We don’t deserve dogs. Our canine companions are simply too good for us horrible human beings, blessing us daily with their unconditional love and unflinching support, even in our worst moments.
Occasionally, they bless us with their presence on the silver screen too, stealing scenes from their less exciting (and, let’s face it, less adorable) human colleagues with a simple waggle of their tails or flutter of their big eyes.
Hollywood can be a dark place and, according to the old adage, one should never work with children or animals. Does this really ring true, though? Are movie dogs complete divas on set? Does newfound fame send them down a shame-spiral of depression and hard doggie drugs just like their child star counterparts? Or do they retreat from the spotlight, eager to live a normal life once the initial rush of exposure has passed? Let’s find out.
Forrest – Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)
Hachiko is an Akita who is the most famous dog in Japan, thanks to an it-could-only-be-true story. He waited for his owner in the same spot every day at Shibuya Station, and continued to do so for ten years following his death, leading a statue to be built there in his honor.
As producer Vicki Shigekuni Wong explains in her blog, she named her own Shiba after the famous dog after visiting the statue. His death in 2004 spurred her to get Hachi: A Dog’s Tale made. Several dogs were required to portray Hachiko, all of which were trained by the legendary Boone Narr, who’s worked on everything from Pirates Of The Caribbean to Indiana Jones. Although Akita dogs were chosen, to stay true to Hahicko’s story, their growth spurts meant that mostly smaller Shibas were utilized for the shoot. Wong notes that even the animal trainers themselves had never worked with this breed before as the dogs are very “independent-thinking” with star Richard Gere reportedly anxious about meeting his canine co-stars.
Kathy Coffmann, of Baycrest Akitas, a breeder and the owner of Forrest, one of the dog actors, provided Wong with an update on his post-movie life. Coffmann noted that Forrest was gifted to a man named Joe, who had recently lost his own Akita. As for Hollywood changing him, Coffmann confirmed that, upon returning home after working on the movie, Forrest “settled right back into his daily routine… [continuing] with a very normal lifestyle…”
Samson – Hot Fuzz (2007)
Edgar Wright’s ode to buddy cop movies is notable for many things, among them another couple of genius performances from longtime collaborators and real-life best friends Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Police dog Saxon is first introduced to the proceedings during Angel’s (Pegg’s character) initial tour of his new police precinct. He later pops up to steal scenes during several jaunts around town, usually accompanied by the gruff PC Bob Walker. Although Saxon looks like a tough-as-nails doggie officer (introduced with a big bark for the new sergeant no less), the reality is very different.
According to the BBC, Samson, the German Shepherd who played Saxon in Hot Fuzz, was actually prevented from becoming a real-life police dog for being too friendly. The BBC notes he was rejected by Avon and Somerset Police back in 2005 for “not having enough natural aggression.”
Thankfully, Samson was snatched up soon afterwards to appear in the movie. As for the flick changing his easygoing disposition, BBC was assured by representative Ann Masling, from dog charity GSD2000, that Samson was really enjoying his newfound fame and even regularly attended media appearances with her. Hopefully he hasn’t continued to greet every new person he meets with a bark of (dis)approval.
Angel – Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008)
It might be cheesy, but there’s something strangely charming about Beverly Hills Chihuahua, the 2008 Disney family comedy about a pampered pooch who gets kidnapped (or, er, dog-napped) and whose rescue is aided by a couple of plucky canine friends. Heroine Chloe’s doggie paramour Papi is sadly deceased, but the most pampered Chihuahua in Hollywood is still alive and kicking, even taking part in the two sequels.
The dogs for the shoot were trained by Mike Alexander, who’s trained animals on a variety of features from Harry Potter to The Bourne Legacy. In an interview on the “Oh, Behave” show on Pet Life Radio, Alexander advised how they had about 50 Chihuahuas on set at any one time (which sounds completely nuts regardless).
Surprisingly, the little critters reportedly did much better in the cold weather than their human counterparts and were easier to train than, er, squirrels. Describing Chloe, aka Angel, as a very special and unique character, “a big dog in a little dog’s body” — Alexander later revealed that he adopted her after the shoot. If that’s not a seal of approval for a dog actor, then what is?
Cosmo – Beginners (2010)
Mike Mills’ critically celebrated and hugely personal 2010 movie Beginners, which is based off his own relationship with his father, who came out in his seventies, regularly features on “Best Of” lists of go-to LGBTQ movies. Most recently, ScreenCrush rated it one of the best of the past 25 years. Dog star Arthur (portrayed by Cosmo) is so integral to the plot, he even features prominently on the film’s poster.
In order to capture that realistic pet-owner relationship, trainer Mathilde De Cagny (whose credits include Marley & Me and We Bought A Zoo) told the New York Times that she slathered bacon grease on star Christopher Plummer’s face, then encouraged an eager Cosmo to lick it off. Cosmo was also reportedly painted with brown spots, so he’d more closely resemble Mills’ real-life Jack Russell terrier.
Following the shoot, star Ewan McGregor was so enamored with his co-star that he wanted to take the little guy home himself. McGregor explained that, unfortunately, his wife is allergic to dogs and cats so Cosmo was returned to his rightful owner, De Cagny. However, as McGregor told The Bark, the experience led to him adopting his own dog, one that wouldn’t cause his partner to erupt into sneezing fits, so the story has a happy ending for all involved.
Bella – Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
In 2012, around the release of Wes Anderson’s dreamy kids’ love story Moonrise Kingdom, an editorial in The New Yorker brazenly asked the question: does Wes Anderson hate dogs? The main crux of the argument revolved around the sad fate of Snoopy, the fox terrier and “lone fatality” in the movie, who perishes thanks to a wayward arrow, and whose death apparently caused a major ruckus on Twitter at the time. However, the piece points out Anderson’s bravery in breaking one of Hollywood’s cardinal rules, noting that over the course of his storied back catalog “pooches are shot, crushed, smacked, and roofied.”
In real life, Bella, who played Snoopy, had her own brush with death. In an interview on The Bregman Veterinary Group blog, owner Lucia Hackett described how her poor pooch had just undergone surgery to remove a cancerous mass when she was cast in the movie. Bella is, according to Hackett, the ideal movie dog, however, as she’s “low-maintenance and is happy just to be around people.”
Following the completion of Moonrise Kingdom, Bella swiftly returned to her life as “part-time show dog, part-time actress” having won several awards in Earth Dog competitions, with her proud owner supporting her all the way.