example, asking them just to sit down and stay in one spot, or to lie down and stay in one spot, or to stand and stay in one spot. That's so you can get the focus of the dog or cat and then move on to other training.

You can't really go on to the trick training until you've done what we call the foundation training. Because if you're trying to get the dog to do a trick, but they don't know how to just stay in one spot, then it will take you forever. So, don't rush it.

Once you start with the easy stuff, they start understanding the concept of learning and training, and then everything else moves on quicker. The first part takes a bit longer but it's important that you do it. It's the boring part of training but you have to do that to be able to move on.

Do you have any advice for dealing with an animal that is perhaps quite difficult to train?

We rescue a lot of animals. If I'm looking for a film animal, then I try and rescue as much as possible. So, it really depends on what has happened to them in the past.

Rescue Me by Julie Tottman
Julie Tottman's new book, Rescue Me, is out now. It tells the true story of an abandoned Mastiff who went on to star in Harry Potter. Little, Brown Book Group/Hachette UK

Some of them are just completely bonkers and actually just a bit of exercise and training would help to channel their energy, and you will get loads from them. But then there are other animals that have been treated really badly and they're afraid of objects or people. In those cases, it's all about slowly socializing them. And again, never, never rush because you can actually cause more of an issue if you do that. In those cases, I would start by taking them to play in busier and busier places, walking them through crowds, giving them lots of treats and telling them they're very good for ignoring everything that's going on.

It's important to figure out the needs of each individual animal—what they need to build up their confidence. Once you've got a happy confident dog, then you're good to go.

Aside from the training, would you recommend people to consider rescue animals when looking for a pet.

I would always recommend giving a rescue dog a chance because there are so many dogs in rescue, particularly at this point in time. It doesn't mean because they're a rescue animal that they've got issues or problems because that's not necessarily true. Some have of course but in some cases, people have just become bored of them or whatever and they're perfectly amazing family dogs. So yeah, I would always love to go down the rescue route.

In fact, I've just done work for the [Disney] film Cruella, which comes out in May actually and I had rescued a dog off the streets of Cyprus, who ended up being one of the main dogs in that. That was just amazing. This dog came straight off the streets and then was working in the studios two months later.

Two film dogs
Film dogs "Sassy" (L) from the film The Wizard of Oz, and "Leo," whose siblings were used in a Harry Potter film, are pictured in Battersea Park, in central London, on November 5, 2007. SHAUN CURRY/AFP via Getty Images