Top 10 Dog Film Stars Of All Time

The 10 Top Dog Film Stars of All Time

Can't take your dog to the film you want?  That's ok.  Consider one of the many dogs of ther silver screen. 

Hollywood and the big screen have seen the launch of many a four-footed star. Many dogs have had fleeting careers as dog movie stars.

Many of these dogs are remembered fondly today. Long after their death, people remember these dogs, frequently by their “stage” name. They were to children and many adults as well, the living and breathing embodiment of the perfect dog. Here are some of the all-time greats, who are some of the best loved dogs of all time.

1. Rin Tin Tin (1918 – 1932) - one of the oldest Dog Stars

Although Rin Tin Tin was not the first dog actor to light up the screen, an honor held by Strongheart, he is the most remembered. Like Strongheart, Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepherd. He actually came from Germany. In fact, his initial discovery was by Corporal Lee Duncan, a soldier during World War I.

The Legend of Rin Tin Tin

The Original Rin Tin Tin...

In February 1918, Duncan found a female dog, Betty des Flandres, with a litter of 5 pups in an abandoned German station with a kennel. They were slowly starving to death. Duncan made the decision to save them.

He took them under his protection, later adopting 2 as his own. The rest were adopted by the battalion. These were Nanete and Rin Tin Tin. Their names derived from certain French puppets, Rintintin and Nenette, given to American soldiers as good luck tokens.

When Duncan returned to California in the United States, he took Nanette and Rin Tin Tin with him. Nannette died in the States, but Rin Tin Tin prospered. Although Duncan returned to work in a hardware store, he trained Rin Tin Tin and entered him in various dog shows. In one of these, Rin Tin Tin was “discovered.” Charles Jones put him on film. The film was purchased by Novograph Pictures and with a film idea in hand, Duncan decided to pursue a film career for the dog.

After fruitless searches, Duncan succeeded in proving his point. By luck, Rin Tin Tin was allowed to replace an inept actor and did the scene in 1 take. The then failing studio, Warner Brothers, hired the dog and Rin Tin Tin was on his way to stardom, saving the studio on his way.

Rin Tin Tin made 26 pictures for Warner Brothers. During his peak stardom, he received some 10,000 fan letters a week. Like Strongheart, he has his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Rin Tin Tin died in 1932, his son and grandson replacing him on the roster. Duncan arranged for the burial of Rin Tin Tin to take place in the world’s most famous pet cemetery in Asnières-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris.

Brief Filmography:

  • The Man from Hell’s River (1927), 
  • A Dog of the Regiment (1927),
  • Rinty of the Desert (1928), 
  • The Famous Warner Brothers Dog (1928), 
  • The Lightning Warrior (1931).

The Original Lassie...

2. Lassie 1940 – ? A Dog Movie Star

Lassie was a dog and yes, "Lassie" was really a Laddie (male) whose owners thought would come to a bad end.

It seems Pal aka Lassie, loved to chase motorcycles. Pal also ran away from home a lot.

The owners gave Pal over to a trainer, Rudd Weatherwax, who did not manage to stop this suicidal behavior, but did turn Pal into a remarkable well-trained (if male) dog.

Lassie’s film carrier began when he was hired as a stunt dog. The original dog refused to swim across a raging river. Lassie took over the stunt and performed so well, he took over the movie, as well.

From then on, Lassie dominated the dog scene. He starred in the 1943 movie Lassie Come Home before moving on to performances in other films.

Like Rin Tin Tin, Lassie retired from show business and allowed his sons and grandsons to take over. They were all Lassies and have continued to appear in television, as spokedogs and in movies to this day.

Brief Filmography:

  • Lassie Come Home (1943),
  • Son of Lassie (1945),
  • Courage of Lassie (1946),
  • Challenge to Lassie (1949).


The Original Petey...

3. Petey ?- 1930

Petey (Pal) is one dog who mocks the stereotype of an American Pit Bull Terrier being a savage animal. Any dog who could put up with the shenanigans of Our Gang/Little Rascals has to be a saint. Petey is always described as a gentle, loving creature. He is fondly remembered by cast members, Hal Roach and former owner/trainer, Harry Lucenay.

Petey played Tige in the silent Buster Brown Movies and was Petey in the Our Gang serials during the 1920s. Petey actually appeared in 14 feature film between 1921 and 1927 before becoming the famous Petey in the Our Gang series.He is recognized for his white body complete with the ring around his eye. It is a dye job gone wrong, a mark drawn by the famous Max Factor or an actual skin abnormality. In some instances, it appears to be both.

Petey never received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was also never the highest paid canine star. His career and life ended in 1930. One version has him poisoned by someone who hated Lucenay. Another version says Petey died of old age. One other mystery is his final resting place. Does he lie in Aspin, Maryland or in Calibasas, California? Like so many dog stars before and since, there has been more than one dog to play the role. Until the late 1930s, the Peteys used were sons of the original.

Brief Filmography:

  • Buster Brown,
  • Our Gang.

The Original Toto...Who is the dog on the left by the way...

4. Toto/Terry (1933-1944)

Terry, a female Black Cairn Terrier, is best know for her role opposite Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. This was not the dog’s first or only movie. Under the guidance of her owner, Carl Spitz, Terry acted across from Shirley Temple in the movie Bright Eyes.

In all Terry went on to act in 14 movies. The Wizard of Oz was Terry’s 3rd film. It was also the one that increased her star power. She made $125 a week for her performance, a larger sum than many of the human actors on the film. Indicative of her significance to the film is her attendance at the grand opening at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

While Terry did not pass on her crown to any descendants, she did open the door for the use of small dogs as heroic figures in films.

Brief Filmography:

  • Bright Eyes (1934), 
  • Fury (1936),
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939), 
  • The Women (1939) 
  • George Washington Slept Here (1942).

Buddy... The dog on the right... In the Film Air Bud.

5. Buddy ( 1989?- 1998)

Buddy the dog first appeared on the David Letterman Show. He was part of the Stupid Pet Trick segment. Buddy was a basket-hooping dog. This male Golden Retriever wowed the audiences on the show then went on to fame with his starring role in the movie Air Bud. Under the direction of trainer Debra J. Coe, Buddy sank 2 15-foot free throws after just 6 attempts.

Buddy received his highest accolade in 1998 at the Academy Awards. He was honored on the show as among “the greatest Animal Actors of all time. He was presented with an honorary Oscar for his performance. Unfortunately, Buddy was unable to enjoy his fame for very long. Although a sequel to Air Bud was planned, Buddy was not able to perform in it. Shortly after shooting the movie, he was diagnosed with cancer in his knee joint. An operation removed the leg. It did not succeed in stopping the cancer. Buddy died in 1998. Golden Retrievers have gone on to play Buddy in several Air Bud sequels.

Filmography:

  • Air Bud (1997).

Beethoven

6. Chris/Beethoven

There are several movies in the Beethoven series. The star is a Saint Bernard named Beethoven. Actually, as is the case with many dog actors, Beethoven is actually several dogs. The most memorable one is the original. Chris or Kris was the star of the first 2 Beethoven movies. A Saint Bernard, Chris is one of the largest of the movie dog stars on this list. His trainer was Karl Lewis Miller. Chris died shortly after the making of his 2 movies:

  • Beethoven and
  • Beethoven’s 2nd.

Hooch/Beasley

7. Beasley (1978-1992)

When the movie Turner and Hooch came out, it was an instant success.

The human actor in the movie was Tom Hanks, but the star was a dog.

Hooch was played by Beasley.

Owned and trained by Clint Rowe, Beasley was a rare breed. He was Dogue de Bordeaux, a French Mastiff. Turner and Hooch was Beasley’s first and only movie. He died in 1992.


Beloved dog Benji...

8. Higgins/Benji

If ever there was a veteran dog actor, it has to be Higgins. Before he entertained people on the big screen, he had been wowing them on the small screen for about 15 years. During the 1960s, you could see Higgins performing on Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. Higgins followed this up with Mooch Goes To Hollywood (1971). He was 11 years-old at the time. Higgins then took a hiatus.

In 1974, Higgins returned to the film industry. His next role was to endear him to millions and to establish a new dog-legacy. The movie was Benji.

He proved he was an actor’s dog, brilliant in his performance. Not too shabby for a dog picked up from the Burbank Animal Shelter by Frank Inns.

A mixed breed, he passed on his Benji role to his daughter. After his death in 1975, Benji’s ashes sat until they could be interred with Inn on his death in 2002.

Brief Filmography:

  • Mooch Goes To Hollywood (1974),
  • Benji (1974).

9. Spike – Old Yeller

Like Higgins, Spike was a rescue dog. He was picked out by trainer Frank Weatherwax from the Van Nuys Animal Shelter. At this time, Spike was an awkward and rather large pup with floppy ears. Like Benji, Spike was a mixed breed. Weatherwax did not think, at the time, Spike would be a movie star.

Spike tried out for and became the star of the biggest dog tear jerker of all time – Old Yeller. This made him immortal in the annals of film dog history. Although he could never follow up his role, Spike went on to appear in other films. When he died, he was buried at sea.

Brief Filmography:

  • Old Yeller (1957), 
  • A Dog of Flanders (1959).


Asta...

10. Skippy/Asta (1931- ?)

Last, but far from least on this list of Top Dog Film Stars is Skippy. Skippy was a wire-haired Fox Terrier owned by Henry East and Gale East. A little adorable scrapper, he was also trained by some of the era’s greatest dog trainers: Frank Weatherwax, Frank Inn and Rudd Weatherwax. A dog of incredible intelligence, Skippy debuted as a bit player in several unknown movies at the age of 1.

Skippy’s big break, resulting in his name change, came in 1934. He got the role of Asta in the Thin Man. His name underwent a change to Asta afterwards, although he only played in 3 of this series. Afterwards, Asta went on to play in several other star-studded movies. In fact, Asta performed with some of the true Hollywood Royalty including Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Asta retired in 1940.

Brief Filmography:

  • The Thin Man (1934),
  • It’s a Small World (1935),
  • The Awful Truth (1937),
  • Bringing Up Baby (1938),
  • Topper Takes a Trip (1938).


This is just scraping the surface of dog film stars. Honorable mentions should go to Bruiser in Legally Blonde 2 and Shadow and Chance in Homeward Bound.

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Comments 8 comments

Pete Maida profile image

Pete Maida 7 years ago

That was quite enjoyable. I remember well the TV incarnations of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie; it was cool to learn about their origins.


Mardi profile image

Mardi 7 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

Terrific research and this sure brings back lots of memories. There seems to be more dogs on the big screen and on television, maybe some new dogs stars on the rise!


Julie-Ann Amos profile image

Julie-Ann Amos 7 years ago from Gloucestershire, UK Author

This is part of a series of hubs on dogs on the big and little screen - so do watch out for more!


Ann Elwood 6 years ago

Several movies by the first Rin-Tin-Tin are available on DVD: Where the North Begins, Clash of the Wolves, Hills of Kentucky (VCR), Lighthouse by the Sea, Night Cry, Tracked by the Police, Lone Defender, and Lightning Warrior. I know this because I am working on a book about Rin-Tin-Tin (due out soon).


Smoss 5 years ago

Have you people never seen the dog Flike in the great DeSica film Umberto D? It has the most poignant master/dog relationship in the history of film. Not schmaltz.


Lily 5 years ago

Yes Rin Tin Tin is first! I am currently working on a project about him!


fuzz 5 years ago

Anybody have any information on a dog named Buster that appeared in several Paramount pictures in the early thirties. He was featured prominently in "It's a Gift" starring W C Fields, who was apparently not quite the 'dog hater' his image portrayed him to be.


snmg 4 years ago

I loved benji so much and realizing that he might had been stray dog with a turbulent life and history i felt quite hertbroken aand at the same time happy that he was discovered n loved by mr Inn .gods beautiful creatures!!!not any less wiser than human

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