What Kind of Dog Is Lassie? Breed Information, Pictures, and Facts

Written by Kellianne Matthews
Published: April 3, 2023
© iStock.com/Koljambus
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With her unwavering devotion, caring spirit, and long luscious locks, the character of Lassie has captured the imagination and hearts of audiences all over the world. This extraordinary dog faces every challenge with courage and determination, whether she is rescuing a kitten from danger or comforting her humans by the fire. Today, Lassie has become so much more than just a dog — she is a true canine legend. But what kind of dog is Lassie? And where did her story start? Let’s take a closer look at this incredible dog and the breed that created the ultimate Hollywood star. 

Who is Lassie?

Lassie is a beloved fictional character who has became a permanent icon in the American imagination. She has starred in books, movies, radio, comic books, toys, and TV series for several decades. This incredible dog is famous for her intelligence, courage, and undying loyalty. Her stories typically depict her rescuing people from danger or helping someone in need. 

Lassie first appeared in Eric Knight’s short story, “Lassie Come-Home”, published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938. Two years later, Knight expanded his short story into a full novel, which told the story of this incredible dog who trekked across hundreds of miles to be reunited with her young owner. Since then, a love for Lassie has spread throughout the world, and she has become a beloved character for dog lovers everywhere.

Lassie Hollywood star
Lassie is a beloved fictional character who starred in books, movies, radio, comic books, toys, and TV series for several decades.

©Willem van Bergen / Flickr – License

What Kind of Dog Is Lassie?

Lassie is a beautiful tricolored rough collie. Originally, Knight did not explicitly give Lassie’s breed in his 1938 short story or his expanded 1940 novel, Lassie Come-Home. However, in 1943 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) filmed Lassie Come Home, with a rough collie named Pal playing the lead role. The movie was such a hit that MGM made six more feature films all about Lassie — and Pal played the titular role in each one! 

Rough collie dog sitting in an open field
Lassie is a beautiful tricolored rough collie.

©Nikolai Tsvetkov/Shutterstock.com

The Real-Life Dog Behind Lassie’s Legacy

Pal was one extraordinary dog — but it took a while for his destiny to be realized. Born on June 4, 1940, Pal had quite the heritage, with his ancestry tracing back all the way to the first great collie in England named “Old Cockie”. However, even though he was born to some of the finest show collies of the time, Pal had a white blaze down his face and his eyes were too large for show standards. Pal also liked to chase motorcycles and had a nasty habit of uncontrollable barking. Since he did not meet the high standards of the dog show world, Pall was sold as a pet instead of a show dog.

But Howard Peck saw potential in this 8-month-old rough collie puppy, so he purchased him and handed him over to renowned Hollywood animal trainer, Rudd Weatherwax. After rigorous training, Pal’s uncontrollable barking was finally under control. However, try as they might, his tendency to dash towards and chase motorcycles was unwavering. Peck was disappointed and decided he no longer wanted to keep the dog. Instead, he handed Pal over to Weatherwax in exchange for the money that he owed the animal trainer.

When MGM announced that they would be filming Knight’s 1940 novel, Pal — along with 1,500 other dogs — auditioned to play the role of Lassie. Unfortunately, however, once again Pal didn’t make the cut — but he was hired on as Lassie’s stunt double.

How Pal Became a Hollywood Legend

However, destiny seemed to have something else in mind for Pal. The female collie hired to play Lassie refused to get into the turbulent waters of a river during one of the movie’s big scenes — but Weatherwax and Pal were there. Pal swam across the river’s raging waters, pulled himself up onto the bank, and tried to crawl as he lay on his side before falling down in a posture of complete exhaustion. The incredible dog performed the entire epic sequence magnificently and never even stopped to shake the water off of his long fur coat!

With that, Pal took the place of the female collie and became the legendary star, Lassie.  Originally Lassie Come Home was given a very low budget and was going to be filmed in black and white. However, after Pal’s spectacular performance, the MGM Executives decided to throw more money into the film, filming it in technicolor and providing full advertising support and publicity. Pal, of course, did not require a stunt double, as he was able to film his takes with enthusiasm and unmatched skill.

Lassie Come Home was such a mega-hit that MGM ended up filming six more Lassie films. Then in 1954, Pal became the star of the award-winning Lassie television series. After filming the first two pilots of Lassie, Pal — now 14 years old — retired from show biz. His son and many generations of his grandsons, however, continued to carry the torch. In fact, Pal’s tenth-generation grandson is still carrying on his heartwarming legacy today!

The Rough Collie Breed

Rough Collie in the snow
Lassie’s on-screen persona and abilities fit incredibly well with the traits of real-life collies.


So the question is, while Lassie was certainly an extraordinary dog, was she just a fictional character? Or, does the beloved nature of Lassie have something to do with the dog’s breed as well? It turns out that Lassie’s on-screen persona and abilities fit incredibly well with the traits of real-life collies! 

Rough collies are medium to large-sized dogs that originated in Scotland where they were used to herd sheep. They have a light and graceful build, growing 22 to 26 inches tall and weighing 50 to 75 pounds. Their luxurious and long fur coats are often tricolored, with black, tan, and white. However, they can also have other colors like sable, merle, or blue. Each variation typically has white around the dog’s neck, the tip of its tail, and on its legs.

Collies thrive off the stimulation of playtime, walks, and staying active. Like Pal, collies are incredibly intelligent and eager to learn with gentle training. In fact, when it comes to training, collie pups shine bright at the top of their class — half the time they seem to be learning tricks all on their own! 

These incredible dogs also love showing off their impressive abilities. Even in his old age, Pal — affectionately nicknamed “The Old Man” — still accompanied his son, Lassie Jr., for filming each day and enjoyed napping in a nice cozy bed behind the set. However, whenever Lassie Jr. was asked to act, Pal would get up and do the same routine backstage! 

However, with that constantly buzzing brain of theirs, rough collies crave new challenges and exciting activities to keep them engaged. Keeping up with a rough collie will forever keep you on your toes — but don’t worry, it will also never cease to leave you with a proud grin on your face.

Rough Collie Behavior and Temperament

Rough collie playing
Collies thrive off the stimulation of playtime, walks, and staying active.


Renowned for their love of children, collies make outstanding family companions. These beautiful herding dogs are very affectionate and great with young children, just like Lassie was with Timmy in the Lassie television series.

Rough collies exude a natural charm and grace that makes them a true pleasure to be around. In addition, not unlike Lassie, collies have hearts filled with unwavering devotion and loyalty. These dogs are extremely “in tune” with their human companions. 

In fact, one of the things that really makes collies so special is their off-the-charts perception and empathetic understanding of people — many rough collie owners say that it’s like their dogs can read minds! This perceptive and compassionate breed is the perfect candidate for therapy work and is an expert when it comes to bringing comfort and healing to those in need. So, now you can see why the character of Lassie really did need to be a rough collie!

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The Featured Image

Rough collie
Rough collie sitting on an open grass field.
© iStock.com/Koljambus

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About the Author

As a professional writer and editor for many years, I have dedicated my work to the fascinating exploration of anthrozoology and human-animal relationships. I hold a master's degree with experience in humanities, human-animal studies, ecocriticism, wildlife conservation, and animal behavior. My research focuses on the intricate relationships and dynamics between humans and the natural world, with the goal of re-evaluating and imagining new possibilities amid the uncertainty and challenges of the Anthropocene.

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