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The secret life of Target's mascot, Bullseye Add to ...

The dog has no comment.

It seemed like a simple thing to get a response out of this whimsically painted pooch, which has been flown in to Toronto—first-class—to appear at a publicity event in the lead-up to Target’s Canadian debut.

“Speak,” the trainer said.

“Woof!” replied Bullseye.

But then I sidle up to the red podium where the beloved bull terrier sits stoically, dead centre on a red-and-white bull’s eye carpet. I make some small talk, tell her how pretty she looks, venture a pat between her perky pink ears. Bullseye is unmoved.

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“Speak.”

Nothing.

“Speak?”

She stares straight ahead, her gaze steely. A few minutes later, on command of her handler, a perfunctory bark echoes through the room.

In this way, Bullseye is the perfect symbol for Target Corp. itself: projecting a colourful, friendly image but at the same time guarded, often silent, and maintaining an iron grip on its message. Even the most benign questions, if they stray off-script, are unwelcome.

Bullseye eats dog food; Target will not divulge what kind. She enjoys many types of treats—no elaboration. She travels first-class; the type of carrier and all other travel arrangements are secret. She even has a rider, rock-star-style, that specifies her working conditions at events across the continent. These include a private space where she can retreat, Garbo-style, and a mandated number of breaks per hour. Target will not say how many.

She is used to proximity with celebrities, including, over the years, Cameron Diaz, Salma Hayek and Michael Bublé. But she is a star in her own right and is enshrined at Madame Tussauds wax museum in New York.

Since the character has appeared in Target ads since 1999 (including the chain’s first Canadian ad campaign, launched during the Oscar broadcast), there has, of course, been more than one Bullseye. (How many in those 14 years: no comment. Working life of each: classified.) But, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in each generation, there is only one. The same dog appears in all ads, at all events,and works exclusively for Target until the next terrier-in-training takes over. “We feel very comfortable knowing that we have her,” says Target’s director of strategic partnerships and events, Dan Griffis. “She’s very special to us.”

When in character, Bullseye is bathed, and then it’s on to hair and makeup: a brushing, followed by the red-and-white paint—an American Humane Association-approved vegetable-based paint, applied by a professional makeup artist. “The vegetable paint actually enhances the dog’s skin and fur, so imagine, at every event, being able to go through it, like a spa treatment,” Griffis says cheerfully. “Not a bad way to live.”

Another essential is the collar and custom rhinestone bull’s eye dog tag. For special events, Bullseye has a closet full of custom-made themed costumes. The number of costumes and size of closet were not given, though the dog’s repertoire does include an Indy Car racing suit, winter coats, and a shirt collar and bow tie for formal occasions.

When not working, she (Is it always a she? No answer) lives on a ranch just north of Los Angeles, belonging to her owner and trainer, David McMillan. McMillan, who operates Worldwide Movie Animals, chooses and trains each dog. The first command that the current Bullseye learned was “sit.”

The last Bullseye, now retired, also lives on the ranch. The website confirms it is home to the Target dog Nikki. Target would not say whether that is the non-working name of the retiree or of the current terrier.

Follow on Twitter: @susinsky

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