From stars of stage and screen to historical heroes, our culture is littered with famous dogs. Our four-legged friends are capable of reaching huge levels of celebrity for their acting and performing abilities, bravery and loyalty, and in a world in which online celebrity has become a form of fame in its own right, dogs have even been able to get into this market, as models and even as influencers.
The History of Famous Dogs
Predating even the development of agriculture by almost 20,000 years, the domestication of dogs is the closest bond that humans have with another species of animal. Small wonder, then, that as history has progressed some of man’s best friends have ended up as celebrated as their owners.
Dogs have a central place throughout history, going all the way back to ancient times. In ancient Egypt, mummified dogs were buried with their owners or sometimes in their own coffins. In Greek mythology Cerberus, the so-called hound of Hades, is a multi-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving. With three heads, a serpent for a tail, and snakes protruding from multiple parts of his body, his capture was the last of the Twelve Labours of Heracles.
Often, the fame of these dogs would come about as a result of the bravery they showed. Alexander the Great had more than 150 dogs but one of them, Peritas, was so beloved by his master that when he died a city in India was named in his honour. It’s not even known now what breed Peritas was, but there are stories of this dog fighting off lions and elephants in order to protect his master. King Henry VIII’s favourite hunting dogs were called Cut and Ball: on one occasion that they went missing, he paid nearly 15 shillings as a reward for their return, an amount equivalent to £315 in 2023, and at the time 25 days’ wages for a skilled tradesman.
Traditionally, dogs would often achieve ‘celebrity’ status because they were companions to extremely well-known and powerful individuals, but in more recent times they have also increasingly reached celebrity status because of their own achievements. In 1924, a family called the Braziers went on a car trip from Indiana to Oregon, a journey of 2,500 miles, with their dog, Bobbie. The family were left heartbroken when he disappeared while they were away and had to return without him, but were astonished six months later, when he turned up at their front door again. When the press reported on the story Bobbie became a nationwide sensation, with a silent movie being made of it.
Different breeds of dog have gained fame and recognition for a variety of different reasons, from impressing royalty sufficiently to earn a name of their own to being an unusual breed featuring on a television show. During the early part of the 18th century, John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, kept red and white spaniels for hunting and recorded their particular usefulness in being able to keep up with a trotting horse. His estate was named Blenheim in honour of his victory at the Battle of Blenheim. Because of this influence, the red and white variety of the King Charles Spaniel and thus the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel became known as the Blenheim.
In more recent times, some breeds of dog have become considerably higher profile because of which celebrities are seen out and about with them. French bulldog owners have included David Beckham, Hugh Jackman and Lady Gaga, while Pomeranian owners have included Mischa Barton, Kim Kardashian West and Gwen Stefani, and chihuahua owners have included Demi Moore, Katherine Heigl, Paris Hilton. Sometimes, all it takes for an unusual breed to achieve fame is to be featured in a television series. When the Channel Four comedy series Spaced featured a miniature schnauzer at the turn of the of the century, for example, interest in the breed skyrocketed.
Famous Dogs From Different Fields
Famous Dogs in Entertainment
Historically, the most famous dogs in entertainment have come from television and the movies. Perhaps the first internationally-famous acting dog was Rin Tin Tin, who was rescued from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier and trained to act in movies. These movies would become a huge commercial success, and are widely credited with having been instrumental in the growth of the Warner Bros studio company. By the time of his death in 1932, Rin Tin Tin had appeared in 29 movies, with a further 14 movies starring his son, Rin Tin Tin II, being made throughout the 1930s.
Arguably even greater fame would befall Terry, who played Dorothy’s pet dog Toto in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz and who also appeared in 22 other movies. The influence of these two from the early years of cinema would run deep, and dogs would continue to become the stars of shows. Lassie first appeared in the 1943 movie Lassie Come Home and then a further six movies by 1951, while Old Yeller, a 1957 tear-jerker about a boy and a stray dog in post-Civil War Texas, has been interred in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Famous Dogs in Sports
The first modern greyhound race–with dogs chasing an electrically-propelled artificial ‘hare’ round an oval track–in England took place in Manchester in July 1926, and the new sport was an immediate hit, with tens of thousands attending floodlit evening meetings and Live commentary on the equally new BBC Radio service. No celebrities in this new sport during this early rapid growth era were bigger than Mick the Miller, a dog whose racing career only lasted three years before ending through injury, but who became internationally famous, with articles about him featuring in Welt im Bild (Germany), the Herald Sun (Australia) and The American Weekly as he shot to fame from 1929 to 1932.
He retained his celebrity status after the end of his racing career, even making a guest appearance alongside Flanagan & Allen in a 1934 movie, Wild Boys. Upon his death in 1939, it was established that Mick the Miller had earned £20,000 throughout his racing and post-racing careers; that’s just over £1m, adjusted for inflation to 2023.
Dogs and football have a mixed relationship. During the 1962 World Cup finals, a stray dog got onto the pitch during the quarter-final match between England and Brazil. After eventually coaxing the dog into his arms, the England striker Jimmy Greaves was dismayed to find the dog so upset that it had relieved itself on his shirt. The incident so amused the Brazil winger Garrincha that he adopted the dog after the match.
And four years later, when the World Cup was being held in England, the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen from a stamp exhibition to which it had been loaned to go on display. Amid a huge police hunt across London, the trophy was eventually recovered by a dog called Pickles from a hedge outside a house in Upper Norwood, South London. Pickles became a national star and his owner, David Corbett, bought a house with the £5,000 reward money.
But while a loose dog on the pitch can be a cause for great excitement for the crowd, it can represent danger to players. On the 27th November 1970, a dog got onto the pitch during a match between Colchester United and Brentford, running into the Brentford goalkeeper Chic Brodie at such pace that it seriously damaged the player’s knee ligaments, which ultimately resulted in the end of his professional career.
Famous Dogs in Service (Past and Present)
Of course, dogs are famed for their loyalty and their bravery, so it is no surprise that some of the most famous dogs from history have been service dogs. One the first to reach true fame was Stubby, a Boston Terrier mix who was smuggled to the front line of World War I by his owner and who took part in four battles himself and survived. Rin Tin Tin, the aforementioned movie star, was first found as a service dog.
Perhaps one of the most famous dogs of all should probably be classified as a service dog. Laika was picked up from the streets of Moscow as a stray early in 1957 and sent into space aboard Sputnik 2, becoming the first animal to orbit the earth before sadly dying from overheating later in the flight. In the years following her death, the fact that Sputnik 2 had been designed to be non-recoverable became an increasingly controversial point, and this spacecraft was consequently the last to be designed in such a way.
Achievements and Contributions From Famous Dogs
Dogs don’t necessarily have to be involved with the military to show remarkable loyalty. Service comes in many shapes, with one of the most celebrated of all showing a level of devotion to his owner that resulted in him becoming something of a literary trope. John Gray was an Edinburgh gardener who also worked as a nightwatchman for the Edinburgh City Police. After he died of tuberculosis in 1858 and was buried in a cemetery in the city his dog, Greyfriars Bobby, continued to guard his tomb until his own death in 1872. This story of pure and unwavering loyalty has become a well-known part of Edinburgh local legend.
But the actions of dogs in service have gone far beyond mere loyalty alone. During World War 2 at the Battle of Lye Mun, while fighting off Japanese troops attempting to invade Hong Kong, a Newfoundland called Gander picked up a grenade with his mouth and ran off with it, saving the lives of seven soldiers at the expense of his own.
In more recent times Lucca, a German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix, was deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan by the US army. She served on more than 400 missions during her tenure, finding ammunition, explosives, and insurgents at least 40 times during her six-year career before losing her front left leg to a detonation beneath her in 2012. She survived and received a medal for gallantry four years later.
Such bravery and loyalty has inspired both writers and painters to memorialise dogs. Portraits of dogs by great artists are so commonplace that there is an exhibition of them showing in London from March until October 2023. And dogs have been in literature for as long as there has been literature. Argos, loyal hound of Odysseus, features heavily in Homer’s Odyssey, while Bill Sykes’ brutish Bull’s-eye is a scene-stealer in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, a snarling, scarred manifestation of the blackness at the heart of his owner’s soul.
Pop Culture Influence of Famous Dogs
Some of the famous dogs to have come from pop culture have been animated. Arguably the two most famous fictional dogs of all, Snoopy and Scooby-doo, are both animated. Snoopy started in newspaper columns at the start of the 1950s. By the end of the 1960s he’d moved into television, movies, and merchandising and he remains a global pop culture icon to this day, despite the death of creator Charles M Schultz early in 2000, shortly after his original ‘Peanuts’ newspaper series came to an end.
By this time Snoopy had been joined at the top of the cartoon dog tree by Scooby-Doo, an mystery-solving Great Dane with a gang in tail who came about when protests from parents’ groups forced US television networks to rethink their Saturday morning cartoon schedules in the 1960s. Originally intended–as The Jetsons and The Flintstones had been–as a family show, essentially an animated sitcom, Scooby-doo moved towards a younger audience in the early 1970s and remains one of its creators Hanna Barbera’s most popular franchises to this day.
Children’s television has been a particularly safe space for dogs both real and anthropomorphic since more or less its very beginning. Blue Peter has had dogs for more than 50 years, while two of the most inventive television shows of recent years have both featured them; Hey Duggee and Bluey, the critical reception to which have been sufficiently positive to reinforce the idea that kids’ TV is where a lot of the most thoughtful and inventive broadcasting takes place, these days. And cartoon dogs aren’t just for kids, either. Brian Griffin has been the best friend to Peter in Family Guy since 1999. When they killed the character off in November 2013 there was a considerable outcry, although it had already been written into the script that he would return two episodes later.
Internet Famous Dogs
Of course, the arrival of the internet has added a whole new layer to celebrity, and the most famous dogs on the internet are now worth millions of pounds.
Boo the Pomeranian
Boo belonged to a San Francisco-based Facebook employee who created a Facebook page for the dog with the statement “My name is Boo. I am a dog. Life is good.” He became popular in October 2010 after singer Kesha sent a tweet that she had a new boyfriend, linking to the page.
Chronicle Books, noticing that Boo had 5 million Facebook fans at the time, approached the owner to write a picture book. In August 2011, Boo: The Life of the World’s Cutest Dog, was published. The book was eventually published in ten languages. A second book followed, Boo: Little Dog in the Big City, as well as a calendar and plans for a cut-out book and additional children’s books. It is not known whether these books were ghost-written. By the time of his death in January 2019, Boo had 20m followers on Facebook.
Jiffpom is a male chihuahua and internet celebrity who has been called the “most famous dog in the world”. He has over 16m followers on Instagram and his own YouTube channel with over 2m subscribers. He holds two Guinness World Records for his speed and has made a number of appearances, including in Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” music video, films including 2013’s Adventures of Bailey: A Night in Cowtown, and TV shows including an appearance in a 2016 episode of the Disney series Bizaardvark.
Manny the Frenchie
Born in Chicago and named after the Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, Manny the Frenchie had more than 20,000 followers on Twitter, more than 1.4 million likes on Facebook and more than 900,000 followers on Instagram. Used as a canine model for American Apparel, Converse and Martha Stewart’s PetSmart line, and also featured on long-time Family Feud host Steve Harvey’s television chat show. Sadly, Manny died in July 2023 at the age of twelve.
While the celebrity of Boo, Jiffpom and Manny can be ascribed to them being almost unbearably cute, sometimes dogs on the internet find fame through their sense of style. Menswear Dog–actual name Bodhi–is a shiba inu from New York who by 2014 was already being reported to bring in $15,000 a month in modelling contracts. The list of brands queuing up to avail themselves of his services was very long. Bodhi has modelled for Coach, Victorinox Swiss Army, Ted Baker, American Apparel, Brooks Brothers, Salvatore Ferragamo, ASOS, Hudson Shoes, Revlon, Todd Snyder, The Tie Bar, Polyvore and Purina, among others. His owners, both fashion designers, designed many of the clothes that he wore on his own channel themselves.
Tuna the Dog
Tuna was abandoned by his original owner near San Diego in 2010, and was adopted at a farmer’s market in Los Angeles. His owner used Tuna’s celebrity status to raise money for animal rescue groups and to promote animal welfare generally. By 2015, he had 1.3 million followers on Instagram and when his book, Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog With The Overbite, was released in early 2015, a book tour was arranged to take place during March in the United States, with events held to benefit local animal rescue societies such as the Animal Rescue League of Boston, and PAWS Chicago.
Legacy and Memorials for Famous Dogs
Just as we celebrate them as they live, we mourn them when they pass. Laika, the first dog to orbit the earth, is memorialised in the form of a statue and plaque at Star City, the Russian Cosmonaut training facility near Moscow, while Rin Tin Tin is spending his eternity at the Cimetière des Chiens in Paris, where a statue of him with a young boy on his back adorns his grave.
A headstone for Greyfriar’s Bobby was erected by The Dog Aid Society of Scotland and unveiled by the Duke of Gloucester on the 13th May 1981 with the monument reading, “Greyfriars Bobby – Died 14 January 1872 – Aged 16 years – Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all”. In 2021 a new monument to mark the 150th anniversary of the dog’s death was placed close to the east wall of Greyfriars Kirk. This monument is also featured in our Dog Friendly Edinburgh Guide, in case you’d like to see it yourself.
Another of the most famous canine statues had a far more explosive back-story. The Brown Dog affair was a vivisection case which gripped Edwardian Britain. In December 1902 and February 1903, two Swedish feminists and anti-vivisection activists attended a lecture at the University College London, and what they claim to have saw resulted in a libel trial, battles between medical students and the police, police protection for a statue of a dog, and eventually the establishment of a Royal Commission to investigate the use of animals in experiments.
It was claimed that William Bayliss of the university’s Department of Physiology had performed an illegal vivisection on a brown terrier dog in which the dog was inadequately anaesthetised at these lectures, but Bayliss vehemently denied the claims, sued for libel, and won.
Anti-vivisectionists commissioned a bronze statue of the dog as a memorial which was unveiled near the UCL in Battersea in 1906, but medical students angered by its inscription—”Men and women of England, how long shall these Things be?”—frequently vandalised it, eventually resulting in the need for a 24-hour police guard. On the 10th December 1907, hundreds of medical students marched through central London waving effigies of the brown dog on sticks, clashing with suffragettes, trade unionists and the police, one of a series of battles which became known as the Brown Dog riots.
In March 1910 Battersea Council sent four workers accompanied by 120 police officers to remove the statue under cover of darkness, after which it was reportedly melted down by the council’s blacksmith, despite a 20,000-name petition in its favour. A new statue of a brown dog, again commissioned by anti-vivisection groups, was erected in nearby Battersea Park in 1985. During Edwardian times, the Brown dog affair was a subject which came to divide the country as a lightning-rod for other political issues, part of the culture wars of its day.
Our relationship with dogs is ancient–archaeology has proved that it pre-dates the last ice age by several thousand years–and that relationship is based on a purity of trust that has lasted longer than the grandest civilisations and widest-ranging empires. Reflected in the eyes of dogs we see a reflection of ourselves, of the unconditional love and cruelty of which we’re capable, and of loyalty and a bond that defies a need for shared language beyond tone of voice and body language.
Small wonder, then, that as our interest in celebrity has grown over time, so have dogs grown to become famous in their own rights as well. Alexander the Great and Henry VIII’s dogs are remembered because they were Alexander the Great and Henry VIII’s dogs. To the extent that it could even be categorised as such, those who came to rule over vast swathes of land were the ‘celebrities’ of their time. More recently, we’ve become interested in the pets of politicians–why do I even know that former US president Richard Nixon had a spaniel called Checkers?–and, increasingly, the rich and famous.
But there also remain a small number who find themselves buried in the national consciousness through something they’ve achieved, whether something related to valour or gallantry, or through having another singular form of ability, such as acting or performing. And the role of the animals who are involved in performance–and there really are too many to mention–bring joy into our lives in ways that it can sometimes feel human performers simply cannot match. Just as our relationship with dogs is eternal, so we’ll continue to put them on pedestals for so long as we place value upon celebrity itself. And why not? After all, they are all good boys and good girls, which is more than can be said for quite a lot of us humans.