New Canada Day adventure
When Co-op released its commercial celebrating Canada’s 150th Anniversary in 2017, it was the first time The Littlest Hobo’s iconic theme song had been used in Canadian advertising.
The Littlest Hobo was a Canadian television series following an ownerless dog helping people in every town it visits. Its popular second run of six seasons between 1979 and 1985 was syndicated around the world, including in Canada on weekend mornings until 2013.
The combination of nostalgia for a series all about helping others, and a trusted, values-based brand in Co-op that’s been supplying and supporting Western Canadian communities for nearly a century, proved to be the perfect fit.
After five years of airing the commercial in the leadup to Canada Day, we came to a crossroads where we needed to retire our German shepherd or have her move on to a new adventure. We weren’t ready to settle down.
The next installment of the ad features our hero separated from her puppy and scouring the Western Canadian countryside.
In starring roles are four- and five-year-old sisters—Bleve and Attila—as our hero and three young puppies—Skittles, Snickers and KitKate—that were about 12 to 14 weeks old. Using multiple animals – the original show starred London and four others – ensures filming can continue without delays according to animal trainers Alex McNeil and Melanie Kreker with Northern Animal Talent.
“We had three puppies so we have a backup in the case they don’t feel like working that day,” said Kreker. “We don’t force them to do anything.”
While Bleve is McNeil’s personal dog, McNeil and Kreker had only a week to build a relationship and train the other dogs. McNeil explained the training involved breaking down sequences into simple tasks.
“At the time where we’re being asked to do a complex behaviour, it’s just a lot of small ones that we put together,” he said. “Lots of repetition, that’s the biggest thing of all.”
Working with puppies was more of a challenge as everything is exciting and grabs their attention.
“It’s up to us to work hard at keeping their attention and making it fun,” McNeil said. “We have to find what motivates the dog and use that to ask them to do what we’d like them to.”
Composer Terry Bush’s song is so simple and memorable, it immediately grabs the attention of anyone in the room. For so many people it brings back memories of the heartwarming series, simpler times and a happy place.
However, the song didn’t originally sound how we know it today.
“The original recording was too country and not liked by the powers that be,” composer Terry Bush said. “A new jazz version of the theme was written and recorded in New York. Thankfully, it was rejected.”
Subsequent arrangements led to the final version we love, with Bush saying he’s proud of and has liked the song since it was written with lyricist John Crossen. The song has been covered a number of times – the F&M version in Canadian film Goon and Reid Jamieson version are among Bush’s favourites – and has become part of other Canadian content staples, such as Corner Gas and Trailer Park Boys.
“I never ever expected the responses I have received over the years,” Bush said. “I’ve received many letters from all over the world telling me just how much this song has meant to them. I must say it’s truly humbling and a joy to hear.”