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Dogs, Hollywood, and the Entertainment Industry

by Dr. Carmen Battaglia


There was little doubt that once “Man’s Best Friend” and the world of entertainment teamed up, the resulting boost for canines would be noticed throughout the world. The exposure of canines to newsprint and the silver screen enhanced the human appreciation of dogs by portraying their loyalty, heroism, humor and intelligence. Dogs and other animals have been popular in movies since the early days of film because of their convenience and availability and the fact that animals did not get paid, could be directed and easily manipulated on the set. Additionally, audiences love animals and enjoy looking at them. In the earliest days of film, audience favorites were “Rescued by Rover” (1905) and “The Whole Dam Family and the Dam Dog” (1905). The industry launched the beginning of the public’s love affair with canines by making them movie stars. Many breeds have been featured such as the Collie who was featured as “Lassie”, and the Fox Terrier “Asta”, the ever-present canine sidekick for the characters in the Thin Man films. A partial list can be found at the end of this article. But for more than ten decades one breed, the German Shepherd Dog, perhaps more than any other, continues to be featured in movies, books and comic strips making it one of the most recognized breeds in the world. Known as an all-purpose dog that makes a wonderful companion, it can be found in a variety of dog sports including conformation (dog shows), obedience, agility, herding, tracking and working dog trials. Thousands of GSD owners have earned the AKC Canine Good Citizen certification by demonstrating their dog’s good manners at home and in their community.

The entertainment industry quickly discovered that these four-leg ged actors were hugely popular with the public and looked for ways to use them in movies. Two visionaries, Larry Trimble and his friend and writer, Jane Murfin, started the film career of German Shepherds when they portrayed one as a war dog. They used a three-year old, trained police dog, Etzel von Oringer, who was renamed “Strongheart”. He was featured in several silent movies including Jack London’s Call of the Wild (1921) and White Fang (1925). The next GSD to make the big screen was a rescue pup from a bombed-out kennel in Lorraine, France, who became famous worldwide as “RIN TIN TIN ”. The third GSD star who helped popularize the breed was “Bullet”, who was owned by Roy Rogers and starred in the “Roy Rogers TV Show”. Bullet helped propel the GSD into second place as the most popular breed in the United States.

Rin Tin Tin (also called Rinty) who had inauspicious beginnings as a pup found in a bombed out dog kennel in France, would ultimately stamp his legacy on the world. His life changed dramatically when Corporal Lee Duncan was sent to inspect a bombed out German facility in WWI. During his inspection, he came upon a concrete building at the edge of the German airfield where he found many dogs that had been killed by artillery shells. Among the dead he heard the whimpering of a female with a litter of five puppies. He took the mother and her five pups back to the base. The dam and three pups were given to another soldier. Corporal Duncan kept one male and female for himself. He named the female “Nenette” and the male “Rin Tin Tin” after a pair of good luck charm dolls made to honor a pair of young lovers who had survived a bombing in a Parisian railway station at the start of the war. One of the two pups rescued on that fateful day of September 15, 1918, would become a very important part of Hollywood history, not only for German Shepherd Dogs, but for dogs of all breeds. Lee named his pup Rin Tin Tin and set in motion a career that would result in stardom and fame along with other canine box office stars such as Strongheart, Teddy, Lassie, Asta, Pete the Pup and Benji. In 1921, “Rinty” amazed an audience by broad-jumping 13 1/2 feet. Darrel Zanuck saw him and paid Duncan $350 to film Rinty with his new movie camera. Before his death in 1932, Rinty made 26 movies for Warner Brothers and was receiving over 10,000 fan letters a week. The RIN TIN TIN breeding program is now owned by Ms. Daphine Hereford, daughter of Ms. Jannettia Propps who inherited the line from Duncan. The site for those interested is RIN TIN TIN® continues his family’s 94-year history of providing community service through a variety of venues including therapy work, service dog and search and rescue. Today, RINTY is ranked in the top 30 among the nation’s German Shepherd Dogs competing in Agility. He is working toward his Master Agility Champion (MACH) title which requires 750 points and 20 Double Qualifications (QQ) through performances at AKC-sanctioned dog shows. Rin Tin Tin became one of the most popular canine stars in Hollywood history and has been credited with saving the fledgling Warner Brothers Pictures. Many baby-boomers remember Rin Tin Tin from the popular television series, “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin”, which aired 164 episodes on ABC from 1954-1959. Duncan passed away on September 20, 1960 and the legacy and lineage of Rin Tin Tin passed to GSD breeder Jannettia Brodsgaard Propps of Texas, who continues Duncan’s meticulous breeding program. When Ms. Propps passed away in 1988, the legacy was passed to her granddaughter Daphne Hereford, who maintained it until 2011 when she retired and passed it to her daughter Dorothy Yanchak, who maintains it today. Four generations of two families working together have ensured that Duncan’s dream, “There Will Always Be a RIN TIN TIN,” is being fulfilled.

Other canines have also become movie stars thanks to the efforts of legendary dog trainer Carl Spitz who trained many great canine movie stars. Spitz emigrated from Germany to California and became the master Hollywood movie dog-trainer. He trained Rin Tin Tin and many other famous dogs including the Cairn terrier called “Terry” who portrayed “Toto” in the MGM film, the Wizard of Oz in 1939 and the St. Bernard named “Buck” in the Call of the Wild starring Clark Gable. Some movies have featured a breed in the name such as “101 Dalmatians”, while others introduced a dog as a character called “Hooch” from the movie Turner & Hooch, a comedy (1989) with Tom Hanks whose character has to deal with his rambunctious co-star.

According to Spitz, training a dog for domestic living, dog shows and obedience is not the same as training one for a role in a movie. The challenges are to teach the dog to give a natural reaction in situations that are not natural to the dog. For example, a scene may call for the dog to greet his long-missing master; in reality the dog does not know the actor and they may only have been working together for a few scenes or just a few days. The challenge for the dog and trainer is to make the dog greet the actor with all the excitement he would show if his master actually had been gone for a long time. To illustrate the difficulty of this kind of training, Spitz explained that teaching a dog to bark, growl, or whine on command is very difficult when his real master is not going to utter a word. Spitz describes the training of dogs for the movies as a process that relies on teaching them to respond to silent cues. It begins with a voice command, while at the same time giving the dog a hand or arm command, such as shaking the left hand, raising the right forearm, etc. Little by little, the trainer drops his voice, until the dog obeys the command when he sees the hand or arm move as the cue to perform.

In addition to the movies, comic book editors in the 1950s began to feature dogs and cats in their story lines. The opportunity to use dogs occurred early on when comic book characters such as Ace the Bat-Hound was created. This was the canine crime-fighting partner of Batman and Robin in 1950s and 1960s. Ace debuted in Batman #92 and was the forerunner to the success of Krypto’s debut in Adventure Comics (July 1955), which also featured the dogs in detective films and serials that included Rin Tin Tin. Ace was created by writer Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff. He was a German Shepherd Dog originally owned by an engraver named John Wilker. As the story developed, he was found by Batman and Robin after his master was kidnapped by a gang of counterfeiters. Batman used Ace to try to locate Wilker. Because he had already placed a large number of “lost dog” announcements for Ace in his civilian identity as Bruce Wayne, he was concerned that anyone recognizing Ace (who had a prominent star-shaped marking on his forehead) might make the connection between Bruce Wayne and Batman. To forestall that problem, he hastily improvised a hood-like mask for the dog that incorporated the bat emblem as a dog tag dangling from Ace’s collar. Ace was subsequently christened ‘The Bat-Hound’ by a criminal he helped Batman apprehend. Wilker later took a new job that made it difficult for him to take care of Ace, so he left the dog to Bruce

A modern-day version of Ace was reintroduced in Batman in June 1991. This dog assisted Batman in fighting criminals from Black Wolf’s tribe. Following Black Wolf’s death, Batman adopted Dog. He didn’t wear a mask, nor was he ever referred to as ‘Bat-Hound’. His appearance was that of a beagle-pug crossbreed with a bat-shaped dark patch on his flank. In the animated series “Batman Beyond” (late 1990s), an aged Bruce Wayne had a pet/guard dog named Ace, a Great Dane mix. He made his first appearance in the series premiere episode “Rebirth,” as a fiercely loyal pet to his master. Later, in an episode “Ace in the Hole,” Ace returns as a puppy, bought by Ronnie Boxer, the leader of an illegal dog-fighting ring. He escaped this abusive, violent life and soon found Bruce, a fellow tormented soul who was deeply affected by his parents’ murders. Since there was no one to claim Ace, Bruce took him in as his owner. In 2005, Cartoon Network, in their animated series’ “Krypto the Super dog”, featured Krypto, (Superman’s childhood dog). This new dog was equipped with various gadgets and equipment as an aid in his crime fighting efforts. His enemies include The Joker’s hyenas, Bud and Lou, The Penguin’s trained birds (Artie the Puffin, Griff the Vulture, and Waddles the Penguin), and Catwoman’s pet cat Isis (who flirts with Ace much like Catwoman flirts with Batman). Ace the Bat-Hound appears in the Batman “Legends of the Dark Mite” with vocal effects by Dee Bradley Baker. In this episode he helps Batman fight.

In closing, you will find a list below of many of the most popular dogs and cartoon/animated versions of them from the past half century, according to, which can be found on the internet. Search for “Top 50 movie dogs”.

1. Matisse, “Down and Out in Beverly Hills”, the neurotic Border collie owned by a rich but unhappy couple (Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler).

2. Buddy — from the “Air Bud” movies also played Comet in Full House.

3. Marley, of “Marley and Me” was played by 18 different dogs.

4. Zero, from “The Nightmare before Christmas”.

5. Lady and Tramp – A Walt Disney movie.

6. Toto – the Cairn terrier.

7. Milo. The dog from “The Mask” gets a bigger role in “Son of The Mask.”

8. Einstein. Was played by a real life dog named Freddie.

9. Jerry Lee. This furry canine from “K-9″ was played by a dog named Rando.

10. Skip. A dog named Enzo played Skip for most of “My Dog Skip”, but the All-star canine actor Moose (from “Frasier”) played him for a few scenes when Skip was older.

11. Benji. The first dog to play Benji was a shelter dog named Higgens.

12. Lassie. The original Lassie and his descendants have continued to play classic roles as a family dog

13. Asta. The brainy canine sidekick who played alongside Myrna Loy and William Powell in the popular detective comedies. The characters for the Thin Man films were based on the 1933 novel “The Thin Man” by Dashiell Hammett.

14. Reno. The Briard from “Top Dog”, a film with Chuck Norris.

15. Hooch. The real name, the French Mastiff from “Turner and Hooch”.

16. Slink. Also known as Slinky from “Toy Story”, is a toy Dachshund.

17. Chance and Shadow. Chance is played by a dog named Rattler, but was voiced by Michael J. Fox

18. Hercules. AKA, “The Beast”. Possibly the most misjudged dog in movie history. Hercules was played by a cuddly English Mastiff.

19. Petey. A pit-bull who appeared in “Our Gang” which was syndicated to TV in 1955, they lived on the silver screen in short films titled “The Little Rascals.”

20. Baxter — whose real name is Peanut — is a Border terrier mix.

21. Scooby Doo. A Great Dane introduced in the late sixties by Hanna Barbera. His other friends included Velma, Daphne and Fred.

22. Muttley. A mixed breed that was created by Hanna Barbera. At first, he wore only a collar, but in later incarnations he appeared wearing an aviator’s cap and scarf, and was a pilot.

23. Astro. Another Hanna Barbera creation, seen in the Jetsons and created as the space age equivalent of the “Flintstones”.

24. Marmaduke. A Great Dane appeared in the daily comics for over five decades.

25. Daisy. Appeared in the Chic Young strip “Dagwood” beginning in 1938. The Bumstead children grew into their teens, with buxom Blondie who started a catering business and lived with Dagwood. Daisy had five puppies one of which was called Elmer.

26. George P. Dawg. A Basset hound, portrayed as the barnyard dog with Porky Pig, was introduced in 1946. He also appeared as Porky’s pet and as a vagabond dog attempting to get Porky to adopt him.

27. Odie. A Jim Davis creation from 1979, Odie is described a loyal friend of the feline Garfield.

28. Buckles. He hates vacuum cleaners. His daily strip is unique in that Buckles has a handicapped friend, Lester, who gets about in a wheeled contraption that replaces his hind legs.

29. Otto. Appeared in an Army uniform that was created in the early ’50s and appeared in the comic strip “Beetle Bailey”. As a soldier, Otto served an amazing sixty plus year hitch.

30. Mr. Peabody. First seen on the “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show”. He was always found historical facts a little skewed. For instance, when his Latin was translated by the machine, a Roman delivering a speech turned out to be a used chariot salesman.

31. Sandy. Sidekick of little Orphan Annie in the comic strip and also a star in the Broadway show Annie.

32. Beethoven. St. Bernard. After his 1992 debut, Beethoven spawned a whole slew of comedies about slobbering St. Bernards.

33. Pluto: Pluto cartoon dog will always be the best friend of Mickey Mouse.

34. Pongo and Perdy. “101 Dalmatians”: The mom and pop from the movie.

35. Frank. The Pug, in Men in Black movies.

36 Sam. “I Am Legend”, The German Shepherd Dog, in the movie with Will Smith.

37. Hachi. “A Dog’s Tale” The 2009 sleeper starring Richard Gere, was a remake of a 1987 Japanese film based on the true story of Hachiko, the heart-breaking faithful dog who continued to walked to Shibuya Station every day to meet his owner, even after the owner’s death.

Dogs have been a major part of the entertainment world since the early 1900s. There is much more to this article and many great movies to see. I recommend to the interested reader that you start with There you will find some of the best movies that featured man’s best friend. Take a date and enjoy an evening together.

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Posted by on Apr 23 2013. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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  • March 2019