The bond between humans and dogs goes back thousands of years. So then, it should come as no surprise that humans have been putting dogs in movies since the earliest motion pictures.
When it comes to the horror genre, canine characters generally fall into two categories. A dog may be a loyal companion and ally to the humans, or they may be portrayed as dangerous and unpredictable antagonists. Collected here are the very best cinematic canines divided into good and bad categories.
There will be a few minor spoilers when describing the dogs in this list. Also, horror films sometimes get a bad reputation for harming dog characters as an easy way to elicit negative emotions from the audience. Many people don’t want to watch that sort of thing. For that reason, major spoilers detailing the fate of the dogs are hidden in the boxes below each writeup.
Best Horror Movie Dogs
In Dawn of the Dead (2004), a stray dog is discovered in the parking garage of a shopping mall while a zombie apocalypse rages on outside. The dog is taken in by Nicole (Lindy Booth), one of the survivors living in the mall. Nicole loses her father to a zombie bite, so she forms a strong bond with the dog whom she names Chips. Later in the movie, Chips is sent on a rescue mission to carry supplies to a man isolated in a building across the street from the mall. Chips performs admirably, and any fault found in the rescue mission comes down to human error, not in anything that Chips does.
Lester, from John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), is a good guard dog who is very protective of young Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards). Lester is the first to realize that Michael Myers is on the prowl at Lindsey’s house. When Lester first appears about halfway through the movie, he barks assertively towards the back door where we see Michael later appear. Lindsey’s babysitter Annie (Nancy Kyes AKA Nancy Loomis) thinks Lester is barking at her, but he’s just being a good boy. Later, Lester shows no fear when he approaches Michael and attempts to scare the masked killer away.
With his fashionable red bandana, Toby is one of the best characters in one of the lesser entries of the Friday the 13th franchise. Toby helps comfort Rennie (Jensen Daggett), a young woman who joins a high-school class boat trip from Crystal Lake to New York City despite her phobia of water. Rennie’s fears are compounded when Jason Voorhees coincidentally wanders onto the boat. Toby is initially creeped out when he sees a vision of a young Jason Voorhees drowning, but Toby later gains the courage to stand up to two muggers threatening Rennie in New York.
Gonk (short for Algonquin) is one-third of the inheritance Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) receives in Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988) after her great-aunt dies. Elvira isn’t impressed with Gonk at first, so she gives the normal-looking poodle a punk makeover. Gonk has magical abilities and can transform himself into other animals, and he is smart enough to try to hide a book of spells (another part of Elvira’s inheritance) from an evil warlock. Gonk is also brave and quite aggressive, a trait reportedly shared in real life by the canine actor playing the role.
Sam, a Border Collie, is thrust into a fight for survival against a group of werewolves in the fantastic British horror movie Dog Soldiers (2002). Sam makes friends with Private Lawrence Cooper (Kevin McKidd) when Cooper and his squad of soldiers look for shelter while being hunted by werewolves during what was supposed to be a training exercise. Sam doesn’t back down from the supernatural beasts, and he plays a vital role in making sure his favorite humans have at least a fighting chance for survival.
Nanook is a beautiful Alaskan Malamute who is highly protective of his owner Sam (Corey Haim) in The Lost Boys (1987). When Sam’s brother Michael (Jason Patric) begins to fall into the dark world of vampirism, Nanook understands the danger and acts accordingly, protecting Sam while alerting him to his brother’s condition. When Nanook isn’t hunting vampires, he enjoys car rides with his family and chasing horses in open fields.
In Wes Craven‘s The Hills Have Eyes (1977), the Carter family owns two German Shepherds: Beauty and Beast. Beauty is emotional and impulsive, while Beast is calm and calculating. Just like his human companions, Beast suffers a terrible loss after the Carter family becomes stranded in the Nevada desert near a family of cannibals. And just like the surviving members of the Carter family, Beast is intent on getting violent revenge. Beast plays a huge role in The Hills Have Eyes, rising to a level of importance equal to the human characters in the movie.
Samantha, affectionately known as Sam, is the sole companion of Robert Neville (Will Smith) when we join him during his struggle for survival in I Am Legend (2007). Sam is incredibly brave, though she can sometimes get too careless in a world where mutated humans known as Darkseekers could be lurking in any shadow. Sam and Neville have a strong bond, and they help each other stay sane in a world where it has been years since either of them has been in contact with another human or dog. Sam enjoys playing fetch and chasing deer, but she dislikes vegetables.
The Evil/Scariest Dogs Ever
It may be a bit unfair to call Jason a bad dog, but his actions certainly lead to some very bad things in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988). Jason is owned by Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), one of the survivors of the previous film. Jason is pulled into the dream world by another Freddy survivor, Kristen (Tuesday Knight). He is probably just scared, but Jason bites Kristen in their shared nightmare. Jason then does something even worse in a second dream, urinating fire onto Freddy’s grave and bringing the slasher back once again so he can murder another bunch of teenagers.
Precious maybe isn’t truly a bad dog, but she does associate with very bad people. In The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Precious is owned by Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a sadistic serial killer who targets women. Bill cares deeply for Precious, and he often carries the tiny Bichon Frise as he torments his victims. Precious joins in with Bill, sometimes issuing a few snappy barks towards the poor captive women. Prior to Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) tracking down Buffalo Bill, Precious is tricked into becoming an unwilling pawn in an escape attempt.
Davie is a sweet and excitable boy who is a little too curious for his own good. We first meet Davie in Demons 2 (1986) when he somehow manages to appear in the peephole of his owner’s apartment door while she is watching a horror movie on TV. A little later, a demonic curse/infection is unleashed in their apartment building a few floors above. Acidic blood from the demons burns its way into Davie’s apartment, and he can’t help but have a taste of it. Davie is then quickly taken over by a demon that appears to live in the poor dog’s snout, and the demon forces Davie to attack his owner.
Zipper is a very good dog in a very bad situation. His owners, siblings Jimmy Myers (Jesse Eisenberg) and Ellie Myers (Christina Ricci), are attacked by a werewolf after a car accident. Zipper can sense the changes happening to Jimmy and Ellie as they begin to show signs of becoming werewolves themselves, and his fear causes Zipper to bite Jimmy. Later in the movie, Zipper turns into a weredog and goes absolutely nuts trying to tear apart anything in his path.
Zowie had a hard life. He also had a hard afterlife. At the beginning of Pet Sematary 2 (1992), Zowie is the pet of Drew (Jason McGuire). Drew’s father Gus (Clancy Brown) is a terrible person, and he shoots Zowie in a fit of rage. Zowie is brought back from the dead in the nearby pet cemetery, but like all creatures brought back from the former Mi’kmaq burial ground, Zowie comes back wrong. Zowie’s eyes glow with furious rage, he kills people and animals, and he even appears in some… interesting nightmares.
Lance Henricksen stars in Man’s Best Friend (1993) as Dr. Jarret, an evil scientist performing horrible genetic experiments on animals. Lori (Ally Sheedy), A TV journalist breaks into Jarrett’s lab and rescues an abused Tibetan Mastiff named Max. Lori and the highly intelligent Max form a bond, but Max’s genetically altered personality leads him into fits of rage that end with the deaths of many people and animals. Inevitably, Max must later confront Dr. Jarret who has been tracking the dog down ever since his escape.
Cujo loves running through fields and chasing rabbits as the movie Cujo (1983) begins, but after contracting rabies from a bat, there is nothing but misery for the St. Bernard and the people around him. Cujo’s personality deteriorates, causing him to be highly sensitive and highly aggressive. When a mother (Dee Wallace) and son (Danny Pintauro) arrive at Cujo’s house for some car repairs, Cujo ends up trapping them inside their broken-down car with the ever-present threat of an attack. Cujo is a great movie, though it can be quite difficult to watch because of how heartbreaking it is. Its effectiveness is undeniable though, and Cujo is easily one of the most well-known dogs in horror history.
The Norwegian dog in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) is the perfect example of an astounding canine actor in an utterly terrifying role. The dog, who never officially receives a name, is first seen being chased across the Antarctic ice by a helicopter which is carrying two men from a Norwegian research station. The dog is saved by the men at an American research station (including Kurt Russell), but they don’t realize what they’ve let into their lives. The dog is really the latest form of an alien being who will likely assimilate all life on Earth if left unchecked. The dog actor playing the alien is amazing, managing to appear menacing in a calm way as it saunters through the station, pausing at just the right moments while it ponders who to infect next.
More Memorable Dogs in Horror
The list of great dogs in horror goes on and on. Here are a few more. And once again, if you’re nervous about their fates, here’s a handy resource: doesthedogdie.com
- Hellhounds – The Omen (1976): This story about the Antichrist features vicious Rottweilers portraying hounds from Hell. The 2006 remake of The Omen uses German Shepherds instead.
- Zoltan – Zoltan: Hound of Dracula (1977): Also known as Dracula’s Dog, the movie features a vampiric Doberman Pinscher named Zoltan.
- Harry – The Amityville Horror (1979): Harry senses the evil in the Lutz’s house early on, and he helps save the day towards the end of the movie.
- Dicky – The Beyond (1981): Dicky is a seeing-eye dog who unfortunately succumbs to the evil influences present in this wild film from Lucio Fulci.
- Barney – Gremlins (1984): Barney is the lovable family dog who is referred to as “Woof-Woof” by Gizmo.
- Cerberus – Resident Evil (2002): Zombie dogs are a large part of the Resident Evil series of films, and they always seem to be Dobermans.
- Jangers – Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010): Much like his owners, Jangers (an American Bulldog) may appear menacing, but he’s really a very good dog.
- Bark Lee – John Dies at the End (2012): Bark Lee is a highly intelligent dog who plays a significant role in this wacky film’s finale.
- Bugsy – The Babadook (2014): Bugsy is the cute family dog, but he sadly gets caught up in the madness consuming the family.
- Sugar – Crawl (2019): Sugar is a Terrier who fights for survival (along with two humans) against killer alligators during a hurricane in Florida.