LOS ANGELES (USA TODAY) -- As Uggie, the famous Jack Russell terrier, curls up on a comfortable black-leather couch and lets out a few noticeable dog snores, he makes it clear that showbiz retirement can be a very chill affair.
But as soon as his owner and trainer Omar von Muller calls him to attention, Uggie instantly returns to the Hollywood form that propelled him to canine super-stardom last year in the Oscar-winning film The Artist. Suddenly, he's rolling over, he's barking on command, he's taking a broad bow, he's playing dead. Uggie is just on.
"He goes from being asleep to action instantly. He's like, 'Let's do this,' " von Muller, 50, marvels. "Uggie is a true star."
The kid might be out of the game after retiring from strenuous acting gigs at age 10 (70 dog years), at the very peak of his fame. But Uggie still has that X factor and has a new achievement to his impressive résumé - his first book. Uggie - My Story (Gallery Books, on sale Tuesday) is a look back at a star dog's remarkable life and career.
The collaboration between author Wendy Holden and von Muller is billed as straight from the doggie's mouth (the book claims to be "as barked to" Holden). That might seem far-fetched until von Muller pulls out a copy to peruse with his celebrity author. Uggie barks at the pictures he likes (especially those of co-star Reese Witherspoon) and sits on a supine von Muller's chest, enjoying select excerpts as they're read to him.
Between his acting talent, natural good looks and eagerness to kiss just about anyone (his reputation for facial licks around Hollywood is legendary), it's clear - Uggie is one exceptional dog.
"There's just something about Uggie," says the pooch's co-author Holden by phone from London. "He was born to be a star. The fact he ended up being a dog is sort of by-the-by."
"And he wasn't some pedigree dog born into this," she adds. "He was destined for the pound. He has this extraordinary story."
The Colombian-born von Muller has been a dog-trainer for 30 years and involved in pet show business for the last 17. In 2002 a friend called about a local family looking to get rid of a seemingly impossible pup at the pound.
"It was too hyper, too crazy, a total nut," says von Muller. "His name was Uggie, a name I really liked. My friend said he's a very good-looking puppy but the people cannot keep him."
Von Muller was immediately impressed and took Uggie into his home.
"The dog was awesome," he says. "He was this beautiful puppy with these shiny eyes."
More than a good pet, Uggie immediately proved himself to be a great showbiz dog, not afraid of cameras or lights or stage noises. The dog made a solid, but unremarkable living doing scores of commercials and a forgettable movie with David Boreanaz, 2006's Mr. Fix It. ("Mostly I had to sit and look interested and cock my head as if listening," writes Uggie. "It was no sweat.")
It was the kind of everyday Hollywood existence similar to other working actors people never hear about.
"I never kept a log of what he was doing," says von Muller. " I never knew he would be this famous. How could you ever?"
In 2010, Uggie broke into the big time when he landed the role as Robert Pattinson's faithful pet Queenie in Water for Elephants. And more significantly, Uggie met Witherspoon, who played Pattinson's lover. Uggie's book is dedicated to Witherspoon, described as "my love, my life."
"I adored her," Uggie writes. "At the ripe old age of 56 in human years I had fallen in love for the first time ... and boy did I fall."
The feeling, apparently, was mutual.
"They were very close," says von Muller. "When Uggie would come on set, he'd be all over her. She was a real animal lover. And he likes to kiss a good-looking girl."
Uggie had a few showbiz downers, like losing out the dog part in 2010's Beginners ("I was disappointed at first," Uggie writes). But a bigger break came when a group of French filmmakers, including director Michel Hazanavicius, visited Uggie at his home 30 miles outside of Hollywood, putting him through a rigorous audition - playing dead and walking on his hind legs.
Uggie landed the part, though von Muller initially was not impressed with the production, a silent film called The Artist with a cast he had never heard of.
"It was just some black-and-white film that we thought was going straight to DVD," he says. "I wondered if they'd send a DVD of the movie from France after it came out. We didn't think this was going anywhere."
Despite a language barrier, Uggie immediately bonded with French star Jean Dujardin who kept pockets of sausage treats for their scenes together. During a famous breakfast table scene, Dujardin even improvised a scene imitating Uggie's antics.
"Ours was truly a movie-making partnership," writes Uggie, who calls Dujardin "a human surpassing most others... in his understanding of the canine mind."
Besides stealing scenes from the film's gracious lead actor, Uggie had to deal with serious acting demands on the Los Angeles film set - like working with a gunshot in the climatic scene.
"That thing was loud and it was in a small room. Everyone was worried that it was going to make him nervous," says von Muller. "But Uggie was a champ. Nothing fazed him."
And nothing could stop The Artist. The movie stormed into the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, with Dujardin winning best actor.
"One article was saying how good Uggie was, I thought I had to keep it," says von Muller. "But then it was one after another and another. You couldn't save any more, there were too many. It just started going crazy. It exploded. It's been a non-stop roller coaster ever since."
The Artist was swept up in the awards publicity machine, with Uggie carrying his fair share. He skateboarded on The Ellen DeGeneres Show where the dog-loving host proclaimed him "the greatest dog." The 2012 Golden Globe Awards red carpet might have featured Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Meryl Streep but all eyes were on the adorable pooch in the bow tie.
"On the red carpet shows, all you could see were the big stars' legs because the cameras were all focused on Uggie," says von Muller. "You could see he was stealing the show. The crowd went crazy."
Uggie-mania was so powerful that a petition was circulated asking for the dog's performance to be recognized by the Oscar organizers. That didn't happen, even if Uggie did have a surprise cameo in the Oscar telecast. And The Artist dominated Hollywood's biggest night. Uggie was heralded onstage during the best-picture speech.
"That's it, how can you go any bigger than that?" says von Muller. "We were on top of the entertainment world. In our heart Uggie won the Oscar, too. It's part of us."
Despite the triumph, von Muller was dealing with dog-reality in terms of Uggie's career. The terrier was beginning to show signs of canine restless leg syndrome, a neurological disorder that intermittently causes his leg to shake uncontrollably. While his vet cleared him for work, von Muller realized that the aging Uggie could not take on strenuous movie shoots. Even before the Oscars, von Muller announced Uggie's retirement from large projects.
"I thought it was not fair for him to be working the long hours, he would not enjoy it anymore," says von Muller. "On The Artist he was pulling the leash to get on the set. But he's older. He cannot spend 10 to 15 hours on set anymore for 20 straight days."
Uggie's retirement consists of hanging out with von Muller, his wife Mercy, 38, and their daughter Terry, 7, along with a revolving cast of other dogs and two cats in a humble home deep in the San Fernando Valley. Many of the animals in the house have their own showbiz careers, including Dash, a Jack Russell brought on to serve as Uggie's double in Water for Elephants.
It can be dog-crazy in the household, especially when the entire pack of dogs bunks for the night in von Muller's crowded bedroom (Uggie has his own bed at the side of the human bed). But during his interview, Uggie gets private time in the living room while the other dogs lounge around the pool outside. He spends it snoozing, as he does on many days when not enjoying his long afternoon walk and stealing food from the household cats. ("He loves cat food, he would eat rocks," says von Muller.)
Uggie can still rock the bling. He wears a scaled-down version of the 18-karat yellow gold collar designed by Chopard especially for the Oscars (the original was auctioned off for charity). He also continues to take on the odd smaller project. He shot a one-day cameo in The Campaign where a buffoonish Will Ferrell commits the ultimate congressional campaign gaffe by hitting the world-famous Uggie.
My Story gives plenty of doggie dish, including scandalous details about kissing his various leading ladies and his own eating disorder. Von Muller discovered that Uggie was breaking into the family refrigerator by pulling the door open using a dish towel hanging on the handle. "To my dismay the towel was removed to another position, never to return," Uggie writes. "My binge eating phase stopped abruptly."
His dog stardom lives on. Uggie was named PETA spokes-dog for the Adopt Don't Buy campaign, and he even has his own iPad app which features his various tricks and star-filled photos. An international book tour beginning Monday will return Uggie to the Hollywood lifestyle.
"The publishers are sending him around the world first-class," says Holden, who spent two weeks in April with Uggie and von Muller to do research for the book. "He'll be flying in style and the hotels are asking what his requirements are. But his rider is very small - clean water, air-conditioning from the heat and a fresh patch of grass."
Von Muller plans on using Uggie's per diem expenses to live on filet mignon for them both. When the tour ends, the two will go back to a normal life, even though Uggie seems to pine for the limelight at times.
"He's a working dog," says von Muller. "You can see he misses it. Every morning it's like, 'OK, are we going to go out?' His tail is wagging. He wants to go out and do the work he has done his whole life. He loves the attention."
But even if Uggie has stepped away from Hollywood, his showbiz legacy will live on.
"I have no regrets," Uggie writes in his book. "My only hope is that long after my paws no longer trod this Earth I will still be remembered as a little artist with a big heart."