Baby, Take a Bowwow

updated 09/08/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/08/2003 01:00AM

There is a Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts in every dog," says canine acting coach and casting agent Bash Dibra. But housebreaking and breaking into show business are not the same thing. Which is why Dibra, author of a forthcoming guide called Star Pet: How to Make Your Pet a Star, routinely holds open auditions cross-country, seeking out dogs to train for TV, print and movie careers that can earn up to $1,500 a day (sorry, no residuals). "I look for a dog that is always perked up, like 'I'll do this for you, sure,' " says the Albanian-born Dibra, 51, who trains winners to beg, roll, bark and sneeze in an eight-week course at a Manhattan studio. Most famous grad? Wesley the Brussels griffon who played Rags on Spin City. But Dibra has also done private training ($300 an hour) for dogs content to let their owners be famous: Sarah Jessica Parker's border collie mix Sally ("a dynamo"), Jennifer Lopez's Chihuahua Reina ("sweet") and Mariah Carey's Jack Russell terrier Jack ("charismatic").

A recent casting call in Manhasset, N.Y., was typical, bringing out 50 would-be Lassies for what feels like American Idol on four legs. "Only I'm not nasty," says Dibra, who learned the trade from such showbiz legends as Benji's trainer Frank Inn. Jasmine, a Chihuahua, goes on to land an MTV appearance on Dibra's recommendation ("That breed is hot right now"). But Dibra also sees potential i? a terrier mutt named Kramer ("He's a ham," he says) and Nicha the poodle—once she trims her fur. "She's happy-go-lucky, but she needs a makeover."

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