Dogs Who Changed History: Meet the Iconic Pets Who Shaped the World


Dogs are amazing: obviously we all know that. But sometimes your experience with a special animal can honestly feel life-changing. It’s not always just a personal occurrence, either. History is littered with amazing creatures who changed the way that countless people live today. So let’s celebrate the brave, clever, loyal, and brilliant dogs who literally shaped history.

Peritas, Alexander the Great’s Secret Weapon

Even legends sometimes need a little help. Or at least that was the case for Alexander the Great—who lived in the 4th century BC and conquered most of the known world of his day—when his dog Peritas saved his life. The rescue took place during a battle when Alexander was charged by an elephant. The attack would have surely killed him, but luckily he had quick-thinking Peritas by his side. The brave dog jumped up and bit the larger animal’s face. While clearly no match for the elephant’s size, Peritas gave it enough of a shock to divert its charge and spare Alexander’s life. Alexander was so grateful to his dog that he named a city in modern-day India after him.

Dogs Who Changed History

Peps, a Natural Music Critic

For 19th-century classical composer Richard Wagner, only one opinion really mattered: that of his cavalier King Charles spaniel, Peps. Richard played all his music for the dog before showing it to anyone else. He trusted the dog’s response so deeply that he would keep or discard work based on how he felt Peps reacted. It’s safe to say the dog had good taste, approving of some of the most famous pieces of all time, such as Ride of the Valkyries.

Dogs Who Changed History

Rin Tin Tin, Hollywood’s Saviour 

Rin Tin Tin is usually remembered as being the first animal movie star. Over his decade-long career, the German shepherd starred in over 20 films. At the height of his fame, he was reported to receive over 50,000 fan letters every month—marking him as easily one of Hollywood’s most popular celebrities.

But Rin Tin Tin’s impact extended beyond his fame. In the 1920s, his films were so popular that he was widely credited with saving his home studio, Warner Brothers, from bankruptcy. The dog’s influence was deeply appreciated, earning him the nicknames “mortgage lifter” and “the dog who saved Hollywood”. 

Buddy, the First Seeing-Eye Dog

These days, when we think of seeing-eye dogs we probably picture a calm and collected labrador. But the first guide dog was actually a female German shepherd called Buddy. She belonged to Morris Frank, a man who had been partially blinded in childhood and lost his remaining sight as a young adult in the 1920s. Morris was frustrated by having to rely on other people to help him get around, so he enlisted dog trainer Dorothy Harrison Eustis to help him teach a dog to assist him.

This bright idea not only worked, but was such a success that Morris and Dorothy decided to spread their training program across the US and eventually the rest of the world. Together, Morris and Buddy also went on to champion the creation of new laws that allowed service dogs go anywhere their owners did. These early laws would go on to form the basis of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which still helps people to this day.

Dogs Who Changed History

Smoky, the Original (and Accidental) Therapy Dog

Like so many of these amazing dogs, the first therapy dog wasn’t a planned operation. Smoky was a tiny Yorkie who was found in a New Guinea foxhole during World War 2, and quickly adopted by Corporal William A Wynne. Smoky went everywhere with William, and he credits her with saving his life several times by warning him of incoming attacks. Over their time together, Smoky survived 150 air raids, several combat flights, and even a typhoon.

Not being an official “war dog”, Smoky didn’t receive any special treatment, food, or vet checks. Despite this, she retained her loving, friendly, and fun attitude. She was so sweet that William started bringing her into hospitals across the Asia-Pacific to comfort and entertain the injured soldiers. After the war, she returned to the US with William and became a celebrity in her own right, performing her signature tricks on TV and continuing to tour hospitals.

Illustrations by Julia Laskowski

While you’re here, check out other pieces from the latest issue of our Off the Leash magazine.

Willow’s Pantry Prove Dog Birthday Cakes Aren’t As Crazy As They Sound

Dog Treats for Training, Easing Boredom, and Special Occasions

The Best Dog Friendly Plants for Happy Pets and Beautiful Gardens

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Written by on for Off The Leash

Article last updated on April 5, 2022

Wendy's never met a dog she didn't like. Although she has a special place in her heart for muts: three legs, one eye, missing fur, bit of a weird walk? The scruffier the better. Her favourite dog in the whole world though is her terrier-mix Stevie.
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