The Life, The Legend, the Dog I Never Really Knew Much About

When I saw the shiny, hard-cover book at Barnes and Noble entitled, “Rin Tin Tin: The Life and The Legend,” I was pretty much a goner. A beautiful dog, born in the trenches of WWI that became a movie icon for decades? Count me in.

I’d heard the name “Rin Tin Tin” before, but aside from the fact that the dog was a German Shepherd, that was about all I knew.

But this dog brought animal actors to the center stage, in a time where the film industry had barely begun to grow. This dog spurred a rise in the popularity of the breed so vast, the breed ended up as the 5th or 6th most popular breed  fifty years after his first appearance in the silent films of the 20s and 30s.

Until the end of World War II, dogs and horses were workers, not household pets. They served in wars, served in the villages, served on the farms. The idea of a “pet” didn’t fully develop until populations began moving from the country to the city in droves.

At the start of World War II, America actively recruited dogs to serve. Families donated their pets, received a certificate and a thanks from the government, and often times received their dog back if the dog didn’t pass basic requirements. (I’m pretty sure my dogs wouldn’t have qualified—not when they’d be more interested in playing tug-of-war than racing across a battlefield.)

Dogs served as messengers, cadaver dogs and a host of more dangerous purposes. German Shepherds, developed at the end of the 1800s as a working breed, became the official dog of the German Army in World War I. The popularity spread and over the years continued the role of police dog.

The story of Rin Tin Tin goes beyond one singular dog. There were ten Rin Tin Tins in all (and continue to be) and many breeders continue the lineage. He influenced movies, children and a time in American history when crowds turned to theaters and then televisions. Apart from the entertainment aspect, the dog’s role in society reached even further. He transformed the future of an entire breed that even collies couldn’t achieve through Lassie.

But there hasn’t been another like him. Another animal actor (yes, they are actors and deserve the title as such) with such influence and reach and such a following. Are we too inundated with these technologies that a single star can’t hold our attention? Or was there simply something about Rin Tin Tin, the heroic “Wonder Dog” that captured generations upon generations of admiration?

What are your thoughts?

More about Nicole

Community Champion at Buffer ~ writer ~ reader ~ urban homesteader ~ former rodeo queen ~ @nmillerbooks

  • Very interesting post, Nicole! Like you, I was never familiar with Rin Tin Tin, so this was fun for me.


  • Edwina Cowgill

    I’m about to show my age because I remember Rin Tin Tin and his teevision program. I love all kinds of dogs so I loved this post!

  • Interesting information on the history of work animals vs. pets, Nicole.

    Like Edwina, I remember watching Rin Tin Tin on TV. In fact, I saw a couple episodes a week or so ago on METV, so it’s not too late for you to watch his (fictional) adventures. 😉

  • Actually, the story of Rin-Tin-Tin’s birth very likely is myth. The first story that Duncan told (in October, 1919, to the Los Angeles Times) and that three officers of his squadron told goes like this: Duncan and his mates found an adult German shepherd male on the battlefield, and Rin-Tin-Tin was one of a litter born to him and a female German shepherd. That means he was born around the time of the Armistice. See my book, Rin-Tin-Tin: The Movie Star, available on Amazon.

  • Thanks for commenting, Ann!