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    A Star Dog’s Life

    Mantou, an Old English sheepdog, gets the A-lister treatment while filming commercials.

    When Chen Guoliang got his newborn puppy, it was sickly, refused to eat or drink, and hid under a desk. Now a fully grown 5-year-old dog and the star of several advertisement campaigns, Mantou loves the spotlight.

    Like many movie stars, the Old English sheepdog’s life in front of the camera started with a bit of luck. When Mantou was 10 months old, Chen posted some photos of his canine companion online. The pictures were spotted by Shi Aidi, an agent at a Shanghai-based media company. “At the time, I was looking for an Old English sheepdog for Dulux’s new commercial,” Shi told Sixth Tone, referring to a British paint brand.

    Mantou is now a veritable superstar who commands his own dressing room and earns nearly 40,000 yuan ($6,000) a day.

    When the 49-year-old Chen took Mantou to his first audition, he had to walk him through his steps three times, let him off the leash, and tell him to repeat what he’d just done. To Chen’s surprise, Mantou remembered where to go perfectly. Since 2012, Mantou has been the face of Dulux in China, filming two or three commercials every year.

    “The first time we were totally unprepared, but now we usually get the script before the shoot so I can help Mantou practice ahead of time,” Chen told Sixth Tone.

    Mantou is a hardworking actor who can bear long hours on set, Chen said. Child actors can be a problem, however, because they sometimes pull his leash too hard. Their presence often means a scene requires many takes, which makes Mantou restless.

    Mantou’s star has risen so high that Chen decided to use his other dog, Baozi, as a body double. Baozi, a female Old English sheepdog 5 months younger than Mantou, comes on stage before filming begins, so that set workers can check how she looks under the lighting. This way, Mantou can stay in his room and conserve his energy — and his patience.

    Baozi also does some modeling herself. “She is more stable and better at print advertisement shoots,” Chen said. However, even dogs sometimes feel the injustice of the gender pay gap; Baozi earns only half of what her male co-star makes.

    To further build on his dogs’ fame, Chen has opened a pet store in a suburb of Shanghai, selling luxury pet products bearing Mantou’s and Baozi’s likenesses. “A dog can only live for about 10 years; that’s why we want to give him or her the best life,” said Chen. “But we won’t stress them out. They are like our children.”

    Additional reporting: Wang Ying; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

    (Header image: ‘Mantou,’ an Old English sheepdog, attends a promotional event for Dulux, Shanghai, 2014. Courtesy of Chen Guoliang)