Top dogs in pop culture

Top dogs in pop culture

Lovable and hilarious, pop culture purebreds leave an indelible mark on our hearts.

Our lifelong devotion to the breeds we cherish often starts through the pop culture characters that pull our heartstrings and leave us in stitches. From live action depictions to the artistic license taken by visual artists and animators, these are a few of our favourite pop culture purebreds, and their real-life stories.

Great Dane – Marmaduke

The gentle comic giant, Marmaduke, gave dog devotees a hilarious insider’s look at life with a big dog. The Great Dane was featured in single frames that brought laughs with bed-hogging, food-stealing, and belly-laugh dog boss antics week after week. Strip creator Brad Anderson modelled Marmaduke’s slapstick scenarios after Laurel and Hardy, and the love for the cartoon dog grew bigger than his actual size.

Marmaduke was so lovable, in fact, that the American Kennel Club and the Great Dane Club of America released a joint statement in advance of Marmaduke’s animated film release in 2010, cautioning future Great Dane owners to do their research in case they were feeling starstruck by the fictional character.

“They eat a lot of food and take up a lot of space in your home and car,” cautioned the clubs.

Marmaduke was a gangly, space-hogging goof of a dog, whereas the actual breed is known as sleek and elegant. Anderson did, however, capture the lovable nature of these massive dogs who steal homes and hearts during their remarkable lives.

German Shepherd – The Littlest Hobo

Known for their devotion and courage, the German Shepherd edges out the Newfoundland Dog as a perfect representation of our Canadian spirit, thanks to this cult classic that gave guest spots to a long list of celebs, such as Mike Myers and Megan Follows. The CTV production, starring London, a crime-fighting, mystery-solving, people-helping German Shepherd, ran for six years in 80 countries; in fact, this is how many regions of the world came to know Canada between 1979 and 1985.

Each half-hour show took five days to shoot and, usually, five dogs — with London as the lead, younger dogs in training, and older dogs for stunts. Hobo’s antics appealed to kids, but it was the kitschy plots that turned the show into perfect programming for all members of the family. The Littlest Hobo is recognized as a cornerstone of Canada’s pop culture mosaic, and it groomed future generations of German Shepherd fans.

Labrador Retriever — Brian Griffin 

For fans of the eight-year-old Brian Griffin, the sardonic, intelligently superior dog of Family Guy fame, his breed is rarely referenced. While Labs are known for being loyal family pets, and remarkably supportive therapy and guide dogs, with Brian’s personality, you might not want to let him take the lead.

The dog with the sharp wit and even sharper tongue is clearly the master of his domain on this animated sitcom for adults. He drives, walks on two legs, smokes, drinks, and has proudly recovered from a cocaine addiction.

Voiced by Seth MacFarlane, Brian speaks multiple languages, which is not unlike a real life Lab looking for treats.

Family Guy airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on Citytv.

“Hound Dog” – Elvis

When a young, fresh-faced Elvis Presley debuted “Hound Dog” on Milton Berle’s show in 1956, he had no idea that the B-side to “Don’t be Cruel” would cause such scandal; but, like the howling of a hound, his gyrating hip moves could not be ignored.

Recorded previously by “Big Mama” Thornton, this classic hit was all about a good-for-nothing hound dog of a man, snooping around her door. Elvis, with the advice of his producers, worked with sanitized lyrics, making the song more comically about a dog who never caught a rabbit, who howled incessantly, and who in no way lived up to the whole “man’s best friend” brand.

While the song doesn’t identify exactly what kind of a hound Elvis is dressing down, a baying Beagle or Basset hound sure do fit the bill.

Peter Pan’s Nana – from Newfoundland Dog to Saint Bernard

Imagined by J.M. Barrie in 1904, the first incarnation of Nana was a Newfoundland Dog. Equal parts maternal, caring, and sweet, Newfs are known as gentle giants because of their hardworking, empathetic ways.

By the time Disney’s animators started working with the adaptation of Barrie’s stage play for the film classic, Peter Pan, Nana had been reimagined as a Saint Bernard.

Both patient and understanding as a breed, the Saint Bernard also fit the bill. Tasked with looking after John, Michael, and Wendy Darling, the animated dog with the sad eyes and lumbering gait was eager to please; making beds, administering medicines, and cleaning up messes created by children at play.

While Barrie himself enjoyed both breeds as beloved companions during his lifetime, he was not alive to see the delightful Disney portrayal of Nana as the Saint Bernard who, being blamed for the kids’ antics, was banished to the yard on the night the Darling children adventured to Neverland.

Cairn Terrier – Toto from The Wizard of OZ

One of the oldest terrier breeds, Carin Terriers are known for needing firm, solid training, which is how a spunky gal named Terry ended up on the front steps of a dog trainer’s home when she wouldn’t take her business outside. Frustrated by her on-the-rug messes, Terry’s owners never returned for the small dog — who had soiled her way into the care of Carl Spitz of Hollywood Dog Training School fame.

Taking the notion of working dog to the next level, Terry appeared in over 20 motion pictures in her short life. But it was her 1939 role of Toto that brought pop culture fame to the wee girl, who almost didn’t survive the film shoot after a Winkie guard stepped on her and broke her foot.

The young Judy Garland cared for Terry during her two-week recovery period, falling head over ruby heels in love with the cheerful, busy pooch. Garland begged to keep Terry, but Spitz declined.

With fame impossible to escape, Terry officially changed her name to Toto in 1942, and with that came an unofficial name change for the breed, as many fans searched our their own “Toto” dogs.

The four-legged film star crossed the Rainbow Bridge in 1945 and was buried on Spitz’s ranch. And while there’s no place like home, Toto’s final resting place sadly became the new Ventura Freeway in 1958.

Bulldogs, Saint Bernards, a Border Collie, and a Great Dane – “A Friend in Need”

What happens when you invite a couple of Bulldogs to a poker game? Clearly, card sharking, as the iconic painting “A Friend in Need” suggests. Painted by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge in 1903, the work takes artistic license with all the breeds portrayed.

The artist completed 18 paintings in total — featuring dogs engaging in some very human activities — for Brown and Bigelow, a printing company notorious for hiring ex-cons after founder Herbert Bigelow did hard time for tax evasion. The images were used to promote and sell cigars before growing in pop culture fame to become the epitome of US kitsch. The original, “Friend in Need”, has been re-worked in numerous films and television shows and is often just called “Dogs Playing Poker”.

Note: There is no evidence that Bulldogs are more likely to cheat in poker than any other breed. For the most part, they are known to be lovable companions who sniffle from time to time!

+ posts

Barbara Shaw spends her days crafting creative content to get folks engaged through traditional, electronic and social media. She shares her office in rural Ontario with a trio of senior dogs who sleep through most deadlines