Cue the pep band, stock up on face paint, and grab your pencils, because it’s time to make your picks in the month’s biggest event: The National Canine Achievement in the Arts Tournament, in which television dogs compete to be the last canine actor standing.
Weighing scientific arguments like “come on, you have to include this dog,” “I am going to be very mad if you don’t put my favorite television-character dog in the bracket,” and “please,” our selection committee pared a long list list down to sixteen prominent TV dogs, eight each in the animated and live-action regions.
Now you, the reader, can choose who advances in each round by voting at our Instagram. What criteria should you use to select a winner? It’s up to you; this is all made up. Have fun!
This impressionistic rendering of a beagle surpassed even Charlie Brown himself as the most recognizable Peanuts character. Over the years, he’s learned to walk on his hind legs, fantasized about life as a college student and a World War I fighting ace, and promoted the United States space program.
Garfield has a complex relationship with his canine roommate—part rivalry, part love and respect. Though Garfield often seems to regard him as unintelligent, Odie’s outsmarted the Monday-hating cat and even been spotted solving sudoku puzzles… so Snoopy underestimates Odie at his own risk.
- Scooby Doo
This talking Great Dane has the same original voice—human actor Don Messick—as his fellow animated Great Dane, Astro, from The Jetsons. He’s a loyal companion and helper to his human, Shaggy, and the rest of the gang in the Mystery Machine. He can be quite courageous—even more so when motivated by Scooby Snacks. Animator Iwao Takamoto based Scoob on pictures of Great Danes, but deliberately changed his back, chin, legs, and coat color to distinguish the cartoon pup from what a breeder told him about the standard.
Across the pond, there’s Gromit—the canine half of Britain’s long-running animated duo Wallace and Gromit. Another impressionistic animated beagle (see also: Snoopy, above), he has braved danger to pursue a penguin jewel thief, earned a degree in engineering for dogs, learned to pilot an airplane, and helped his human best friend collect some of the cheese comprising the moon—though, using his excellent sense of smell, he determined that he’d rather not partake. In the real world, Gromit has helped to win three Oscars, boost the sales of Wallace’s beloved Wensleydale cheese, and raise a lot of money to benefit children’s hospitals. Fictional or not, he’s a very good dog.
Why not Santa’s Little Helper? He is, after all, an actual dog and not an animated dog on a show-within-another-animated-show, voiced by a character voiced by Dan Castellaneta. For us, the differentiating factor was attitude. Poochie didn’t last long on The Simpsons, but he made a huge impact before returning to his home planet. With a guitar, a surfboard, sunglasses, and an electric guitar, he was one outrageous dude.
If Poochie was engineered as a cynical marketing ploy to appeal to the masses, the Griffins’ dog on Family Guy sees himself as more highbrow. He attended Brown University and aspires to literary greatness. He has a lot of complex, human problems, committing moral lapses like plagiarism and struggling with addiction. And he offers one plausible explanation of what dogs in different homes might be saying when they bark at each other at night.
The oldest of these animated dogs, Goofy dates back to the 1930s. Having lasted nearly a century, the Disney character has been through many permutations. He’s hung out with Mickey and Donald, served as every player and the umpire in a World Series game in How to Play Baseball, and, on Goof Troop, been a single dad who moves back to his hometown.
- Mr. Peanutbutter
Like Goofy, Mr. Peanutbutter is goofy—the character stands out as being more affable and fun-loving than many of the others on Bojack Horseman. While he does love tennis balls and has a disposition fitting his golden retriever breed, the host of Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let’s Find Out! nevertheless does confront a slew of personal issues, especially in romantic relationships.
A dog might stare at you because they find you interesting, or even because they’re fond of you, but Dr. Frasier Crane had trouble tolerating Eddie’s persistent gaze. In real life, Kelsey Grammer didn’t seem to have too much respect for the talent it took to portray Martin Crane’s Jack Russell terrier. During an interview with The Washington Post, he had this to say about Moose, the first dog in the role: “Well, it’s just so silly. He gets so much attention. I do draw the line when somebody says, ‘Oh, he’s such a good little actor…’ That’s it! He’s not an actor, he’s a dog!” Others were more impressed; Moose received copious fan mail and appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
- The Littlest Hobo
A Canadian on our selection committee insisted on including The Littlest Hobo, who we then set about researching. It turns out that the character, who stars in multiple television series of the same name, is a mysterious and highly intelligent stray German shepherd who travels around helping the humans and animals he encounters. He has an uncanny knack for understanding people and situations, and showing up just where and when he’s needed.
Probably the best-known hero dog in pop culture, Lassie pre-dates television and is sort of an American Littlest Hobo. That’s a fun little reference to the previous blurb. The earliest version of Lassie, created by British author Elizabeth Gaskell, appeared way back in 1859—and, yes, the clever collie was already saving children. Another author, Eric Knight, is credited with creating the Lassie character you probably know, who soon made it to TV. The small-screen Lassies have been portrayed by a collie named Pal and many generations of his descendants. If you’d like your mind blown, behold: according to Ken Jennings, little Timmy never fell into a well during Lassie’s TV run… but Lassie herself did!
- Dog Paul Anka
Not to be confused with Human Paul Anka, Lorelai Gilmore’s dog could have been better socialized as a puppy. His long list of fears, according to his human, includes popcorn, wristwatches, CDs, and framed pictures. She also says that he requires only brand-new green Penn tennis balls. In one of Lorelai’s dreams, Dog Paul Anka meets his musical namesake, possibly setting into motion the destruction of Stars Hollow. Dog Paul Anka showed up late in the original Gilmore Girls series, and returned for the Netflix reboot—still portrayed by the same canine actor, Sparky.
While not reaching Eddie status—to our knowledge, Murray never got an Entertainment Weekly cover story—the Buckmans’ dog was nevertheless a key part of Mad About You. The couple meets while Paul is walking him, the season-two premiere plot revolves around a search for him after he’s swapped with a more obedient collie, and he’s part of some memorable gags—like this one, in which he contentedly perches on a table in the Buckmans’ apartment, and this one, in which he has a contentious—and probably unrealistic—exchange with his mother.
Jay Pritchett might argue that if he can shower with Stella, the least you can do is vote for her. The practical patriarch on Modern Family has a major soft spot for the French bulldog, and often seems to lavish her with more affection than anyone else in his clan. That may explain why Gloria says some less-than-complimentary things about her dog while trying to track her down in “Door to Door.” And, yes, the show’s writers are aware of the comedic literary-reference possibilities of the name “Stella,” as demonstrated in that same episode. Stella may not be a strong swimmer, but she’ll be a formidable first-round opponent for Murray.
In talking about the Full House dog, we’re going to lean into controversy: there’s a surprisingly contentious debate on the internet as to who played Comet. It’s an oft-repeated claim—even in mainstream sources—that Comet was portrayed by Buddy the Wonder Dog (best known as the star of modern classic Air Bud), but a BuzzFeed article tells us that this was only true for one episode. This fact has proven harder than we’d expect to confirm, but it looks like BuzzFeed has it right: Buddy appears in the credits of the episode where Comet plays basketball, but our quick check on streaming finds the season eight episode “Comet’s Excellent Adventure” silent on any possible dog guest stars. Based on this, we infer that Buddy’s appearance was an exception.
- Rin Tin Tin
Rin Tin Tin is a significant television dog, but whether or not to include him in this bracket was not an easy call. This is for characters, not real dogs, but this canine may be both: an American soldier rescued the first real Rin Tin Tin from a bombed kennel in Germany during World War I. That original dog went on to become a silent film star—famed, in particular, for his expressive face. His descendants and some other dogs went on to play the character named Rin Tin Tin on the TV show The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, and, sort of, Rin Tin Tin: K9 Cop (a rebranded version of the Canadian show Katts and Dog, on which the dog’s name was not Rin Tin Tin at all). The Encyclopedia Brittanica says he’s a fictional character, so we feel we’re on solid enough ground here.