Most Famous Dogs: Top 5 Notable Pups In Pop Culture, According To Fans

Thousands of years ago, man’s best friend was first domesticated in Siberia. Since then, these fluffy loyal animals have become a part of families worldwide, making people’s faces smile and their hearts warm. And today, we are going to be exploring some of the most famous dogs throughout history. From house pups to movie stars, these canines have shown time and time again how important they are to the fabric of not just America, but to the world.

Take this study about crime in neighborhoods, for example. Researchers from The Ohio State University have found that neighborhoods that are home to more dogs experience less crime. Researchers say you don’t have to have an actual “watchdog” to keep your streets safe. Their results suggest that more people walking their dogs puts more “eyes on the street,” which discourages criminals from committing both violent and non-violent crimes. The team also found that property crimes and burglaries also drop off in neighborhoods because of dogs barking, which presents a visible threat to would-be burglars. This is just one of the examples of how dogs are good for the health and well-being of their owners. 

This isn’t shocking, though, as it is contrary to popular belief since being domesticated pups have gotten more intelligent over time, allowing them to use their wits and training to help and protect us. According to a new study, modern dog breeds, which are more genetically distant from their wolf cousins, have larger brains than other canines. But why? Enikő Kubinyi, a senior research fellow at the Department of Ethology at ELTE, theorizes that some of these dogs have a more complex social life than other breeds. Today’s breeds may also be adapting to the increasing impact of urbanization in the modern world, which brings about more rules and expectations for man’s best friend.

But we aren’t here to talk about the toughest, smartest, or most protective dog. Take a dive with us through pop cultural history as we discover the top five most famous dogs of all time from highly-trained actors to cartoon favorites. As always, if we missed your favorite, please let us know in the comments below! We would love to hear from you. And now, without further ado, check out these pooches and their claims to fame.

A "Wizard of Oz" stamp with Dorothy and Toto
A “Wizard of Oz” stamp with Dorothy and Toto (Photo by spatuletail on Shutterstock)

The List: Most Famous Dogs, According to Pop Culture Experts

1. Toto

Undeniably the most famous dog in history is Toto. “Toto, whose real name was Terry, was abandoned as a puppy. Luckily for her, however, she was adopted by German immigrant Carl Spitz, the unofficial dog trainer of Hollywood. With his help, she was trained to become one of her generation’s most coveted canine actresses, starring alongside some of the time’s biggest stars, including Judy Garland,” writes TopDogTips.

“The role of Toto in the 1939 film was played by Terry, and it’s reported that she was paid $125 each week, which was more than some of the human actors! Before her close-up in The Wizard of Oz, however, Terry was already well-versed in the ways of the silver screen. By the end of her career, she had been cast in 17 films, living to be 11 years old,” says Farmer Pete’s

“But why was the breed chosen for the film?” asks Country Living. “The Cairn Terrier is a native Scottish breed, taking its name from the Cairn – a small outcrop of stones which are common in the highland moors. The breed is very hardy and is also active, assertive, and fearless.” All qualities that would perfectly describe the companion to everyone’s favorite farm girl from Kansas. 

2. Lassie

“When it comes to famous dogs in movies and TV shows, they don’t get much more well-known than Lassie. This lovable Rough Collie that’s always getting into adventures and saving the day first appeared in a short story in 1939, but since then, she’s appeared in novels, movies, TV shows, and even video games,” notes Purina

“After first appearing in a short story in 1939, Lassie has been depicted in almost every form of media, most famously in movies throughout the 1940s and the 19-season-long TV show, ‘Lassie,’ which aired from 1954 to 1973. Lassie is a heroic rough collie, loyal, and always ready to save those in need,” says Insider. Six pups played the part of Lassie throughout the show’s run, but the longest reigning was a dog called Baby, who starred from 1960 to 1966.

“There’s no question about it: when talking about the most famous canines in the world, Lassie the movie star dog is top in most people’s minds. The original Lassie short stories were generally attributed to writer Eric Knight in 1938. However, the character’s roots may be traced back even further. British novelist Elizabeth Gaskell wrote a short story called The Half Brothers featuring a helpful female collie of the same name as early as 1859. The story revolves around Lassie, the female collie, an animal companion and protector who helps her various owners out of trouble whenever she can. The cinematic character’s tireless efforts were eventually even rewarded with her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles,” adds Tag 24.

3. Laika

Laika’s story is a historical marvel in space discovery, but unfortunately has a sad ending and controversy over how humane her involvement was. “One of the most famous dogs in the world is the first dog in space – Laika. Some have praised this dog because of the action she took part in, and others were in a state of shock that such cruelty was done to an innocent dog. We certainly don’t condone animal experiments, and such cruel ones are genuinely despicable. However, there is no denying that Laika holds a special place in the history of space exploration,” writes World Dog Finder.

“Laika was sent into space by the Soviet Union in Sputnik 2 in 1957 after being found on the streets of Moscow. Not much was known about the effects of space on animals, and in a hurry to beat the Americans in the Space Race, Laika was sent into orbit without a means to return her to Earth. She became the first living creature to orbit the Earth,” maintains Insider.

“Between 1951 and 1952, the Soviets began sending pairs of dogs into space, starting with Dezik and Tsygan. Overall, nine dogs were sent on these early missions, with four fatalities. By the time Sputnik 2 launched with Laika aboard, astrophysicists had figured out how to get the canine astronaut into Earth’s orbit but not how to get her back from space. Once in orbit, Laika survived and circled for a little more than an hour and a half before sadly perishing when the temperatures inside the craft rose too high,” sadly reports Smithsonian Magazine. Though not given a choice in her mission, her sacrifice and name should be well known around the world for what she did for space research. Laika, the space dog, was a mixed breed of a Siberian husky and a terrier and had a calm demeanor and even temperament. 

4. Rin Tin Tin

“Here’s a film star whose intriguing back story inspired a biopic, ‘Finding Rin Tin Tin,’ and a book, ‘Rin Tin Tin, The Life and the Legend,’ by Susan Orlean. Known as ‘The dog who saved Warner Brothers,’ the German shepherd and his descendants went on to star in movies and a long-running TV series,” says 247WallSt.

“Perhaps one of the most famous dogs in history and the most famous of his breed, Rin Tin Tin, was found in war-ravaged France during WWI and adopted by an American soldier named Lee Duncan.The rest of Rinty’s – an affectionate nickname he would come to be called – litter, sadly, didn’t make it. In his new life in Los Angeles, Rin Tin Tin was catapulted to stardom when he caught the eye of a filmmaker at a dog show where he reportedly jumped 12 feet high,” remarks TopDogTips.

“After he landed his first role, he starred in almost 30 films, some of which were created with just him in mind, resulting in him becoming one of the most famous dogs in movies known today. It’s also been said that Rin Tin Tin was the unofficial mascot of Warner Bros Studios, and he saved them from bankruptcy when they were just a small studio,” notes Purina.

5. Scooby Doo

Did someone say Scooby Doo? It must be time to solve a mystery! “Despite not being a real-life dog, Scooby-Doo is probably one of the most famous canines in the entire world. This famous dog has been around since the 60s, and since then, there’s been a wealth of moviesTV shows, and games – not to mention huge amounts of merchandise – made starring the cowardly Great Dane. It’s no secret that Scooby Doo has made a huge cultural impact on us all too; in fact, many of the sayings from the show have found themselves woven into our vocabulary,” says Purina. Jinkies!

"Scooby-Doo" logo and characters
“Scooby-Doo” logo and characters (Photo by Muza DS on Shutterstock)

“The cartoon Great Dane made his small-screen debut in 1969 and is still going strong in the comedic mystery-solving business. The 2002 feature movie ‘Scooby-Doo’ is among the top-earning dog movies of all time, grossing more than $181 million, and there will be no shortage of new opportunities to mark the big guy’s golden anniversary. Look for a new film, ‘Scoob!,’ a live touring show, ‘Scooby-Doo and the Lost City of Gold,’; a Christmas ornament, and even a postage stamp,” says 247WallSt.

“Scooby Doobie Doo, where are you? He is everywhere and has been around since 1969, when he started out as the furry partner and best fur friend to Shaggy on Saturday morning cartoons. Like Scooby himself, Great Danes are friendly furbabies and are nicknamed Gentle Giants because they are so large and gentle. They make excellent family pets because they love kids and other animals. Just don’t try to use him for a guard dog because this breed typically loves everyone. Scooby-Doo’s rise to fame could have been from the funny way he talks, but it is more likely that he is just a cute and lovable pooch. And even after all these years, everyone still knows who Scooby-Doo is,” adds Fluent Woof!

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

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About the Author

Jilly Hite

Janelle is a freelance writer from New York. Her writing focuses on parenting, tech, business, interior design, education, and telling people’s inspiring stories. Janelle has written for Mustela and Newton Baby and has bylines in Pregnant Chicken, Syracuse Woman Magazine, the Baldwinsville Messenger, and Family Times Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in literacy from the State University of New York at Oswego.

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  1. Very sad Hachiko didn’t make this list, but a cartoon dog did. This “Top 5” list needs to be re-examined, and the author further educated. Akitas are PROFOUNDLY loyal (as the owner of my third), and are FAR more notable than a cartoon character.

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