26 Famous Dogs Who Changed History

Updated June 20, 2019
Rescue dog searching building wreckage

Some of the most influential and famous dogs in history left their paw-prints on and around world events. Dog heroes have been marking history for as long as they've been man's best friend.

How Famous Dogs in History Changed Lives

"How many times has the fate of a man, or even a nation, hung from the collar of a dog," asks Dr. Stanley Coren, a noted psychologist and dog behavior expert. Dr. Coren is correct that some dogs have truly changed the course of human history, sometimes in small, personal ways and sometimes significant ones.


In the ancient city of Corinth in Greece in the year 456 BC, a guard dog named Soter was responsible for saving the city residents from an attack by Persians. The invaders quietly killed 49 of the 50 guard dogs so that their presence wouldn't be known to the Corinthians. Unfortunately for them, Soter escaped and alerted the city. The inhabitants were so grateful to this faithful dog, they built a statue commemorating him and a silver collar to wear with the words, "To Soter, defender and savior of Corinth" inscribed on it.


Alexander the Great, born in 356 B.C., lived to fight another day, thanks to his dog, Peritas. During an attack by Persia's Darius III, the warrior was charged by an elephant and faced almost certain death. The elephant was diverted when Peritas leaped into the air and bit its face. Alexander went on to forge the empire that became the base of Western civilization. Peritas' breed, Molossian, is now extinct and the closest modern relative would be the Mastiff.

Deer hunt mosaic from Pella


Robert the Bruce's faithful Bloodhound Donnchadh not only affected Scottish history, but U.S. history as well. Enemies of Robert used his dog to find him in hiding but were surprised when the dog turned on them when they tried to attack his master. Because of this dog hero's intervention the men were driven off and Robert the Bruce survived to become the King of Scotland. Later on, King George III of England's dispute with the colonies in the Americas led to U.S. independence. King George III was a descendent of Robert the Bruce and would not have been in place as King without Robert's surviving years prior.

Bloodhound puppy looking at camera


The massive St. Bernard is a family sight in mountainous parts of Switzerland where they have served for centuries as rescue dogs. Barry saved over 40 people between 1800 and 1812 and his acts of heroism are honored at the Natural History Museum in Berne, Switzerland. Barry sadly died when he was killed by soldiers from Napoleon Bonaparte's army who thought he was a bear.

The Fisherman's Dog

If not for the unnamed hero dog of a fisherman, Napoleon Bonaparte may have met with a different kind of Waterloo. Napoleon was exiled in 1815 to an island called Elba. While fleeing the island he fell from his ship in rough seas and was rescued by the fisherman's dog. The dog that saved Napoleon was reported to be a Newfoundland.

Closeup of black Newfoundland dog face


If all music soothed the savage beast, Richard Wagner's The Ride of the Valkyries might sound quite differently. During the mid-1800's, Wagner sat his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Peps, in a special chair and then performed his music for him. He kept or discarded passages based on the dog's reaction.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog

Old Drum

The story of Old Drum is a sad one. He was a black and tan hound that lived in Missouri. He was shot in 1869 when he wandered onto a neighboring farmer's property and killed. His grief-stricken owner, Charles Burden, sued the neighbor in court. The case went through several courts including the Missouri Supreme Court. During one of the trials, lawyer George Vest gave an impassioned summation that was later called "Eulogy of the Dog" and widely circulated. It was this speech that first used the phrase, "man's best friend." A monument to Old Drum now sits outside the courthouse in Warrensburg, MO and an annual festival is held in the town known as the "Home of Man's Best Friend."

Pavlov's Dogs

A Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov, is credited with accidentally discovering an important principle of animal behavior called classical conditioning. In the experiment he performed in the 1890's, Pavlov used several dogs to test the salivary response when presented with food. During the course of the experiments, he realized that the dogs were beginning to salivate in response to a stimulus that was unrelated to the food, such as a buzzer or a metronome. The dogs were learning that the noise predicted food was about to come, and this principle is used widely in both animal training and behavior modification as well as human behavior modification.

Sergeant Stubby

One of the most decorated war dogs in American military history, Sergeant Stubby was a small bully breed dog who appears to be a Boston Terrier or Bull Terrier or mix of those breeds from photos. The dog accompanied an infantry regiment to France during World War I as their mascot. He also assisted during battles by alerting the soldiers to incoming artillery and mustard gas as well as locating wounded soldiers thus saving many lives. He even captured a German spy with a bite and hold until his troops could arrive to take over. He received a medal for this action as well as for heroism after the war was over.

Rin Tin Tin

Much loved as one of the first dog Hollywood movie stars, Rin Tin Tin did more than act. He was so popular that his movies helped save Warner Brothers which was struggling with staving off bankruptcy during the 1920's. The beloved German Shepherd was nicknamed the "mortgage lifter" and "the dog who saved Hollywood" as a result. He reportedly received 50,000 fan letters every month and more votes than the best actor nominee for the Oscars. After Rin Tin Tin passed away, Rin Tin Tin III, his descendent, became a recruiting symbol for the Army's canine corps during World War II.


The year was 1925 and an epidemic of Diptheria raged in Nome, Alaska. Several dog sled teams carried the life-saving serum for a section of the 650 mile trek from Anchorage to Nome. A team of dog heroes led by Balto, a Siberian husky, made their part of the voyage in the dead of night in perilous weather. The final team that was to take over for them was asleep when they arrived and Balto and his team ended up finishing the journey for them despite being tired. The modern day Iditarod sled dog race was created in memory of the fateful journey of Balto and all the other sled dogs.


Buddy was a female German Shepherd who was trained in Switzerland as one of the first seeing eye dogs. She was given to Morris Frank in 1928, the first blind American to partner with a seeing eye dog. Frank, along with dog trainer Dorothy Harrison Eustis, brought the seeing eye dog program to the United States and created The Seeing Eye, the first training facility in the world for seeing eye dogs. With Buddy by his side guiding the way, Frank pushed for passage of laws allowing service dogs to have public access and these became the basis for the landmark American with Disabilities Act.

King Tut

A Belgian Shepherd owned by President Herbert Hoover, King Tut is credited with helping Hoover get elected in 1928. Hoover was characterized as an uncharismatic individual who lacked the sort of personal savvy that helps politicians win. However his photo was taken with him holding his dog which changed everything. The New York Times called it "one of the happiest pictures ever" of Herbert Hoover and it helped to boost his more personal side to the public.

Herbert Hoover and King Tut

Swansea Jack

In the 1930's, this Flat-coated Retriever lived by the Swansea docks in Scotland and had a knack for saving lives. Even as a puppy, his instincts were to help people and his first rescue was a 12 year old boy who was drowning. Over the course of his life he save approximately 27 people from the waters. He received many awards from the local city council for his bravery and is the only dog to ever receive two bronze medals from the National Canine Defence League. A water dog rescue training association awarded him with the name "Dog of the Century" in 2000 and a memorial was erected in his memory.


The famous Lascaux caves in France depict the most stunning display of prehistoric artwork in the world. The caves were discovered in 1940 because of the actions of a mixed-breed dog named Robot. The dog was walking in a forest with several young boys when he chased after a bunny and accidentally found a hole in the ground that led to the caves. The caves were a major find and changed scientists' understanding of prehistoric man and became a part of our world art history as well.


A tiny, four-pound Yorkshire Terrier named Smoky is credited with being the world's first therapy dog. Her life with the troops started when she was discovered in a foxhole by men serving in New Guinea during World War II. She helped to lay communications wires at an airbase in the Philippines that resulted in ensuring the survival of all of the men and planes at the base. She also helped troops recuperating in hospitals with amusing tricks and general canine cuddling and friendliness. In her later years when she was brought to the U.S., she was featured on TV and continued to work as a therapy dog, helping to start this trend that has helped to change countless lives.


Richard Nixon found himself in hot water in 1952 when he was accused of accepting $18,000 in illegal campaign contributions. In what became known as the "Checkers speech," Nixon diverted attention from the cash by admitting that he accepted a Cocker Spaniel named Checkers as a gift. He talked about how much his children loved the dog and defiantly announced that no matter what others thought the family would keep Checkers. The speech raised his ratings in the political polls, extended his career, and Checkers became famous.

Cocker spaniel dog closeup


Neil Armstrong's first step onto the moon's surface may have been spurred in part by Laika, a sweet-tempered stray from Moscow. Both the Cold War and the space race between the United States and Russia were at their height on November 3, 1957, when Russia launched Laika into space aboard Sputnik 2. The United States was lagging behind Russia before Laika's trip into space, but her travels signaled the nation to step up its game. Laika was nicknamed Muttnik by the press and rapidly became one of the most famous dogs in history. Sadly, she died from heat and stress just prior to re-entering the earth's orbit.


A Welsh Terrier named Charlie may have been the secret weapon that changed the course of the Cuban missile crisis. President John F. Kennedy sent for the dog on that fateful day 1962. He sat amid the hectic tension-filled War Room, petting the little dog that sat obediently on his lap. Observers said he appeared to relax, and after moments that felt like hours to those awaiting his command, he said he was ready to "make some decisions." Those decisions de-escalated the conflict.

The Dog Heroes of 9/11

There were many dogs that played a crucial role in saving lives during the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001. Over 300 working dogs were involved, searching for signs of life and helping rescuers pull people from the rubble.

  • Apollo - Only 15 minutes after jets crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Apollo, a member of the New York City Police Department K9 Unit, was one of the first dogs the scene. Apollo risked his life trying to find survivors in the rubble. He received a Dickin Medal for his work.

  • Roselle and Salty - Moments before the World Trade Center collapsed, Roselle and Salty, both yellow Labrador Retrievers, led their blind owners down over 70 flights of smoke-filled crowded stairs to safety. Roselle continued to walk her owner 40 blocks to safety once they left the Towers despite the chaos on the ground. Salty refused to leave his owner behind in the stairwell, even when he unleashed him to let him get to safety on his own. Both dogs received the Dicken Medal and Roselle receive the American Hero Dog award in 2011 from the American Humane Association.


The story of Rex and his handler/owner Megan Leavey were featured in the 2017 biographical film Megan Leavey. Megan was a U.S. Marine who became Rex's handler in 2003 and both served two tours in Iraq together, completing over 100 missions. Leavey and Rex were both hurt during a bomb blast and she left the Corps due to her injuries. When Rex's time as an explosives detection dog was at an end, she petitioned the Corps to be allowed to adopt him and was denied due to his issues with aggression. She eventually was able to after a battle to secure his adoption and Rex lived with her during the final eight months of his life. Along with the many lives they saved while on duty, their story helped to publicize the plight of military handlers trying to adopt their K9 counterparts and give them the peaceful life they deserve.


Lex, a German Shepherd Dog, worked as an explosives detection dog on deployment in Iraq as part of the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2007, he was seriously injured in an attack but still wouldn't leave the side of his handler, Dustin Lee, who sadly died as a result of the attack. Hero dog Lex was awarded with the Purple Heart for his work and became the first military dog allowed to retire early and be adopted. He went to live with his former handler's family and served as a therapy dog for wounded veterans.


A tiny Pomeranian, Boo is credited with being one of the first social media canine stars. His Facebook page began in 2009 and at its highest point had over 17 million likes. He was called "the cutest dog in the world." Boo's success ushered in other social media pets like Manny the Frenchie and Maru the Shiba Inu who not only gained massive fame but financial gain for their owners as well. Boo passed away in early 2019.


A Belgian Malinois, Cairo was an integral part of Seal Team Six, the elite Navy team that took down Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the terrorist group Al Qaeda in May 2011. Cairo parachuted in to the compound along with his fellow human team members and helped to keep them safe by alerting to explosives and other potential threats. Cairo was also the first military K9 put into service by the Seals. Cairo was awarded Animal of the Year by Time Magazine in 2011.

Dogs Can Change Lives

Any dog lover will agree, even the smallest dog can change the history of their owner's life with their love and canine loyalty. Some dogs have found ways to make their mark on history in even more startling ways which attests to their importance in our lives.

26 Famous Dogs Who Changed History