I am professional wolf trainer Andrew Simpson - and yes, I know 'Ghost' on Game of Thrones! AMA!
Hi Reddit! As the title says, my name is Andrew Simpson and I am a professional wolf trainer! You may have seen my wolf actors performing in movies such as The Revenant alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, or on television – notably on Game of Thrones, our wolf Quigley plays the part of Jon Snow’s Direwolf, “Ghost”.
My latest project is very dear to me, it’s a documentary that I’m working on called Wolves Unleashed – China. While working on the film “Wolf Totem” in China, I decided that I wanted to create a documentary with a behind the scenes look at how we trained the wolves in the film.
I didn’t know how special that story would be until we finished working on the film. We faced many challenges along the way, the biggest of which was training the wolves without being able to touch them! Filming is complete, but there is still work to be done before we can release the film. You can find us on Kickstarter for more details!
More pictures and some of my work is available on my site!
I’m here today to answer your questions, whatever they may be!
My Proof: http://imgur.com/iCMvEMq
Thanks guys! It was fun, catch up with you another time.
Another great question, you guys are good! It can be a long process. To get into Russia took 6 months will all sorts of testing. And for China it was 12 months and more red tape than you could imagine
How big is Quigley?
He is 130 lbs, and when he stands on his back feet he is over 6 feet tall. But super nice!
Hi Andrew, this is kind of a 2-part question:
In an interview with GoT director Miguel Sapochnik, he said that Ghost was taken out of the big battle scene because he's an expensive asset to bring to life. I along with many others want to see much more of Ghost on the show.
What is the reason for not having Ghost onscreen more often? And what does Sapochnik mean when he says Ghost is "expensive"?
Wolves can be time consuming to work with, especially on TV when the schedule is rushed. You sometimes need a lot of preparation on set. So I think that is what he may have meant.
Thank you for the previous reply about socialization. How do you feel about the increase in wolf hybrid ownership attributed by many to Twilight and Game of Thrones? Obviously you are a stellar owner but too many are not, the sanctuaries are busting at the seams. Is there any advice or suggestions you'd give to potential wolf hybrid owners BEFORE they try to purchase?
Yes, don;t do it unless you really understand what you are getting into. They are not dogs, everyone wants a dog that looks like a wolf, but they dont want any of the wolf instinct. Just think about it and talk to people who have them.
How many wolf-inflicted scars do you have?
Very few, but there are some.
Have you ever worked with actors thats have had especially strong bonds with their wolf costars?
On the film Wolf Totem, my lead wolf was obsessed with the Director.
How's the relationship between Quigley and Kit? Do the actors give any actual commands or is it all done by trainers behind the camera?
It is always from the trainers
How did you teach that cute little wolf to read your "Proof" at such a young age?
Ha, good one! Just a moment of luck to be honest.
Hi Andrew, thanks for doing this AMA.Love your work on Game of Thrones. Hope we get to see more of Quigley next season as Ghost. I was wondering how long the wolves are trained for before they are able to work in tv/film? Thanks!
Thanks! It all depends on the wolf really. But we start working with them from a few weeks old.
Mr. Simpson, I have a two part question about socialization toward strangers. How do you know which pups to select that will not be afraid of strangers and how do you socialize them until adulthood? Thank you!
Good question. Wolf pups constantly change, so even a shy one can become great when he is older, and a confident one can turn shy as they mature. We always just pick the pups and then do our best to give them every chance to succeed.
The wolves from Game of Thrones were my favorite part of the books, I'm happy to see them portrayed so well in the show. Two questions for you:
How often do the directors consult with your knowledge of wolf behavior, to help produce more realistic representations?
Does Quigley give autographs?
Cool question. Yes the directors/writers will normally consult on certain shows when the wolf has a big part. Some Directors really want to show them as true to life as they can. Quigley does try the autograph thing!
What's the back story for becoming a wolf trainer? Was it your path all along? Or did you unknowingly end up in your career?
I just fell into it by accident. I never knew you could make a living doing this kind of work. But it has taken me around the world and I love it. Basically it was a combination of loving animals and film making
That is amazing. What would you like to share with world about your amazing work?
Wolves are not the enemy people think.
Would you say that you ain't 'fraid of no Ghost?
Hi Andrew, thanks for doing the AMA!
A few questions, what's the hardest scene you have had to shoot with "Ghost"? Do wolves behave and train similarly to dogs? Also, have you helped with the scenes with other wolves in them from earlier in the show?
Hardest scenes was this season, especially the sleeping scene. Everyone sees a dog not a wolf, so its hard sometimes to get across that we are dealing with a wild animal. I only did Season 5 & 6 so far.
What made the sleeping scene difficult to shoot?
It can be hard to get a wolf to lay totally flat and still on a film set. It is a very vulnerable position to be in.
I've always been curious as to which K9 breed is closest to "wolf" from a training & obedience aspect?
Probably the Czechoslovakian wolfdog I think.
Hi Andrew. I understand it is incredibly expensive for Game Of Thrones to Scale Up Quigley to dire wolf size. Is that why there were relatively few shots of him in S6?
There are so many elements to the show, so many details, so many locations and so little time to tell the story each week. Nothing personal towards Ghost, just a time thing I think.
Thanks for the chats and questions! Let me know if you want more? Bye Andrew
Wolves have always been my favorite animal, I am so jealous of what you got to do! (Especially because GOT is my favorite show!)
What would you say is the hardest part about training wolves? What is your favorite part?
These wolves perform incredibly. I love seeing Ghost on the show.
Edit: I will definitely check out the documentary. This stuff is so interesting.
Wolves are very smart, so they are easy to train. The hard part is making them comfortable in front of a film crew!
When one of your wolves is filming a scene with human actor, what advice/rules do you give the human actor about how to (or how not to) behave around the wolf?
Really most of the wolves are very friendly. So as long as the actors behave and listen to us its always good. Wolves pick up on a persons energy, so as long as everyone is calm and normal things go ok
Thank you so much for doing this AMA. I love Ghost! Has there ever been a time when you refused work from someone who wanted to hire you and your wolves? And why?
Yes, I recently turned down a job in India. I did not think the climate would suit the wolves there. So they moved the production to Canada.
Hi Andrew, thank you for doing this AMA! I love how well-trained Ghost is in the show. Any future projects for Quigley we should watch out for?
Yes we have another big wolf film coming up. But also check out our Kickstarter for super cool wolf stuff
Hi Andrew! How big is the "pool" of wolf actors in Hollywood? Do you continually work with the same ones? If not, where do the new ones come from?
The pool of 'really' good wolf actors is small. I am lucky in the fact we specialize in wolves. So a lot of our wolves, like Quigley, are truly talented and have had a lot of exposure
Were you and Quigley present during the filming of the Battle of the Bastards or Jon/Kit being named king, and left on the cutting room floor? Or was the decision to omit the wolf made prior to filming? Your pup's absence was pretty conspicuous with Jon being named 'the White Wolf'.
But great work this Season! Hope to see more of your work with Ghost's sister and her pack.
No Quigley was home with his feet up while John kicked butt on the field. But thanks for being a fan, much appreciated.
What would you say is the best part about your job? And how one could study/train to get into it?
It seems pretty awesome being able to work with wolves and at the same time pretty hard, I'd assume there's not a lot of room for mistakes.
Best part is being my own boss! There is a place in the USA called Moore Park, you can learn a bit there about this industry
I am curious, what methods and motivations you use with training your wolves? How much fan mail does Quigley get from his Game of Thrones performance? Lastly, how much physical interaction do you have with your wolves, and are you afraid of their natural wild instincts taking over and resulting in physical harm to you or the actors?
Its all positive reinforcement with them. Mostly treats but also play. Quigley does get a bit of mail, more than me really. We are with the wolves everyday, we touch, play, work all the time. The wild instinct is always there, but as long as you channel it in the right way its all good
Could/should wolves be introduced back in to wild in the UK? I know there's been talk of it due to rising deer populations.
In theory it is a good idea, but growing up in Scotland, which is the only place they could do it. I don't think the public are ready for that, unless it was in a fenced enclosure which would defeat the purpose. I think they would just turn into 'hunting' trophys.
Out of all the canines you've had accesss to (wolves, hounds, etc.), which have been the easiest and most difficult to train? any other interesting personality traits per breed/species?
Wolves are the easiest to train, because they are so smart. As I said getting them to be confident in front of the camera is the hard part. My hardest canine job was with a Belgian Malinois because he is 100 miles an hour all the time!
I am glad to hear you use positive reinforcement.
Although I understand there are some differences between dogs and wolves, what is your take on the dog whisperers methods?
Don't hold back.
We have different methods for sure. He tries to show the general public how to handle dogs, and we are training wolves. So its a little different, to be honest I would not like to have his job.
Hi Andrew! How young do you have to start training wolves? What are the special needs they have in terms of diet, exercise, etc compared to a dog?
We always start around 4 weeks old, travelling them, socializing them. They grow much quicker than dogs so they need a lot of room to run.
Behavior therapist here! Thanks so much for doing this AMA. My question is this. What do you find more effective negative or positive reinforcement? Do you use both or just posisitive? Thanks!
For sure positive, working with wolves could not work any other way. You cannot force them or trick them into doing something they don't want to do. So negative reinforcement would not work
First off, thank you so much for taking the time to do this AMA. I have two questions for you. 1. Who is your favorite character on the show? 2. If you could warg into any of the dire-wolves on the show, which would it be and why?
Gotta be John Snow, and for the wolves lets go with Ghost. Long live Ghost!
Are the wolves you work with the offspring of wolves bred by fur farms? I've been told wolves that could breed in fur farm conditions were the more social individuals and successive breeding led to animals more social than the wild counterparts.
No, I don't believe in fur farms. The wolves we raise are social because of they way they are raised.
I love Ghost! Thank you for doing this AMA. How did you get into wolf training? It seems like a really fun job.
It was by accident, and yes a fun job for sure.
You spoke about not wanting to bring a wolf to certain places because of the climate. Would you say having a wolfdog in such a place is a strict no-no or can it be managed?
I think it would depend on the setting, but both of these dogs need a lot of freedom to run. I saw huskies in Malaysia and they seemed happy
What is the difference between a wolf and a dog, in one sentence? :)
Intelligence, Instinct, Bite pressure!
Ha! That last literally made me laugh out loud.
Have you been up to the UP and/or northern Mass where they do wolf "rescue?" Not rescue in the UP, obviously.
Thanks for doing this and working with them. Teddy Roosevelt made a big mistake, IMO. I am really glad there are folks out there like you that are willing to work with them and...well...you know.
Thanks! I hear you.
I have a lot of questions honestly. If you don't have time to answer them all you can just answer one.
Do you have multiple wolves or is there just one?
Do you train them as pups?
Are they bred specifically for the show by someone else, or do you breed them yourself?
Did you work with the wolves since season 1, when they were much smaller and growing?
I have many wolves, aged from 4 weeks to 17 years old. Some were trained as pups and some as adults. All the wolves are raised and trained by us. No, I just got involved in Season 5, our schedules did not line up before that.
Can you describe the typical type and quantity of food Ghost consumes in one day?
Any favorite treats?
Ghost eats about 3 lbs of meat everyday, along with vitamins and minerals and other ingredients to keep him healthy and looking good.
For treats he loves cooked chicken and spam...weird but true
Hey I was wondering can you train a wolve that is not a pup and is wild?
Not so easy and it would depend on the age of the wolf. But we have worked with adult wolves that we did not raise.
What safety precautions do you need to take when training wolves?
Always stay calm and focused, block out all the crazy antics around you. Focus on the wolf and trust in the preparation you have done in the past with them
What's your second job choice behind wolf trainer?
It was being a stunt performer, but that hurts sometimes. So I hope this wolf stuff will last a while longer.
dumb question but what is the difference between a dog and a wolf.. after a couple generations will the wolf become domesticated?
In my experience they never become fully domesticated, friendly yes, but never does the Instinct fully disappear
Andrew? Can you write a bit about how you got into this? Why were wolves a passion (if they are), and where you have been, what you do, etc? Your links don't provide a lot of info on why someone said "hey...you know what? I'm gonna work with wolves!"
Ok I'm going to try and point you in the right direction. If you checkout the press section of the website www.instinctforfilm.com you can read a lot of personal stuff about me there. Or the film and book at www.wolvesunleashed.com will tell you so much more, as will the Kickstarter campaign we have going. Not trying to promote, but really you will find out a lot.
how different is dealing with a tame wolf compared to a domesticated dog?
You never fully lose the instinct from a wolf.
Wow. I am impressed, how do you keep them from just running off to do their own thing on set? (I have a wolf dog rescue and I've never been able to retrain that particular behavior).... I'm guessing starting very young helps immensely, but how do you encourage them to stay instead of roam?
thanks for all of your work with wolves!
edit: and if you ever have an employee position available how would one find out?
You can always check out our website www.instinctforfilm.com for more info. Regarding the training aspect, you need to let them be what they are and try and work around that. Forcing them to act a certain way will only go wrong unless you have a solid foundation of trust.
Great work on GoT. So how much time do you need to spend with these pack animals in order for them to accept you as their alpha?
Most of them since birth. I always say you must raise them before you can train them, and you must have trust before you can have control. So its a lot of time and a lot of personal sacrifice.
When you take a wolf to shoot scenes in other parts of the world, what kind of paperwork do you have to submit and does the wolf have to go through quarantine procedures?
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