Bucks County’s Victoria Schade uses her powers of puppy persuasion to get the dogs of the “Puppy Bowl” ready for action.
If you’ve ever pre-gamed for the Super Bowl by watching the “Puppy Bowl,” you’ve probably wondered how they get those adorable dogs to trot across the field during the player introductions, stare at the flag during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and stay in place during the presentation of the coveted Lombarky Trophy.
That responsibility falls to Victoria Schade of Doylestown, Bucks County. While the cameras capture the rescue pups in all their cuteness, Schade is off-camera, crouched in the opposite corner, using her powers of puppy persuasion to get dozens of untrained baby pooches to help the production run smoothly.
Schade loves her work. But, as you might imagine, getting pups to obey commands they don’t understand while the cameras are rolling isn’t easy.
“Player intros are the most challenging part of what I do,” Schade said. “If you look at that moment on film, it’s super high stress for the dogs. They are coming through this dark tunnel. There’s dry ice in their way. You’ll see some of the dogs trying to step over the smoke. When they award the Lombarky Trophy at the end, I have to get two untrained puppies to hold a sit for upwards of 60 seconds. That can be a lot.”
Schade is also responsible for getting a bunch of kittens to play along for the “Puppy Bowl”’s Kitty Halftime Show which, cats being cats, presents its own set of challenges.
“I’ll get this direction in my headset, saying, ‘Victoria, can you get the cat to do… whatever,” Schade said. “I get flop sweat like, ‘You want me to get a cat to do what?’ Somehow we always make it happen.”
Longtime “Puppy Bowl” “rufferee” Dan Schachner is grateful to have someone as capable as Schade working alongside him on such an unpredictable gig.
“Victoria is the unsung hero of every Puppy Bowl,” Schachner said. “As the official trainer, she works overtime with this roster of rookies to get them game-ready.”
The fruits of Schade’s behind-the-scenes labor will be on display again Sunday when “Puppy Bowl XIX” airs on Animal Planet at 1 p.m. (You can meet some of the Pennsylvania pups competing here and here, and see behind-the-scenes footage on Schade’s Instagram feed).
Schade has been with the Puppy Bowl since its third season in 2007, initially helping to cast the nearly 100 rescue pups who comprise Team Ruff and Team Fluff in addition to wrangling. She was an upstart dog trainer at the time working on her own puppy training DVD when she was invited to participate in the inaugural episode.
Schade couldn’t have dreamed that she was getting in on the ground floor of a show that would eventually become a Super Bowl Sunday staple for millions, especially considering she was relatively new to working with dogs. Just several years earlier, Schade was in tech sales, a lucrative career she didn’t find very fulfilling. A self-assessment steered Schade toward dog training, a professional path she felt much more passionate about.
“I thought long and hard about what makes me happy,” Schade said. “And it was this bolt-of-lightning moment when I thought: ‘Be a dog trainer.’ I grew up with dogs and loved dogs, but I’d never stepped foot in a dog training class. All the training I’d ever done was with family dogs. I just figured that out on my own. So I quit my high-paying job and dedicated myself to becoming a dog trainer. And this was 20 years ago, before dog training was cool.”
Schade’s path to becoming a certified dog trainer began with countless hours of research, seminars, and picking the brains of established dog trainers. Her hands-on education came through apprenticeships where she developed a clear-eyed vision for the kind of dog training she wanted to provide.
“I apprenticed with somebody whose methodology was exactly what I did not want to do,” Schade said. “So I learned what not to do. I found my way to more forward-thinking, science-based, dog-friendly methodology through the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.”
Schade never doubted her ability to pull off such a professional reinvention, though others weren’t so sure.
“Failure was not an option,” Schade said. “It was so different and so weird and people knew what I had walked away from. I just set myself in that direction and said, ‘I will make this work. I don’t care if people say there’s no money in dog training or there’s no place for you in this industry.’”
In Schade’s corner was her new husband, Tom, a dog person who understood the entrepreneurial spirit and the need to find fulfillment through work.
“He came from a family of entrepreneurs,” Schade said. “He understood the impulse and the drive.”
Since breaking into dog training more than 20 years ago, Schade’s work with dogs has expanded to include on-camera work, writing, and owning a dog supplies shop called Life on a Leash. She’s written two dog training books and several dog-centric novels (her next, entitled “Unleashed Holiday,” is due in the fall) which she described as leaning rom-com/women’s fiction. Her most recent book, “Dog Friendly,” deals with the more serious issue of veterinary compassion fatigue.
“It’s something I wish more people knew about,” Schade said. “It’s a beach read, but I used it as a way to educate people about what veterinarians go through. It’s not just the rigors of the job. It’s that the pet owners are not always as kind and patient as we can be to these people who are giving their all.”
The greatest reward in working with dogs for Schade has been strengthening the relationships between people and their dogs. While she regularly interacts with dogs for a living, Schade stressed that turning her passion into a career has required plenty of hard work that doesn’t involve playing with furry, four-legged friends.
“It’s a great myth, ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,’” Schade said. “But even if it’s your passion, there’s work involved. People make assumptions that I play with dogs all day. The reality is that if you’re trying to make your passion for dogs into a career, you better have great people skills. You have to take care of accounting and taxes. And marketing is huge because you could be the best dog trainer in the world, but if you’re not good at getting the word out, no one’s ever going know.
“I feel so fortunate to have the career I’ve had. But I’ve learned that even if it’s something you love that fills your heart, there’s going to be a lot of stuff about it that’s really tough.”