From the first frames of flicks back in the early 1900s to today’s box office hits, movies have always projected the public’s love for companion animals. Fans of film celebrate the cinematic contributions of dog, cat and other animal actors every June 19 on National Pets in Film Day. Any day, though, makes a great day to recognize these great dogs in film whose contributions live on many decades after their starring roles.
Here are just a few of the many dog stars who have illuminated the big screen over the years with their own brand of movie magic!
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The 2005 Richard Gere movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale was loosely based on the tale of an Akita Inu whose loyalty to his favorite human led him to wait at a train station every day, even years after his friend had passed. Three Akitas named Chico, Forrest and Leyla portrayed the dog who has come to symbolize the bond between humans and their canine companions.
A dog whose star shone on both the big and small screen, Cody– an Alaskan Malamute– sunk his teeth into the role of Nanook in the 80s comedic fright flick The Lost Boys before going on to star as Wolf, Byron Sully’s barking buddy in the long-running series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
Portrayed by an American Bulldog dubbed Rattler, Michael J. Fox provided the voice of Chance, the young dog who learns the true meaning of “home” in the 1993 movie Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.
American Eskimo Dogs
Four American Eskimo dogs named Flurry, Nanu, Sitka and Winter stepped into the role of Kevin to share screen time with Sandra Bullock in the comedy The Proposal.
An Australian Kelpie called Koko portrayed a real life Rover who won the hearts of a mining town in the 2011 film Red Dog. The memory of the real Red Dog lives on thanks to a statue of his likeness that welcomes visitors to Dampier, the Australian community he decided to make his home.
Silent movie star Jack Hoxie combined real life with “reel life,” sharing the big screen with his canine companion Bunk in many Westerns. An Australian Shepherd, Bunk (who also answered to the sweet sobriquet Bunky Bean) first stepped in front of a camera in 1924 for the film Ridgeway of Montana, and would go on to make movies into the start of “talkies.” After a full life which included traveling throughout the United States with his famous pet parent, Bunk crossed Rainbow Bridge at the age of 18.
Born in 1930 on a Cheyenne reservation in South Dakota, an Australian Shepherd/Collie called Tuffy would go on to become a star, appearing in eight big screen Westerns. An intelligent tail-wagger, Tuffy understood commands in several languages.
“Never fear, Underdog is here!” A Lemon Beagle named Leo portrayed the cape-wearing canine crime fighter in the 2007 live-action film homage to the 1960s cartoon, Underdog.
Both former shelter dogs, a Border Terrier named Peanut portrayed Ron Burgundy’s barking buddy Baxter in the first Anchorman movie while Border Terrier Quince helped Will Ferrell bring the funny to Anchorman 2.
Slammer the Border Terrier starred as Puffy alongside Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller in the romantic comedy There’s Something About Mary.
Although Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt won Oscars for their roles in the 1997 romantic comedy As Good As It Gets, Jill–the Brussels Griffon who portrayed Verdell–won the hearts of Fido-loving film fans! Here’s a fun fact about Jill; she lived in the same house as fellow famous Fidos Moose and Enzo, who portrayed Eddie in the hit TV series Frasier!
Cairn Terriers in Film
Arguably filmdom’s most famous Fido, Dorothy Gale’s tail-wagging travel companion on The Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard of Oz was portrayed by a Cairn Terrier named Terry. A prominent pup in motion pictures during the 1930s, Terry also shared screen time with Spencer Tracy in the film Fury, Shirley Temple in the family-friendly flick Bright Eyes, and even made a cameo appearance alongside Joan Crawford in The Women. Fans visiting La La Land can pay their respects to their favorite dog star with a stop at a life-size bronze sculpture of Terry’s likeness at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, while canine lovers in Kansas can go in search on 15 Toto statues throughout the town of Wamego, which is home to the Oz Museum. Terry’s memory also lives on in the pages of I, Toto: The Autobiography of Terry, The Dog Who Was Toto.
A Cairn Terrier named Danny not only shared screen time with Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak in the 1957 Academy Award-nominated musical Pal Joey, he also appeared on the movie’s poster. Danny would also make his mark in Hollywood history with his role as Muffy in the 1959 thriller Anatomy of a Murder.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Tori, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, portrayed Dash– the canine confidante of Queen Victoria– in both the screen series Victoria and The Young Victoria on the silver screen.
While movie lover may think of a perky animated Pomeranian who helped to save the day in The Secret Life of Pets when they hear the name Gidget, this moniker was also the real name of the Chihuahua who first gained fame as the Taco Bell mascot before starring as Bruiser Woods’ mother in Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde.
In 2008 a Chihuahua named Fizz played a pup named Poppy in a movie adaptation of the Noel Coward play Easy Virtue.
The first movie dog to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame and the first dog star inducted into the Animal Actors Hall of Fame, Lassie (who was first portrayed by a Rough Collie called Pal) has been a canine icon for more than 80 years!
A young Helen Hayes twice shared the silver screen with a Scotch Collie named Jean, who holds the distinction of being the first dog to ever have a leading role in a motion picture. Known as the Vitagraph Dog, this tail-wagging thespian stepped in front of the camera for Vitagraph studios at least 16 times between 1909 and 1913.
A Bearded Collie named Cole portrayed Khyi Yang Po, the centuries old Spot whose DNA transforms Tim Allen’s character into a canine in the 2006 comedy The Shaggy Dog.
Dogue de Bordeaux
A drooling Dogue de Bordeaux called Beasley shared the screen with Tom Hanks in the action comedy Turner and Hooch.
An English Bulldog named Leo took on the role of Gladstone, Watson’s pal with paws in Sherlock Holmes.
An English Bulldog named Lili (along with fellow canine actors Billy, Ciccy and Lazania) portrayed Angus, the barking buddy of a famously short-sighted cartoon character in the 1997 comedy Mr. Magoo.
Hercules (aka “The Beast”) was a supposed killer canine who had struck fear into the hearts of neighborhood children for years before the tales of terror were proven untrue in the 1993 comedy The Sandlot. The character of Hercules was brought to life on screen by an English Mastiff called Gunner.
German Shepherd Dogs in Film
Perhaps the most noble name on the list, Rin Tin Tin was born in the battlefields of France in World War I. Rescued by an American soldier, the stout-hearted German Shepherd would go on to be a symbol of courage in a number of films. Rinty’s son Rin Tin Tin III would play a key role in the creation of the US Military Working Dog training program at California’s Camp Hahn in 1939, and his progeny would serve their country as war heroes and even as a member of a search and recovery team at the Pentagon after the attacks of 9/11.
A German Shepherd known as Ace The Wonder Dog starred in 15 films over the course of his career! His most notable role was that of canine companion to the main character in the 1943 feature film The Phantom.
A German Shepherd named Flame found fame portraying the title role in the 1946 movie My Dog Shep.
Will Smith’s canine sidekick in I Am Legend was portrayed by German Shepherds Abby and Kona.
Augustus Von Schumacher was the name of the German Shepherd who portrayed a pooch whose popularity rivaled that of Rin Tin Tin in the 1976 comedic ode to the Tinseltown of yesteryear, Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood.
The real life fur baby of The King of the Cowboys and his wife Dale Evans, a German Shepherd named Bullet The Wonder Dog starred alongside his famous pet parents in several silver screen ventures before showing off his acting chops on The Roy Rogers Show, which aired from 1951 – 1957.
Buddy, who is better known by TV buffs as Comet from the 90s sitcom Full House, portrayed a man reincarnated into a Golden Retriever puppy in the 1995 fantasy flick Fluke.
Based on the tale of a basketball-playing pooch, Buddy the Golden Retriever starred in the original Air Bud movie.
Teddy the Great Dane was one of film’s first tail-wagging thespians. Over the course of his nine-year career, the silent screen dog star appeared in approximately 60 movies, including The Extra Girl with Mabel Normand, in which he portrayed a pooch also known as Teddy.
A Havanese who answered to the name Paddy portrayed Prince Terrien, the mixed breed dog who romps in an imaginary land with friends Jess and Leslie in the movie adaptation of the Newbury Award-winning novel The Bridge to Terabithia.
Jack Russell Terriers on Screen
A Jack Russell Terrier named Barkley tickled the collective funny bone of movie audiences as Baby in the Dana Carvey comedy Clean Slate. Barkley’s acting abilities can also be enjoyed in Ernest Scared Stupid and A Boy’s Life.
A talented tail-wagger whose charm helped the silent screen homage The Artist win a coveted golden statuette on Oscar night, Uggie was a canine with a heart of gold. Over the years the Jack Russell Terrier rode with adoptables from L.A. Animal Services on a Beverly Hills Pet Care Foundation float in the Rose Parade and pitched the option of pet adoption at the San Diego Padres’ Dog Days of Summer game. Even the Chopard bow tie that the celebrity Spot donned for his appearance at the Academy Awards benefited dogs and cats in the care of The Amanda Foundation. The famous Fido also happily took on a supporting role when he attended a presentation honoring the Mayo Clinic’s Caring Canines, and when he acted as a spokesdog for The Humane Society of the United States’ Pets of Valor Award.
The acting ability of rescue dog Cosmo so impressed his Beginners co-star Christopher Plummer that the thespian thanked the Jack Russell Terrier in his Golden Globe acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor! Cosmo’s on screen talent can also be seen in the family-friendly flick Hotel for Dogs.
The Cat in the Hat may focus on a talking feline, but the comedy based on Dr. Seuss’ children’s book also included the tail-wagging members of Walden family. A terrier mix dubbed Bugsy stepped into the role of Nevins, while the task of speaking for the pup was taken on by actor Frank Welker, who had also provided the voice of The Grinch’s canine sidekick Max in How The Grinch Stole Christmas
A Labrador Retriever named Clyde was one of 22 dogs who brought author John Grogan’s canine companion to the big screen in Marley & Me.
Rink portrayed the lovable Labrador Retriever Luath in the original 1963 Disney adaptation of The Incredible Journey.
A tail-wagging charmer back in the 1920s, Little Brownie The Wonder Dog was a Bull Terrier/Fox Terrier who starred in several silver screen flicks alongside the future child star Baby Peggy.
A mixed breed dog named Woofer co-starred alongside Keith Carradine and Mare Winningham in the 2003 children’s tale Wonder.
Found in a pound by arguably the silent screen’s most popular star, as the character Scraps a mixed breed called Mut (or Mutt) brought a tragicomic take to living rough in the Charlie Chaplin film A Dog’s Life. Adopted by the comic genius, Mutt was to act as the mascot for Chaplin’s new studio. However, as World War One was underway, Chaplin wanted to do his part for the war effort, and left on a cross-country tour to sell war bonds. Separated from his human, an inconsolable Mut’s health quickly deteriorated, and the dog died days before Chaplin’s return. In honor of his canine companion, Mut was buried at Chaplin’s studio with a marker that read “Mut, died April 29th–a broken heart.”
Several tail-ragging thespians tugged at audiences’ collective heartstrings in A Dog’s Journey, including: Odin a Great Pyrenees/Bernese Mountain dog who portrayed Buddy in what was arguably the movie’s most moving scene; Lemy, a Beagle/Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who starred as Molly; and Phil, an African Boerbol, took on the small yet pivotal role of Big Dog.
A Mastiff/Labrador Retriever named Spike has tugged at the heartstrings of generations of dog lovers with his portrayal of the Coates family’s faithful four-legged friend in Disney’s depiction of author Fred Gipson’s tale Old Yeller. Fans of the Newberry Award-winning story can learn more about the writer who brought Old Yeller to life in his home town of Mason, Texas, where a statue of the fictional Fido stands guard outside of the Mason County M. Beven Eckert Memorial Library.
Whether you’re a movie buff or a bibliophile, you will no doubt recognize Fang as the name of Hagrid’s pal with paws in the Harry Potter franchise. Although the canine character was described as a Boarhound in the books, on the big screen Fang was portrayed on screen by several Neapolitan Mastiffs, including Bella, Bully, Hugo, Luigi and Vito.
Higgins, the Norwich Terrier who starred in the original 1974 movie Benji, also portrayed the pup in the 60s sitcom Petticoat Junction over the course of a career that spanned 14 years. Before his rise to stardom, Higgins had been among the many adoptables at the Burbank Animal Shelter. Higgins’ daughter Benjean would follow in her famous father’s pawprints, acting in the 1977 family-friendly flick For The Love of Benji.
Old English Sheepdog
Devotees of both Disney and dogs can see the pawprints of Sam (aka Lillybrad’s Sammy’s Shadow)– the Old English Sheepdog who starred as Chiffon in the title role of The Shaggy Dog— on display in the courtyard of the Burbank Animal Shelter. Other famous Fidos who left their mark in cement are Benji and Lassie.
A Sheepdog dubbed Lord Nelson had the chance to share screen time with Doris Day in her final feature film With Six You Get Eggroll before starring alongside the acting icon/animal advocate in the TV series The Doris Day Show.
Petey, Our Gang’s barking buddy, was portrayed by several tail-wagging thespians in the 1930s and 40s, starting with a Pit Bull known as Pal, The Wonder Dog. Second to step into the role was Lucenay’s Peter, an American Staffordshire Terrier. At the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park, fans can pay their respects to the Pittie who once ruled the silver screen.
A Pit Bull named Screamer portrayed a dog named in honor of Edgar Allen Poe in the 2000 dramedy The Wonder Boys. Screamer’s acting ability can also be seen in the family adventure film Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco.
Darla, the Poodle who portrayed killer Buffalo Bill’s pet in Silence of the Lambs, was an accomplished canine actress who also starred in Batman Returns, The ‘Burbs and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
A St. Bernard known as Kris starred as the dog named after the master of classical music in the first two Beethoven movies.
A young Siberian Husky named Apache portrayed Old Jack, the senior member of the pack of sled dogs who took the movie Eight Below all the way to the number one spot at the box office back in 2006.
The four-legged family member of comedic silent movie star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Luke appeared in a number of comedies over the course of a career that spanned from 1914 to 1920. Along with starring alongside his famous human father and mother (actress Minta Durfee), the Staffordshire Terrier also held his own when acting with such comedy greats as Mabel Normand and Buster Keaton.
A Wire-Haired Terrier named Skippy starred alongside some of the brightest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Era, including Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, Grant (again) and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth, and William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man movies, where he portrayed Asta, the pup of sleuthing soul mates Nick and Nora Charles.