In 1976, one of Hollywood's top animal trainers, Ray Berwick, found one year old Johnny alias Boomer at the Los Angeles City Pound. It was noted Ray trained those seagulls in the Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 movie, 'The Birds'. Boomer would destine to become a star, "Benji is a little too sad; Lassie a bit too grand for my tastes. With his sense of humor, Johnny could take it all."
Of discovering Boomer, Ray remembered, "I was looking through a group of cages and there he was. At first he was suspicious of me, but eventually, he came up to say hello. Never once did he beg me to save him from death, even though he probably knew what his next stop was. He had lots of dignity and class. I was impressed, first, by his looks – he has a wonderfully photogenic face and he had a warmth and dignity that is rare in dogs.
"I'm positive, when I saw him in the pound that day, that he knew he was in trouble. But he didn't cry and crawl all over me. He retained his dignity. I really didn’t need him – I was looking for a German shepherd – but I was inspired to get him out of there. I didn’t need him. I had a dozen dogs at home. But Johnny had a sense of humor, and, on impulse, I took him.
"My nephew Brian Renfro began training him, and Johnny learned quickly. We never gave the dog too much priority, however. I paid the mandatory $7 fee at the East Valley Animal Shelter and the $15 license fee." In 1979, Boomer auditioned and was cast by A.C. Lyles in the pilot movie, 'A Christmas for Boomer'. Ray remarked, "He was extremely bright and quick to grasp a command or suggestion. He never quits on me. Some dogs give up when the going gets rough in a training session. But Boomer easily took to my hand signals and word repetitions . . . the 2 key elements in training an animal."
By the time the TV series, 'Here's Boomer' went on air (originally shown between March 1980 and August 1982), Boomer was 4 years old, 45 pounds and 18 inches high. 'Here's Boomer' was shown in prime time opening hour, first on Fridays, then Saturdays, then Sundays. The series fared poorly in the ratings. It was at the height of the 'Who Shot J.R.?' phenomenon and the 'Barbara Walters Special'. Ray mentioned, "He makes one-third to one-half what a human star earns (about $3500 a week)." It was also reported Boomer was insured for $1.5 million.
Ray's key words to Boomer were said to be "you're on" meaning "pay attention and no messing around, the cameras are rolling and people watching." A.C. Lyles maintained, "The reason Ray and I wanted to do the series was (to show) people who want to have dogs that the best dogs are at the pound." Ray argued any dog "can learn anything in 3 days by relating words, action and food. Dogs learn 10 times as fast if you give them a reward, either food or a pat on the head. I don't believe in using the leash method for obedience training.
"I use food – Boomer likes small pieces of wiener, top sirloin or fried chicken, a popular, fast-food variety. Dogs understand many words and even complete phrases. I've had this out with the Harvard animal behaviorists and I think I've proven it. One of them came out to watch us work with Boomer and I think he went away convinced." Boomer could perform "at least" 100 different stunts "and we can teach him new scenes by showing him what we want him to do just 2 or 3 times." Albeit, "The TV Rin-Tin-Tin is probably the best-trained dog I’ve ever seen. But this is the best picture dog."
On reflection, "I felt myself sinking some time ago (back in 1976). I had determined not to fall in love with another dog. It happens so often in my business (show business). You have animals in the motion picture business and you outlive them and it hurts so bad when they do leave. He went with me every place. He was in the car with me constantly. We traveled together. We talked together and we got to know each other. I found him to be a very remarkable dog. He is loving and sincere and honest, which is a factor, actually, with dogs as well as with people. They have streaks of honesty and dishonesty. He is the kind that always comes through. He never tries to undercut you or outsmart you, although he very well could . . . But he loves to please."
The 'Here's Boomer' title theme was sung by Edward Leonetti and Zoey Wilson, "Like magic he appears; A hero to save the day; And just when you think he's here for good; That's when he goes away; Because he's Boomer; He's never going to settle down; Boomer, wandering from town to town; Boomer, no ordinary man's best friend; And when he comes into your life; You'll never be the same again . . ."
In June 1980, the Mayor of Niagara Falls presided over the wedding of Boomer to Cynthia, "just over one year old" at the time, and also found, said 3 weeks before the wedding at the city dog pound. Ray recounted, "We put out the word that we were looking for a dog similar to Boomer, but we knew it would be difficult. We don't even know for sure what breeds Boomer encompasses, possibly some old English sheepdog, Airedale, a little terrier. I'd like to start a Boomer breed. When I saw her (Cynthia), I knew she'd be right for Boomer. I would say she's mostly poodle. She weighs about 20 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than Boomer, but she's a half-inch taller than her 18-inch spouse."