An adorable Basset Hound without no known name leapt into collective hearts and minds on 17th September 1972, when a dozy beast, who would later simply be known as ‘Dog’, made his screen debut in Columbo Season 2 opener Etude in Black.
So started a love affair between man, dog and viewer that would last for well over 40 years. Known for his lethargy and a propensity to howl when it was least wanted, the cute critter would go on to grace many classic episodes, including Playback, Try and Catch Me, Forgotten Lady, Mind Over Mayhem, How to Dial a Murder; Most Dangerous Match; Make Me a Perfect Murder and Now You See Him.
Dog would become the single most featured recurring guest character in the show, becoming nearly as synonymous with the Lieutenant as the cigar, the raincoat and the beat-up car.
Yet it almost didn’t happen. When writer Steven Bochco attempted to introduce the canine sidekick, Peter Falk was resistant. There were already too many gimmicks, he thought. Do we really need another? But when Bochco introduced Falk to the slovenly hound it was apparently love at first sight. Falk accepted that the beast was exactly the type of dog Columbo would own. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Dog would become nearly as synonymous with Columbo as the cigar, the raincoat and the beat-up car.”
Introducing Dog was Bochco’s way of quietly raising two fingers to the studio, who were pushing for Columbo to have a regular human sidekick to interact with. Bochco and character co-creators Richard Levinson and Bill Link were dead against the idea.
Ironically Sergeant Wilson was introduced in Season 2’s Greenhouse Jungle – the very next episode after Dog’s debut. Wilson was just what Universal were wanting. But he wouldn’t reappear until Season 5’s Now You See Him – funnily enough another episode featuring Dog.
Although the relationship between Columbo and Dog was wonderfully warm and genuine, having a dog on set did cause some low-level difficulties. Sadly the first incarnation of Dog died and had to be replaced. The new version was somewhat younger, and required to be made up to look more like the original. Falk himself recalls that the dog required much more time in the make-up chair than himself.
“The simple love between man and dog exhibited in Columbo always makes the heart sing.”
“I’m sitting in one make-up chair and they’re making up the dog right next to me,” Falk said. “I’m out in no time and waiting to start because the dog is still in make-up.”
Still, it do no damage to their on-screen chemistry and, such was his popularity, Dog also survived the transition to the ABC years, popping up sporadically through the 90s in episodes such as Murder: A Self Portrait and It’s All in the Game.
Dog fact file and image gallery
He first appeared in Etude in Black in September 1972. Rescued from the pound, Columbo spends most of the episode trying to figure out a name for the mutt. Fido and Beethoven are options that fall by the wayside.
Although he doesn’t appear, Dog is hilariously referenced in Negative Reaction as pining for next door’s cocker spaniel who has moved away. Columbo asks murderer Paul Galesko if he has a photo of a cocker spaniel to ease Dog’s suffering. Galesko is, shall we say, not amused…?
In Now You See Him, Columbo leaves Dog to ‘guard’ his hated new coat as he continues his investigations. He urges to Dog to look the other way if anyone tries to lift it…
Dog indirectly helps Columbo crack the case in Most Dangerous Match when he nearly blunders into the trash compactor. A helpful worker points out that the machine has an auto cut-off function in such instances, leading the Lieutenant to realise that a deaf man was the killer!
We learn that Dog’s interests include watching TV and swimming in a neighbour’s swimming pool, although tragically we never witness the latter…
‘Dog’ is not overtly said to be the animal’s name in the 70s. In Mind Over Mayhem, Columbo states that they just call him ‘you’, ‘dog’ or they just whistle – and that it doesn’t matter because he never comes anyway. Dog is memorably taken for a walk by robot MM7 in the same episode.
Above and below: best of friends in How to Dial a Murder
It’s a relationship so beautiful it’s even been immortalised in bronze on the streets of Budapest, Hungary. Why is there a Columbo statue in Budapest? Find out here.
If you know of someone who’s had a bad day, don’t be afraid to forward this article onto them. The simple love between man and dog exhibited in Columbo always makes the heart sing!
Thanks, as ever, for reading. And in true Columbo style here’s just one more thing…