The 16th annual Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals kicked off with a fun — but fierce — dachshund racing competition at Qualcomm Stadium. The event brought 330 dachshunds to the field to vie for just 16 coveted spots at the final race in Del Mar on Sept. 3. Typically, many of the same veteran names populate the finals, making for a close race that is often distinguished by just a nose.
One such dachshund racing veteran, 6-year-old Mila Miesner, has made it to the finals the last three years in a row. This year, however, Mila chose to temporarily hang up the old racing cleats in lieu of another career path — acting.
When Point Loma-based owners Denise and Chris Miesner responded to an ad for the upcoming movie, “Wiener Dog Nationals,” they never imagined Mila would take on Hollywood and land the movie’s lead role.
“We just hoped Mila would get a little cameo. Now, she’s the main dog,” said Chris.
In the film, Mila plays the role of Shelley, an abandoned runt dachshund who was chosen from the animal shelter by the Jack family, which unites to cheer on its newly adopted wiener dog as she races for the national title.
Although Mila is a natural at racing — just like Shelley — the trainers use stunt doubles for the racing portion of the movie.
“They don’t want to wear them out because it’s 90 degrees up there where they’re filming,” said Denise.
Instead, Mila learned new tricks like taking a hat off on cue, hitting specific place markers for a scene and faking a limp — and all with unspoken signals from her on-set trainer.
“She picks up tricks quickly because she’s got a lot of the basics down already,” said Denise. “She loves to show off, she loves to ad lib and she loves to act.”
Denise, who has trained dogs her entire life, gauges and embraces each dog’s individual personality when she teaches new tricks.
“I try to see what they are naturally good at doing, and that’s the easiest way to train tricks quickly,” Denise said. “A lot of people, like her [on-set] trainer can get her to go beyond that. She’ll usually try whatever is put in front of her. I even had her skateboarding and had her sitting up on the skateboard. She just trusts me.”
The Miesners first realized Mila had exceptional talent and agility when she was less than a year old.
“One of the reasons we got Mila into so many things is that she had so much energy as a puppy,” said Chris. “Denise just had to channel that. She did a lot of exercise, dog obedience, long walks – all sorts of stuff. Then we started realizing all of the stuff that she could do. We just did the dog racing because we had [brother] Biscuit trying to do it, and Mila just turned out to be really good at it.”
Despite their size, dachshunds — a member of the hound family — are actually hunting dogs. They were originally bred and trained to scent, chase and flush out prey from burrows. For that reason, activities like Earth Dog — a complex obedience, agility and skill test in a maze of tunnels — turned out to be a perfect fit for Mila.
“She didn’t fail one test. For the master one, you have to pass five times, and she’s [so far] passed four. Just one more to go,” said Chris. “For the master test, they start out about 500 yards from where the rat is, and then they scent the trail, so the dogs have to go along and follow the scent.”
Throughout the test, obstacles like false dens, blocked exits and dead ends are just a few challenges the dog has to contend with.
“She does so many other things, too, like the Hunt Hound, work horsing and now the movie,” he said.
Mila started off channeling her agility with lure coursing, an activity where dogs — typically sight-hounds — chase an operated lure, like a bag in a field.
“We took her to Wags for Wishes and they had this,” said Denise. “We tried her at it when she was under a year old, and she just loved it. Doing that, she built up her running speed and her endurance.”
Although Mila might not be the biggest dog on the racetrack, she is certainly not one to underestimate.
“She does very well. She always makes it to the finals, and she’s won at various little events,” said Chris. “At the races, a lot of the other dogs start out turned around and calm, but Mila is ready to go. She just runs straight. She knows what to do.”
At larger venues, however, the competition is often bigger and — at times —more cutthroat.
“When you get to Del Mar, they’re all focused,” said Chris. “None of them are going to turn around and go back to their owner. You’re going to see 16 dogs that know what they’re doing. You typically know which ones are going to go. Every year, at least eight of the 16 [finalists] I’m very familiar with.”
At last year’s Wiener Dog Nationals at the Los Alamitos racecourse, Mila won her preliminary race and advanced to the finals. In the finals – true to form – Mila set the pace by taking the lead. Halfway along the 50-yard track, however, Mila got bumped by one of her racing friends, which sent her tumbling into the soft dirt. Yet Mila got right back up and continued on her way, even surpassing several other racers before crossing the finish line.
Although Mila would undoubtedly want to bounce back this year, she was forced to take a temporary racing hiatus because of her busy schedule in Hollywood.
“She’s done the race every year, but this year, she just came back and was really kind of tired,” said Denise. “Plus, they got her weight down because they wanted all the dogs to look the same, and she was sort of on the bigger side, so she needs to get her weight back up and build her muscles back up before she races.”
After a humble start in Dog Beach 16 years ago, the Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals has really hit the ground running, with hundreds of participants flocking to the racing event at Qualcomm stadium year after year.
“We hope to continue both racing and acting, but probably more just acting because she’s getting older. I really like racing her, but I guess it depends on what happens. There have been dogs that have raced until they were pretty old,” said Denise.
Only time will tell for the little racing dachshund from Point Loma-turned-Hollywood star.
“Maybe if the movie does well, Maxim’s Top 100?” said Chris.
“Wiener Dog Nationals” has completed filming and is currently in postproduction. The movie is slated to debut early next year. For more information about Mila, visit www.milamiesner.com or “like” her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MilaMiesner.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Pets Magazine.