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What Kind of Dog is Lassie?


You might have grown up watching the adventures of Lassie on TV or reading about her heroics in books. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane–starting with the answer to one of the most frequent questions about this canine superstar: what kind of dog is Lassie?

What Breed of Dog is Lassie?

Lassie, the famous dog character featured in movies, television shows, and books, is a Rough Collie. This breed is known for its intelligence, loyalty, and striking appearance characterized by a dense, rough coat, often sable and white or tri-color (sable and white, blue merle, or black with tan markings), and a distinctive, refined head.

The character Lassie is often depicted as a sable and white colored Rough Collie. The character was created by Eric Knight and first appeared in a short story that was later expanded to the novel Lassie Come-Home in 1940. Lassie soon became a household name, a synonym for loyalty and courage.

What Dogs Play Lassie?

The role of Lassie was first portrayed by a male Rough Collie named Pal. Pal played Lassie in the original 1943 movie Lassie Come Home and subsequently appeared in six other Lassie films. Pal’s owner and trainer was Rudd Weatherwax, a prominent Hollywood dog trainer.

After Pal’s retirement, the role of Lassie was taken over by several of Pal’s descendants, as Rudd Weatherwax and his family continued to train and provide the dogs for the Lassie franchise.

Over the years, many generations of Pal’s lineage have played Lassie in various movies, television series, and other media adaptations. This ensured a consistent look and demeanor for the character, as well as maintaining a high standard of training and animal welfare.

Lassie filming movie on location in Florida.
Credit: State Archive of Florida

Why Did a Male Dog Play Female Lassie?

The tradition of using male dogs to portray Lassie persisted because male collies typically have a thicker, more luxurious coat compared to females.

They maintain their coat year-round, whereas female dogs can shed their coat during heat cycles. This allowed for a consistent appearance that was necessary for filming.

Lassie vs. Real Life Rough Collies

Rough collies are not only a sight to behold with their lush coats and graceful stature, but they are also known for their incredible intelligence and warm temperament. Their keen sense of intuition often makes them excellent family pets, always tuned into the needs and emotions of their human companions.

But just how much did Lassie resemble a real life collie in terms of behavior?

Lassie embodies many characteristics inherent to the Rough Collie breed, but also holds some enhancements that are more a part of her character’s fictional embellishments. Let’s dissect both the similarities and differences.

How Lassie was Like a Real Rough Collie

1. Appearance:

  • Coat and Coloring: Lassie shares the typical luxurious coat of a Rough Collie, with the characteristic sable and white color pattern.
  • Physical Stature: The depiction of Lassie aligns with the elegant and athletic build that is standard for Rough Collies.

2. Intelligence:

  • Problem-Solving Skills: Lassie’s remarkable ability to understand and solve complex problems mirrors the natural intelligence of the Rough Collie breed.
  • Trainability: Like real Rough Collies, who are known for their trainability, Lassie learns and performs a range of complex tasks and tricks effortlessly.

3. Temperament:

  • Loyalty: Lassie exhibits a deep loyalty to her human companions, a trait that is prominent in the Rough Collie breed.
  • Protectiveness: Lassie often plays the role of a protector, a characteristic observed in real Rough Collies who tend to be protective of their family.

How Lassie was Different from a Real Rough Collie

1. Heroic Endeavours:

  • Rescue Missions: Lassie’s numerous rescue missions and adventures are more dramatic and grandiose compared to the capabilities of a typical Rough Collie.
  • Perception of Danger: While Rough Collies are alert and can sense distress, Lassie’s almost human-like understanding of complex and abstract dangers is a fictional enhancement.

2. Communication Skills:

  • Understanding Human Language: Lassie seems to understand human speech at an almost human level, which is a significant exaggeration of a dog’s real capabilities, even though Rough Collies are indeed highly attuned to human commands and emotions.
  • Expressiveness: The depth of Lassie’s communication, including conveying complex information to humans, is beyond the capacities of a real Rough Collie.

3. Consistency in Behavior:

  • Flawless Behavior: Lassie always behaves impeccably, showcasing an idealized version of a dog’s behavior. In reality, while Rough Collies are well-behaved, they can have their moments of mischief or stubbornness, just like any other dog!

4. Longevity and Physical Abilities:

  • Longevity: The Lassie character seems to transcend the normal lifespan of a Rough Collie, appearing ageless over many years of television and film portrayals. Lassie is now over 80 years old–or close to 600 in dog years!
  • Physical Abilities: Lassie often exhibits physical feats and endurance that would be beyond the capabilities of a regular dog, including a Rough Collie.

In essence, while Lassie embodies many of the admirable qualities of the Rough Collie breed, her character also embodies an enhanced, almost mythic version of a dog’s abilities and understanding, crafted to create a heroic and inspirational figure in popular culture.

After all, though, Lassie isn’t just a character; she’s a cultural icon! From being a symbol of unwavering loyalty and friendship to influencing the perception of dogs in family dynamics, Lassie has done it all.

Remember, just like our beloved Lassie, every dog is a star in its own right, spreading love and joy wherever they go!

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