“Chico,” the Challenging Akita

The script of “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” was said to have moved Mark Harden to tears.  He was quoted as saying he would pass down memories of it to his grandchildren.


“Chico,” the Akita playing Hachi, was the most challenging dog that Harden had ever trained.

A talented animal trainer, Harden had been tasked with training Chico for the movie, “Hachi,” but Harden, who’d never before worked with an Akita, was told by the breeder who had “loaned” him “Chico” that the breed is smart, stubborn, aloof and difficult to train. Aloof?  And Harden had to turn this dog into the loving and loyal Hachi? 

For a month, Chico barely looked at him. 

The Akita sneered at normal dog training techniques, and Harden knew he had to change his approach. He began to work Chico in agility not to teach him agility, but to teach him to learn.

Each new apparatus became an obstacle between Chico and a tasty reward. One day, Harden allowed Chico to start at the beginning of the course and let him complete it. Chico sprinted through the course easily and waited for his reward. Harden had broken the code and unlocked the dog’s potential. From that day forward, Chico learned his movie tricks with ease.

A Shiba Inu portrayed Hachi as a puppy, and three Akita dogs play the adult Hachi, each trained specifically for their starring roles. Chico portrayed Hachi as a young adult,  “Layla,” Chico’s real life sister, played Hachi as an adult, and a four year old Akita named, “Forrest” played Hachi as an old, dying dog. By the time shooting for the movie ended, Harden had a new problem.

Chico had been “leased” from his breeder who visited the dog frequently on the set, and there was every intention of returning him to her. Harden and dog had bonded, however, and by now, Harden couldn’t bear to let him go. Still, he returned the dog to the breeder who watched the pair play one more time. Later, as they both stroked the dog’s coat, the breeder said, “You know you have to keep him, right? Akitas don’t bond easily, and he’s so bound to you. That won’t happen again. I want you to keep him.”

Chico lived with Harden as a family pet and friend until he passed away on August 4, 2018. He joined Layla and Forrest over the Rainbow Bridge. 

Image (which is not Chico) by József Koller/Budapest, Csepel Művek, Színesfém utca, Hungary appears under the Unsplash License

3 thoughts on ““Chico,” the Challenging Akita”

  1. Yes, teaching a dog how to think and learn is the key. Once we got Schooner to think things through, he quickly learned on his own things we never taught him. Like watching a Beethoven movie and then quickly trotting to the toilet to drink water. Never did that till he saw Beethoven do it in the movie.

    • Never underestimate the value of finding a source of water, Reed. In a drought, he may teach you a thing or two. Just saying.

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