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.
Carlos – Max (2015)
Max is kind of like a doggie American Sniper. Described by Yahoo! Movies as “a coming-of-age tale about a young boy who inherits a military dog after his brother dies on the front-lines in Afghanistan” the flick featured five dogs (including stunt animals) as the titular character. Trainer Mark Forbes, who worked on Evan Almighty among others, described the story to Yahoo! Movies as having “more meat” to it than others of its ilk, with a “multi-dimensional” character at its heart. Albeit a furry one.
The lead actor was a Belgian Shepherd named Carlos, who wasn’t even two years old at the time of filming. According to Forbes, none of the canine actors had any experience prior to the shoot and were located following a nationwide search. Carlos was found on a farm in Kentucky, by Forbes himself, as detailed by USA Today. Director Boaz Yakin also told USA Today that Carlos had “real star quality” but was “very temperamental.” Although his IMDb, at the time of writing, lists just that one credit, the dog had such personality that the filmmakers ended up basing a lot of Max’s character on him. Now that’s real star power. Hollywood is surely calling (maybe Carlos just isn’t interested in a celebrity lifestyle).
Rowdy and Dexter – The Lucky One (2012)
It’s easy to imagine a super-cute dog stealing the spotlight from some random actor, but what about one of the most eligible young men in Hollywood? Director Scott Hicks was so enamored with dog star Rowdy, who played Zeus in The Lucky One (based on the Nicholas Sparks novel), he found him easier to direct than star Zac Efron. In an interview with Collider, Hicks joked, “let’s put it like this, I never said to Zac ‘Get back on your mark!’ If you said it to Zeus, he’d do it.”
The character of Zeus was reportedly based on writer Sparks’ own German Shepherd, Rex, as Rowdy’s owner, trainer Boone Narr revealed in an interview with Dorri Olds. He also described how Efron hung out with Rowdy on weekends, and as his hair and makeup was being touched up, in an effort to form a bond with him. He also regaled a story about how the crew even found the cheeky dog eating a sandwich one day during filming.
Later, Narr shared how he discovered a black lab named Dexter, who stars in the film alongside Rowdy, at an East LA shelter. Narr noted that Dexter followed a starry path of his own, later going on to appear in a Purina commercial.
Quince – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)
The breakout star of cult comedy hit Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy wasn’t Will Ferrell’s mustachioed man-child but his beloved pet, Baxter. A legendary canine who was unfairly punted by the bad man, spoke fluent Spanish, and ate a whole wheel of cheese leading him to poop in the fridge, Baxter wasn’t just Ron’s little gentleman, he was all of ours. Sadly, the little fella passed away before he could steal the show in the sequel, leading a pooch named Quince to take the stage in his place.
His story is of the rags-to-riches variety. In an interview with The Atlantic, trainer Raymond Beal (who worked on A Dog’s Purpose and Max) revealed how Quince was plucked from relative obscurity (he’d made a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances previously) after being rescued from a supermarket parking lot. Anchorman 2 was, by all accounts, his big break. But the canine newcomer took to his new role with grace, working the junket circuit and even barking in response to journalists’ questions.
Baxter is such a pivotal character that director Adam McKay even floated the idea of him getting his own PG spin-off. McKay described his idea to Collider as an adventure story, focusing on Baxter’s secret life away from his human buddies. If it moves forward (there’s been no real word since), Quince is surely the dog for the job.
Anna, Poppy, Megan, Alice, and Oliver – The Queen (2006)
Stephen Frears’ 2006 period piece The Queen netted Dame Helen Mirren a Best Actress Oscar, but it wasn’t the only prize afforded to the movie that year. Alongside Baftas and Golden Globes, the five corgis (Anna, Poppy, and Anna’s three pups, Megan, Alice, and Oliver) who portrayed the Queen’s prized canine companions in the movie also won two of the first-ever London Film Festival Fido awards in 2007, including the Historical Hound, for outstanding work by canine actors in a movie set in the past, and Best In World (the Doggie Oscar, if you will).
Retired caterer Liz Smith, affectionately known as Corgi Liz on the set of the 2006 movie (by her own admission), divulged in an interview with The Independent in the UK, prior to her pooches scooping the prize, that she was “confident” they would win thanks to their “brilliant” performances in the film. Dame Helen herself, who described the dogs as “funny”, was quoted in the same article as claiming the Doggie Oscar was more important than her own, noting “I’d be more proud of an award for dog handling.” The Queen has spoken.
Andy – John Wick (2014)
Hit action movie John Wick was considered by many to be a major return to form for star Keanu Reeves, meaning he was probably a bit peeved that his canine co-star, Andy, was more of a breakout hit after the movie than he was. His fate was considered so unjust that intrepid YouTubers RocketJump even created a parody video entitled “Dog Wick” to avenge him (check it out if you’re still feeling sore over the poor little guy’s fate).
The beagle pup, just eight weeks old at the time of filming, reportedly stole Reeves’ heart, too, according to a New York Post article. In the piece, trainer Kim Krafsky from Animal Actors International, whose previous credits include The Drop and The Wolf Of Wall Street, explained how they always wanted a beagle for the flick because “they’re just a cuddly breed with such sad eyes.”
She purchased Andy from a breeder after a difficult, two-week long search for just the right dog. Krafsky also notes that, although Wick’s poor pup is ruthlessly killed in the first 20 minutes of the movie, she and the other trainers were on set with Andy for about three weeks total. Although Andy took to the press circuit with ease (“he loves getting the red-carpet treatment” Krafsky shared), he settled down for a relaxing break on the Animal Actors International farm (a real farm, not the usual “went to live on a farm” trick) in New Jersey following his first showbiz job.
Burton/Bubba – John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
When it came time to film a sequel to action mega-hit John Wick, the question on everyone’s lips was: will there be another dog? At the climax of John Wick, we see the titular character choosing a new furry friend to accompany him on his bloody journey, so the stage was set for a brand-new pooch to steal our hearts all over again (and hopefully survive a bit longer this time around.)
In keeping with John Wick: Chapter 2‘s grittier aesthetic, a pit-bull was chosen, which is probably the furthest dog from a beagle imaginable. In an interview with MTV News in the UK, Reeves espoused how he’d bonded with pit-bull Burton (aka Bubba) by hanging out with him pretty much constantly. Director Chad Stahleski described him as “the most gentle personality you could imagine for a pit-bull.”
Burton was a rescue dog, chosen, according to Stahleski, because of his sad eyes (he wanted the audience to sympathize with him, rather than be frightened). Thankfully, he made it through to accompany Wick on his next misadventure.
Abbey – I Am Legend (2007)
The canine star of I Am Legend, the 2007 adaptation of Francis Lawrence’s novel, is arguably more important than his human accomplice. Not only is Sam the sole companion of Will Smith’s lonely scientist, but his death is the emotional crux of the whole story. The featured dog was played by two German Shepherds named Abbey and Kona, according to Entertainment Weekly, with Abbey discovered in a California kennel by trainer Steve Berens (who’s worked on The Mask and horror flick Sinister over the years.)
As Berens tells it, Abbey and Smith bonded instantly, the dog greeting the actor with a bark of approval when they first met. The effect spread to the whole crew, with director Lawrence noting that when the shoot was over everyone swarmed around “it was like the whole crew had been dying for six months to pet her.” Nobody took to her quite like Smith himself who, much like his character in the movie, was dying to take Abbey home with him, “But you know, she has her own family now, so it was just another of those fleeting Hollywood romances.”
Leo – Underdog (2007)
Lemon beagle Leo, who portrayed classic character Underdog in the 2007 live action adaptation of the same name (in which he was voiced by Jason Lee), is arguably the most famous dog on this list. Or, at the very least, he’s had the most successful show-business career. Leo was discovered by the legendary Boone Narr (him again), according to production notes obtained by Visual Hollywood and Cinema Review, via Beagles & Buddies in Orange County.
Narr was reportedly unsure about Leo at first, describing him, according to the detailed notes, as “overweight” and “completely out of control.” However, thanks to his great personality and a strict dog boot camp(!), Leo was quickly whipped into shape in time for shooting.
The lemon beagle cutie has since gone on to significant doggie fame, including starring in a Trifexis commercial. Not bad for a previously plump little fellow who might have been passed over completely otherwise.
It’s a dog’s life
As it happens, dogs actually are better than humans (particularly when it comes to hitting their marks on set). Afterwards, rather than being swept up by the tides of fame, our furry friends often return to their normal lives unfazed and still eager for a cuddle, or a nap under a kindly owner’s desk.
Sure, some of them have gone on to bigger and better things. But, for the most part, the prize pooches on this list are born naturals and unapologetic scene-stealers, in it for the joy of acting (not to mention the pet-and-scratch attention that comes with it) and nothing more.
We could learn a lot from their work ethic, unwillingness to fall victim to the perils of fame, and voracious approach to on-set catering. Not to mention their attitude to our fellow humans, too. After all, through their eyes, we’re not so bad.