12 Famous Dogs in History

From impacting the Cuban missile crisis to saving Hollywood, these dogs have changed history and inspired millions.

Updated October 11, 2023

Dogs have left their paw-prints on and around more world events than you may realize. From 9/11 to presidential elections, to the Cuban missile crisis, these famous dogs in history have had tremendous impact. Plus, they looked adorable while doing it all. (That's a good boy!)

Barry the Saint Saved 40 People


The massive Saint Bernard is a familiar sight in mountainous parts of Switzerland, where they have served for centuries as rescue dogs. One specific dog has special honors among the rescuers, Barry. Barry saved over 40 people between 1800 and 1812. He is honored at the Natural History Museum in Berne, Switzerland

Old Drum Who Inspired The Phrase, "Man's Best Friend"


Old Drum was a black and tan hound that lived in Missouri. A neighboring farmer shot and killed him in 1869 when he wandered off his owner's property. His grief-stricken owner, Charles Burden, sued the neighbor in court.

The case went through several courts, including the Missouri Supreme Court. During one trial, lawyer George Vest gave an impassioned summation that was later called a “Eulogy of the Dog.” It was this speech that first used the phrase, “man’s best friend.” 

Fast Fact

A monument to Old Drum now sits outside the courthouse in Warrensburg, MO. The town known as the Home of Man’s Best Friend.

Pavlov's Dogs Changed Our Understanding of Behavior


Ivan Pavlov, a Russian scientist, accidentally discovered an important principle of animal behavior called classical conditioning by feeding his dogs. In the experiment he performed in the 1890s, Pavlov used several dogs to test the salivary response when presented with food.

Over time, he realized the dogs were salivating in response to a stimulus that was unrelated to the food, such as a buzzer or a metronome. The dogs learned that the food was about to come when the buzzer rang, and their bodies responded. This widely used principle affected both the dog and human behavior sciences.

Fast Fact

Pavlov's favorite dog was a collie mix named Druzok. 

Sergeant Stubby Rescued Soldiers During World War I


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 mix. The dog accompanied an infantry regiment to France during World War I as their mascot.

Sergeant Stubby assisted during battles by alerting the soldiers to incoming artillery and mustard gas, locating wounded soldiers and saving many lives while he served. He even stopped a German spy from escaping until his troops could arrive to take over. He received many medals for heroism and met two United States Presidents.

Quick Tip

You can watch the movie, Sargeant Stubby, to learn more about this heroic pup. 

Rin Tin Tin is "The Dog Who Saved Hollywood"


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 1920s. Hollywood nicknamed the beloved German shepherd 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, carrying on yet another legacy.

Buddy Led the Way for the Blind


Buddy was a female German shepherd trained in Switzerland and became one of the first seeing-eye dogs in the United States. Morris Frank, an American, partnered with her in 1928. 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.

Need to Know

With Buddy 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 Saved An Election


A type of Belgian shepherd owned by President Herbert Hoover, King Tut, may have helped Hoover get elected in 1928. Originally characterized as an uncharismatic individual who lacked personal savvy, Hoover needed a boost. Then his campaign released the photo of him and King Tut, and everything changed. The New York Times called it “one of the happiest pictures ever” of Herbert Hoover and it helped to show his more personal side to the public.

Swansea Jack Rescued 27 People From the Water


In the 1930s, 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. His first rescue was a 12-year-old boy who was drowning. Over the course of his life, he saved approximately 27 people from the waters.

He received many awards from the local city council for his bravery and is the only dog to receive two bronze medals from the National Canine Defence League, now known as Dogs Trust. A water dog rescue training association awarded him with the name "Dog of the Century" in 2000 and there is a memorial erected in his memory.

Quick Tip

A children's book is available to teach your children about this heroic canine. 

Smoky is the First Therapy Dog


A tiny, four-pound Yorkshire Terrier named Smoky is considered by many the world's first therapy dog. Smoky was hiding in a foxhole and discovered 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 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 in the U.S., Smoky appeared on TV and continued to work as a therapy dog, helping to start this trend that has helped change countless lives.

Charlie De-escalated Tension During the Cuban Missile Crisis


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 in 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 once the dog arrived, and after moments that felt like hours to those awaiting his command, he said he was ready to "make some decisions." 

Roselle and Salty Walked 70 Flights to Save Blind Owners


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.

Rex Paved the Way for K9s and their Owners


The story of Rex and his handler/owner, Megan Leavey, was 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 because of her injuries.

When Rex’s service time was at an end, she petitioned the Corps to be allowed to adopt him, but the military deemed him unadoptable. She eventually was able, after a battle, to secure his adoption and Rex lived with her during his final eight months of his life. 

Need to Know

Along with the many lives they saved, their story helped publicize military handlers trying to adopt their K9 counterparts and give them the peaceful life they deserve.

Dogs Change Lives


Any dog lover will agree, even the smallest dog can change the history of their owner's life with their unconditional love and loyalty. But many dogs go beyond just one individual person. They have changed the course of history, making their mark on some of the most influential events throughout time. Dogs truly are man's best friend.

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12 Famous Dogs in History