Top 5 popular dogs of the 1920s and ’30s

Everything goes in and out of fashion – even man’s best friend! Over the past 100 years, some breeds have been sent to the doghouse while others have stayed the course.

The 1920s was an era of fads and follies, when dogs were fashion accessories influenced by the favoured canine companions of Hollywood stars – and by dog stars themselves. In the Depression years of the 1930s, not only belts and wallets were tightened – smaller, low-maintenance dogs were favoured over larger breeds.

No 1: German shepherd

In the 1920s, the dog of choice across the globe was the German shepherd, due largely to the popularity of Rin Tin Tin (1918–32). The superstar Alsatian was rescued from a bombed French village at the end of WWI and taken across the globe to California, where he appeared in 27 Hollywood films.

Rin Tin Tin sired almost 50 puppies, and some of his offspring were given to stars such as Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow. When Rin Tin Tin died, his owner and rescuer, Lee Duncan, sold his home so he could ship the dog back to France to be buried in the Dog Cemetery of Paris.

Today, German shepherds are still a popular breed, though the look of the dog has changed, being heavier with a less pointy face, shorter back legs and a more sloping back.

And if you’ve ever wondered why the German shepherd was also known as the Alsatian, it all goes back to the anti-German years of WWI and WWII. You don’t hear the name Alsatian too often these days, but it took until 2010 for it to be entirely eliminated from the UK dog world.


Officers and men of the 135th Aero Squadron with their mascot "Rin Tin Tin" shortly after his rescue as a puppy in 1918

No 2: Cairn terrier

Everyone fell in love with Cairn terriers in the 1930s, thanks to Dorothy’s little dog Toto in The Wizard of Oz. Toto was played by Terry, who also starred in a dozen other films including Shirley Temple’s Bright Eyes.

But Cairn terriers were already a popular pooch due to their royal connection: Edward, the Prince of Wales, owned several Cairns and he went on to own many more when he married Wallis Simpson. These lucky pups were amongst the most pampered pets in the world: the Windsors hand-spooned each dog their din-dins from their very own silver eating bowls.


No 3: Wire-hair fox terrier

Remember Asta from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man comedies? Asta was played by A-List fox terrier Skippy, whose cheeky exploits and scruffy charm made the breed a 1930s hit. Skippy went on to appear in a swag of great movies, including The Awful Truth, Bringing Up Baby and Topper Takes a Trip.


No 4: Dandie Dinmont

Another classic pup of the 1920s and ’30s was the Dandie Dinmont, the only dog breed to be named after a fictional character. The novel Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott included a character named Dandie Dinmont who owned several dogs with hints of Border, Scottish and Skye terrier in the mix.

The fetching fellows had a longish body, short little legs and a distinctive bouffant topknot. They came in a choice of two colours – pepper or mustard – and unsurprisingly, many DDs were named exactly that, Pepper or Mustard.


No 5: Sealyham

Sealyham terriers were a hit in 1930s Hollywood, owned by everyone from Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart to Bette Davis and Alfred Hitchcock. Agatha Christie had one too, along with George V and other royals.

The Sealyham is a bit of a bitzer, mixing Corgi, wire-hair fox terrier and now-extinct English white terrier.


Hitchcock and Sarah reading a newspaper, 1974

Today’s Top Breeds

These days you don’t see too many Sealyhams and Dandie Dinmonts. Today’s most popular dog by far, both here in Australia and around the world, is the Labrador retriever – ideally chocolate brown.

Australia’s Top 10 Favourite Dogs

  1. Labrador retriever
  2. Staffordshire bull terrier
  3. French bulldog
  4. German shepherd
  5. Border collie
  6. Golden retriever
  7. Cavalier King Charles spaniel
  8. American Staffordshire bull terrier
  9. Miniature Schnauzer
  10. Rottweiler

Change is on the way, however. Due to the increase in apartment living, the popularity of smaller, low-maintenance dogs is on the rise once again. Bring on the Bichon frise, shih-tzu, Border terrier, Boston terrier, Chihuahua and Dachshund!

Main image courtesy: Fox Photos / Getty Images

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