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There’s a subset of movie stars that never wins awards, isn’t gossiped about on TMZ, and is never recognized on the street. We’re talking about dogs, the canine actors that are often the heart and soul of a film. Throughout the history of cinema, stories of heroic dogs, lovable pups, and the bond between human and dog have won critical acclaim and the hearts of moviegoers. Let’s get to know a few of the real canine actors behind the characters (and see if you know the roles they played).

What Dog Played Toto?

Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images

Becoming one of the most celebrated dogs in film history, Terry, the Cairn Terrier, started life by being abandoned. Luckily, she was taken in by a loving couple, one of whom just happened to be Carl Spitz, owner of Carl Spitz’s Hollywood Dog Training School. Terry was riddled with insecurities and anxiety, so much so that she was known mostly for her unfortunate habit of peeing on the carpet.

Guided by Spitz, who had trained military dogs during World War I, Terry soon came out of her shell and showed a remarkable ability to learn. Terry won her first movie role — a small, uncredited role — in a 1934 comedy. That same year, her personality and charm won over a child actor, Shirley Temple, and Terry played Temple’s canine friend in the movie “Bright Eyes.” A string of movies followed, with Terry much in demand.

Between jobs, Terry lived the good life on Spitz’s ten-acre spread, playing in the fields and being fed homemade dinners daily. In 1939, Spitz learned that MGM was adapting a book by L. Frank Baum. The movie called for a dog that was not only talented, but also looked just like the illustrations in the book. Although hundreds of dogs auditioned, the well-trained, adorable Terry charmed the movie’s star, Judy Garland, and thus was born the indelible character of Toto, in “The Wizard of Oz.” Making over ten films, Terry lived out her retirement with the Spitz’s, dying in 1945 at the age of 12.

Fun Facts:

  • Terry was a female Cairn Terrier, but played a male role.
  • The dog earned $125 per week, more than some of the human actors.
  • Terry was officially renamed “Toto” after the film came out.
  • Terry is memorialized in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with a plot and life-sized statue. 

Watch The Wizard of Oz

What Dog Played Beethoven?

Photo by Universal Pictures/Getty Images

St. Bernards enjoyed a surge of popularity when one co-starred in a popular film in 1992. Trainer Carl Miller spent months looking for the right dog and almost gave up, when he met Chris, the two-year-old St. Bernard. Having trained a St. Bernard for the movies before, Miller was skilled at working with the dog, who was “trained to act untrained.”  For instance, the breed isn’t particularly agile or rambunctious and they’re not voracious eaters, either. But the role Chris played required him to be both. Of course, the drooling and shedding came naturally.

According to Miller, Chris’s script called for him to perform myriad tricks, some better suited to a dozen other dog breeds. Chris was so successful as the lead canine in the movie “Beethoven” that he starred in the sequel, “Beethoven II.” Chris passed away shortly after filming the sequel, having enjoyed retirement with the Millers.

Fun Facts:

  • An additional eight dogs worked as stunt doubles and understudies for Chris.
  • Sixteen puppies of various sizes played the role of Beethoven as a puppy.
  • Even though Chris weighed in at an impressive 200 pounds when full-grown, he weighed a mere 156 pounds during filming. To make him look larger, Miller said that many scenes were shot with Chris in the foreground.
  • Eighteen years afterBeethoven” was released, Chris, aka Beethoven, was named the public’s favorite movie dog, according to a poll by
  • Carl Miller, who trained Chris, also trained another St. Bernard, who played a much less lovable canine character, Cujo.

Watch Beethoven

What Dog Played Lassie?

Photo by CBS/Getty Images

Born in 1940 of an AKC litter, Glamis Collies, Pal, the Collie, was considered “pet quality,” and his new owner was having trouble training him. He chewed everything, chased motorcycles, barked constantly, and generally created mayhem in the house. So he brought Pal to Rudd and Frank Weatherwax, who had just started their Studio Dog Training School. Pal’s owner was so relieved to be rid of the dog that he gave Pal to the Weatherwax brothers, in lieu of payment for training.

The Weatherwax kennel now had forty dogs, many of whom did film work. But since there were no casting calls for Collies, Pal became the family pet. And that may have been the end of the story, until Rudd Weatherwax saw that MGM was holding auditions for a dog to star in a new film, and they wanted a Collie. He brought Pal to the casting call and the male Collie didn’t even make the first cut, especially since the movie called for a female dog.

Three hundred dogs went through the original casting call. When none of them proved to be capable of playing the role, Weatherwax took Pal directly to the movie’s director, Fred M. Wilcox. After a terrific screen test, Pal was cast in the movie’s starring role, Lassie. The film was such a success and Pal was such a star that he went on to star in six more MGM films.

One of the sequences Lassie is still-known for, he learned as the Weatherwax’s family pet: Rudd’s son Bob was known for roaming away on the property. So Rudd trained Pal to find Bob wherever he was and gently take his arm to lead him home—a move we saw in many a “Lassie” film and television show.

Fun Facts:

  • Pal earned more than his co-star, Elizabeth Taylor.
  • Pal played Lassie in the television pilots as well and after his retirement, every Lassie since is a direct descendant of Pal.
  • “Lassie Come Home” does not mean “Lassie, Come Home.” “Come-home dogs” was a phrase used to describe dogs that, no matter how often and how far they were taken from their master, always managed to find their way home.
  • Pal lived with Rudd Weatherwax until the end of the dog’s life, at age 18, in 1958. He is buried on the Weatherwax ranch.

Watch Lassie

What Dog is Hooch in Turner & Hooch?

Image result for turner and hooch movie cover

As iconic as the drooling Dogue de Bordeaux is in his starring role, the filmmakers weren’t even sure what breed of dog they wanted to cast. In fact, they looked at 50 breeds searching for the perfect canine co-star. Then they met Beasley. The Dogue de Bordeaux was born in 1978 at TNT Kennels in Wisconsin. Animal trainer Clint Rowe purchased him, along with Beasley’s stunt-double, for the film. The 17-month old pup had only five months to train for filming for his role as a “house-wrecking police dog that drank beer.”

Rowe said that while Beasley easily cracked the can open, they had to replace the beer with chicken soup in order to get Beasley to drink up. However, what he did do perfectly was slobber. In fact, he drooled so much in a one-hour stakeout scene that the car seat had to be replaced.

Beasley’s co-star, Tom Hanks, said in an interview with Larry King that shooting “Turner & Hooch” with Beasley was some of the hardest work he’d done as an actor. Unlike working lines with a human co-star, Hanks had to react to whatever Beasley did in the scene. Beasley died in 1992, at the age of 14, an unusually long life for the breed.

Fun Facts:

  • “Turner & Hooch” was Beasley’s first and only movie.
  • In many scenes of the movie, Beasley as Hooch just did things his way, a stubborn streak that’s a breed trait.
  • Prior to the movie’s release, there were only about three hundred Dogues de Bordeaux in the country. The breed gained new popularity as both pets and actors after the film came out.
  • A Dogue de Bordeaux later starred on “General Hospital” and one also starred in an episode of “Sex and the City.”
  • Clint Rowe, Beasley’s trainer had a small part in the movie.

Watch Turner and Hooch

What Dog Played Queenie in Water for Elephants?

Photo by Chelsea Lauren/WireImage

With his wild, crazy energy, this Parson Russell Terrier almost ended up in a shelter, after being rejected by two owners. Luckily, he was adopted by animal trainer, Omar Von Muller, who recognized Uggie’s intelligence, fearlessness, work ethic, and willingness to learn. Like many actors, Uggie’s first work was in commercials and in minor roles in even more minor movies. The terrier got his first big role playing alongside Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in the movie “Water for Elephants”, playing Queenie. But it was in an unusual movie, filmed in 2012, that Uggie reached stardom. He co-starred with human actor Jean Dujardin in the homage to silent films, “The Artist,” playing Jack, the loyal companion to Dujardin’s George Valentin.

Trainer von Muller worked with Dujardin to teach the actor the verbal commands and hand gestures that Uggie was trained to respond to. And, since it was a silent film, the trainer could call out commands just like in the old days of silent movies. Although there were two stunt dog doubles for Uggie, he actually did most of his own tricks. He was so good in the movie that some critics thought he stole every scene and both the public and Hollywood professionals fell in love with him.

When award season came around, the film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Uggie walked the red carpet with his fellow cast members and even went on stage with his co-star, Dujardin, at the Golden Globes. In fact, there was a groundswell of support for a campaign to let Uggie be considered for an Oscar and other awards. The British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA) responded by writing that Uggie wasn’t eligible because “he is not a human being and … his unique motivation as an actor was sausages.”

Uggie followed “The Artist” with roles on various television shows and other appearances. After retirement, he lived with the von Muller family until his death from prostate cancer on August 7, 2015.

Fun Facts:

  • Uggie was the first dog to have his paw prints memorialized in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
  • The Parson Russell Terrier wasn’t the first dog that merited Oscar consideration. According to anecdotal evidence, Rin Tin Tin won the most votes for Best Actor in 1929. The honor, however, went to Emil Jannings, since the academy had no intention of handing the award to a dog.
  • Uggie “wrote” his memoir, “Uggie, the Artist: My Story.”
  • He won the Palm Dog Award for playing Jack in “The Artist” at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Unlike the British and Americans, the French embraced awarding canine actors and Uggie won in the 11th year of the award given for best canine performance.

Watch Water for Elephants

Watch The Artist

What Dog Played Air Bud?Image result for air bud movie cover

The Golden Retriever who went on to a starring role in movies wandered out of the woods in the Sierra Nevada mountains and right into the life of trainer Kevin di Cicco. After finding Buddy while on a camping trip, di Cicco brought him home in 1989.

Like all Goldens, Buddy had an interest in — one might say an obsession with — balls. When di Cicco tried to shoot hoops in the front yard, Buddy would go after the ball. It was too big for him to actually hold in his mouth, so the basketball would shoot away from him every time. Buddy’s owner realized that if he stood a certain way and lobbed the ball to Buddy, the dog would jump for it and actually make a basket.

After they saw Buddy’s appearance on “The Late Shown with David Letterman,” the producers of an upcoming film brought Buddy in for an audition, to play the basketball-playing dog pal of a lonely young boy. The film’s producers were highly skeptical about the dog’s abilities until they set up a regulation-sized court on the studio lot and saw Buddy shoot and make the basket time after time. As long as the ball was served up to him correctly, he could sink it from all different angles every time.

During filming in 1997, the ball was deflated slightly and covered in olive oil, so it would spin out of Buddy’s mouth. Praise and treats followed every basket. “Air Bud” wasn’t a critics’ favorite, but did very well at the box office and spawned several sequels. However, Buddy wasn’t a young pup and didn’t act in any other “Air Bud” films. Not long after filming, he developed synovial cell sarcoma in his right hind leg and it had to be amputated. He died in his sleep on February 10, 1998.

Fun Facts:

  • Buddy also starred in “Full House” as Comet, alongside the Olsen twins.
  • Kevin di Cicco taught Buddy several sports, including soccer, football, and hockey.
  • His first appearance was on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
  • Buddy was twice nominated for a Kids’ Choice Award as the favorite animal star.
  • Kevin di Cicco wrote about Buddy in his 2012 book, “Go Buddy! The Air Bud Story.”

Watch Air Bud

Do Dog Actors Have Understudies?

Sometimes it’s a team effort. Along with understudies and stunt dogs, many films use more than one dog to play a role. After all, just like their human counterparts, characters age, change, and perform daring acts the actual actors could never do. In truth, some of your favorite canine characters were played by several dogs.

  • Shadow and Chance (“Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey”): Four Golden Retrievers played Shadow and four Bulldogs played Chance.
  • Hachi (“Hachi, A Dog’s Story”): Three different Akitas, Leyla, Chico, and Forrest, played Hachi, along with several puppies to portray his young years.
  • Marley (“Marley & Me”): a whopping 22 different Labrador Retrievers played Marley at different stages of his life. While Clyde got the most screen time, other Retrievers were used for specific activities in which they excelled.
  • Max (“Max”): Although Carlos, the Belgian Malinois, is at the heart of the role, five other dogs of the breed played Max in various scenes of the movie. Carlos had most of the close-ups; Jagger was the main understudy; Pax did most of the running scenes and was good at bearing his teeth; Dude excelled at jumping; and Pilot was the best at fight scenes.
  • Winn-Dixie (“Because of Winn-Dixie”): the character of the “mixed-breed” dog in this film wasn’t actually a mixed breed at all. It wasn’t even one dog. The unusual breed, Berger Picard, was chosen because of its tousled appearance. Five different Berger Picards played the title role.

Everyone has their favorite dog movie, and they all deserve recognition. This is just a small sampling of the terrific canine actors who have brought us so much enjoyment, tears, and laughs at the movies.
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