For young British actor Jonah Hauer-King, working with his canine costar in Columbia Pictures’ family adventure A Dog’s Way Home was a rewarding experience — especially given that it was his first time working with animals.

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but she’s kind of the dream dog,” Hauer-King says of Shelby, the rescue dog that plays Bella, the dog whose journey the film is about. “She’s kind, loving, and warm. It was fascinating to learn how the trainers work with her — but more than anything else, it was a joy.”

In the film, based on the W. Bruce Cameron novel of the same name, Hauer-King plays Lucas, an aspiring med student and VA hospital volunteer who finds Bella, voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard, and takes her home with him. One day, while Lucas is out, Bella jumps out of the window chasing a squirrel, and she gets lost along the way. The film chronicles her heartwarming and inspiring 400-mile journey back to Lucas and his mother, Terri, played by Ashley Judd.

Working with Judd was one of the film’s highlights for Hauer-King, whose acting credits include BBC’s Little Women, Old Boys, and Howards End. “I was very excited to meet Ashley, because she’s such a figure and she has such an amazing body of work behind her,” he says. “To get to work with people like that is a dream for a young actor. She’s just been very welcoming, giving me tips and answering all my questions. She’s been great.”

Hauer-King is also all praises for director Charles Martin Smith. “Charles is the best,” says Hauer-King. “The great thing about Charles’s work is that he was an actor before he directed, so he’s really an actor’s director. He understands that people have their different processes. He’s very sympathetic to actors and understands what they need for a scene. It was one of the best experiences that I’ve had with a director.”

In Philippine cinemas February 6, A Dog’s Way Home is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International. Use the hashtag #ADogsWayHome