Behind every major battle and seismic cultural touchstone, you’ll find not just historical human figures, but canine ones as well. Dogs truly are man’s best friends, and they have proven it throughout history. As faithful and loving animals, they often find ways into the spotlight, gaining the affection and adoration of the public, and that’s what inspired a list of the most famous dogs in history. Over the years, some dogs have become famous for heroic deeds, such as serving in the military or bringing medicine in harsh weather conditions. Some dogs have reached an incredible level of fame that some people could only dream of.
Here are 10 most famous dogs in history and their stories behind them.
Tokyo professor Hidesaburo would walk with Hachiko to his train stop every day, and every evening the dog would return in time to walk him home. He did this for years, until one day in May 1925, when Hachiko’s owner failed to show up as he had suffered a fatal hemorrhage and died. But Hachiko kept returning to Shibuya Station for nine years thereafter, still waiting for his master to return at the exact time the train arrives. Once the dog’s legend spread, other commuters started bringing him food and treats. After Hachiko’s death in 1935, a statue was erected at the station in honor of him and his great loyalty.
Laika was the very first dog to travel into orbit on Sputnik 2. In 1957 she was picked up along with two other strays for the Soviet space program from the streets of Moscow. She was trained for the Soviet Space Program, to venture out in Sputnik 2. Things went smoothly at first but sadly, the Russians had no plan to bring the ship back to Earth and Laika died in space.
- Rin Tin Tin
Perhaps not only one of the most famous dogs in history but also 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. Shortly thereafter, Rin Tin Tin came to star in nearly 30 films, many of which were written specifically for him. Before his sudden death which left his owner devastated, Rinty was the unofficial doggie mascot of Warner Bros. Studios, effectively saving the small studio from bankruptcy.
Two-year-old Bobbie was separated from his owners while on a family road trip in 1923. Believing him to be lost for good, the family had to return home without their beloved pet. Six months later, the dog showed up on their doorstep, after traveling 2,551 miles over all kinds of rough terrain in winter. When he passed away, it’s said that fellow wonder dog Rin Tin Tin came and paid respects.
Nemo is considered the most famous war dog. He was part of a unit during the Vietnam War whose sole purpose was to find and capture enemy intruders. Even when he got shot in the face, he still went on the attack and helped his unit capture four enemy combatants. At his death in 1972, Nemo received a proper burial, with his tombstone inscribed “May all who hear the story of Nemo, know the true measure of Man’s Best Friend”. Today he’s considered not only one of the most famous dogs in history but one of the greatest war veterans.
Just 5 months after being stationed in Fallujah, Iraq, Marine Dustin Lee and his trained canine companion, Lex, encountered a rocket attack which was fatal for Dustin. Lex, although injured by shards and shrapnel, survived the attack. But despite his wounds, Lex wouldn’t leave his partner. He had to be dragged away to be treated by medics. After Dustin’s death, his ailing family, Jerome and Rachel Lee appealed to the U.S. military to adopt poor Lex. He was awarded an honorary Purple Heart, along with an Award for Canine Excellence by the American Kennel Club in 2008. Lex died of cancer aged 13 in 2012.
Walk through Central Park in New York City and you might just stumble upon a statue of this important pup. In 1925, he served as the lead sled dog for a life-saving medical delivery from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, where people were dying of diphtheria. Balto and his team covered the last leg of the seven-day ride to Nome—and by that time, the weather was so bad that the sled driver had to rely on the dogs to navigate. Luckily, Balto pulled through, and the medicine arrived in the city safely, making the dog a celebrated hero.
In Greek Mythology, Argos was the faithful dog of Odysseus, King of Ithaca. When Odysseus went on a long voyage for the Trojan War, his faithful dog waited 20 years for him to come home, and even recognized him dressed as a beggar. Not even his family could recognize the brave king.
Though the character Lassie was just fictional, the dog who played the famous canine was far from it. Born in 1940, this animal actor’s name was Pal, and he—yes, he—starred in seven Lassie movies and even a few television pilots before retiring in the late 1950s. Upon his retirement, one of Pal’s descendants took his place as the iconic Lassie, though none of his relatives would ever have “the most spectacular canine career in film history” quite like he did.
- Sergeant Stubby
The most decorated dog of World War I and the only dog to be nominated for rank and then promoted to sergeant. Stubby was a stray found wandering the campus where the 102nd Infantry was training. A corporal took the dog in and smuggled him aboard when he was shipped out. When the commanding officer discovered him, Stubby saluted just as he had been trained to do in camp. He went on to serve 18 months and saw 17 battles. After the war, his celebrity status found him leading parades, meeting presidents, and becoming the official mascot of the Georgetown Hoyas. Upon his death in 1926, his New York Times obituary filled half a page.