Get ready, on Sunday, March 7, it’s time for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards.  Bright lights, red carpets, and movie stars decked out in the latest styles.  And some will be showing up with their canine companions. Some of the most popular films ever made have starred dogs.  Hollywood has always capitalized on our love of dogs and continues to produce hilarious and heartwarming canine adventures for our entertainment.  Dogs in film were popular as slapstick sidekicks in the early years, but soon moved into portraying their most natural role – saving human beings from misfortune.   Let’s check out some of the “reel” talent.  Here are some early movie star dogs that paved the way. 

Rover (Blair) 

In 1905, Blair was the first canine movie star and was featured in the film Rescued by Rover.  Blair was a Collie and household pet of the film’s director, Cecil Hepworth.  It was a British silent film where a baby is kidnapped by an old beggar woman, but the faithful family dog Rover comes to the rescue.  He braved raging rivers and dark forests to reunite his family.  The dog name “Rover” became popular after the movie’s release.  And according the Guinness Book of World Records, this was the least expensive movie to produce in history.  It only cost $37.40. 

Strongheart (Etzel von Oeringen) 

Strongheart (1917 – 1929) was born and raised in Germany, where he was trained to be a police dog and assigned to the German military during World War I.  He was trained as an attack dog, and was a fearless 125-pound *all dog*.  Strongheart was discovered by American director Laurence Trimble, who was famous as an animal trainer.  He and his wife had been searching Europe for a dog that could appear in motion pictures. 

He was a retraining challenge.  In Hollywood, it took months to de-emphasize his harsh police dog training.  And he was quite the challenge on the set.  Even though he never bit anyone, he was famous for tearing people’s clothes to shreds, and suddenly chasing after strangers of dubious character.  (He was noted for chasing down a few fraudsters, embezzlers, and spouse abusers.) 

His first movie was The Silent Call in 1921.  A dog food company named their product after him; Strongheart Dog Food, and is still being produced. 

Rin Tin Tin

The first in the line of many (1918 – 1932) was a shell-shocked pup found by American serviceman Lee Duncan in a bombed-out dog kennel in Lorraine, France, less than two months before the end of World War I.  Nicknamed Rinty by his owner, the dog learned tricks and could leap great heights. He was seen performing at a dog show by film producer Charles Jones, who paid Duncan to film Rinty. Duncan became convinced Rin Tin Tin could become the next Strongheart. 

His first starring role was in 1923’s Where The North Begins, playing alongside silent screen actress Claire Adams. This film was a huge success and has often been credited with saving Warner Brothers from bankruptcy. 

His bloodline still continues today – a 107 year history.  The current Rinty is Rin Tin Tin XI born on July 8, 2009.

Check out the official website of Rin Tin Tin.  Hey, he even has a Facebook.


Asta (Skippy)

Skippy (born 1931 or 1932; retired 1939) was a Wire-Haired Fox Terrier dog actor who appeared in dozens of movies during the 1930s.   He is best known for the role of the pet dog “Asta” in the 1934 detective comedy The Thin Man, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Skippy was trained by his owners Henry East and Gale Henry East His owner is Mrs. Gale Henry East, once a prominent movie comedienne. 

As a character in the movie The Thin Man, Asta was the playful pet dog of Nick and Nora Charles, tugging them around town on his walks, hiding from danger, and sniffing out corpses.  He was the real sleuth of the trio.  And Nick alwyas encouraged Asta’s talent by constantly reminding him he was a Police Dog, not a household pet.

Skippy, who played Asta the dog, once bit Myrna Loy during filming.   He has his own fan website, iloveasta.

Toto (Terry) 

Terry (1933 – 1944) was a Cairn Terrier whose most famous role was Toto in the movie The Wizard of Oz . She was 6 years old when she was in The Wizard of Oz. Terry almost lost her life during the filming of The Wizard of Oz when one of the witch’s guards accidentally stepped on her, breaking her foot. As part of her training she spent two weeks at Judy Garland’s residence, and Garland was reported to have grown quite attached to the dog and very much wanted to adopt her, but her owner refused. The dog’s salary was $125 per week which was more than many human actors in the film.  Because of the popularity of the film, Terry’s name was changed to Toto in 1942.



Lassie (Pal) 

Pal (1940 – 1958) was a male Rough Collie and the first in a line of such dogs to portray the fictional female collie Lassie in film and television. In 1943, the dog was chosen to play Lassie in MGM’s feature film, Lassie Come Home. Following his film debut, Pal starred in six more MGM Lassie films from the mid-1940s to early-1950s, then appeared briefly in shows, fairs, and rodeos around the United States before starring in the two pilots filmed in 1954 for the television series, Lassie. Pal retired after filming the television pilots, and died in 1958.  

Another bloodline that coninued, he sired a line of descendants who continue to play the fictional character he originated. The Saturday Evening Post once stated Pal had “the most spectacular canine career in film history”. 


Check out all the Lassies at the official website.

We have had over 100 years of dogs in films, and most likely, there will be 100 more years of Hollywood canines.   What we have highlighted here are wonderful animals that are the best part of movie history.


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