The most-watched movie ever and one of the most well-known films across the world, The Wizard of Oz is a beloved classic with a timeless story, unforgettable music, and iconic characters. From Dorothy’s famed ruby slippers to her journey over the rainbow and down the yellow brick road, this film has become a permanent fixture in popular culture. Of course, one of the most beloved and memorable characters in The Wizard of Oz is Dorothy’s loyal canine companion, Toto. Despite his small size and seemingly unassuming character, Toto plays a pivotal role in the film’s story. But what kind of dog is Toto from The Wizard of Oz?
Who Is Toto?
The beloved character of Toto originally came from L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In both the novel and the film, Toto is a loyal companion to Dorothy. Despite his small size, Toto is a powerful driving force behind the plot of the book and the film. Toto defends Dorothy against the disagreeable Almira Gulch, and then courageously escapes her clutches when she tries to take him to the sheriff to be euthanized. He also fearlessly faces the Wicked Witch of the West and helps to foil her plans to harm Dorothy and her friends. He even helps to unmask the powerful wizard in Oz!
In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum never specifically names what dog breed Toto is. The author describes him as a little black dog with small, twinkling eyes. The original illustrator of the book, W. W. Denslow, drew the dog as a type of small black terrier. When Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM Studios) wanted to adapt Baum’s novel into a Hollywood film they began looking for a canine actor who matched the book’s description and illustrations.
What Kind of Dog Is Toto from the Wizard of Oz?
The canine actor chosen to portray Toto in The Wizard of Oz was a cairn terrier named Terry. Cairn terriers are small but feisty dogs that have likely been around since at least the 16th century. The breed originated on the Isle of Sky in the Scottish Highlands. It is related to the West Highland white terrier.
Cairn terriers have surprisingly large front feet that are actually bigger than their back feet. This helps them to dig and root out animals from hiding places, especially those hiding in and around stacked piles of rocks, or cairns. These brave little terriers are well-known for their tenacity and determination in this task, as well as in just about everything else they do.
In fact, one story tells of a cairn terrier who was tasked with clearing otters out from the rock formations near the shore. The dog caught an otter in his teeth and refused to let go — even after the otter plunged into the sea! The dog’s owner dove into the water and found the tenacious terrier still clinging tightly to the otter. Whether or not the story is true, it certainly illustrates the unrelenting determination of this breed!
Appearance and Personality
Cairn terriers measure only 9 to 10 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 13 to 16 pounds. They come in just about every color except for white, with soft undercoats covered by shaggy, medium-length outer coats that are water-resistant. Cairn terriers have compact bodies, upright ears that stick up naturally, and relatively short legs.
In spite of their small size and adorably scruffy appearance, cairn terriers are highly energetic dogs and they require a lot of exercise. They were bred to chase foxes, otters, and other vermin, and they have a strong prey drive.
Some cairn terriers are also prone to digging or excessive barking, so they’re not a great choice if you’re looking for a quiet lap dog. However, these playful little pups still like to snuggle on occasion. They can make great companions for families who enjoy lots of play and brisk walks. Cairn terriers are also very intelligent and loyal, just like Toto in The Wizard of Oz.
The Canine Star Who Brought Toto to the Big Screen
In the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, Toto was portrayed by a little black, female cairn terrier named Terry. Terry was born on November 17, 1933, but unfortunately, she had trouble with potty training. Her original owners dumped her off at the home of Hollywood dog trainer Carl Spitz and never came back to claim her.
For the first few weeks, Terry was anxious and scared most of the time spending most of her time hiding away under Spitz’s bed. Because she was so shy and struggled with anxiety, Spitz and his wife planned to keep Terry as their own household pet. However, Terry eventually began to warm up and show that she was an incredibly smart little terrier. So, Spitz began bringing her with him to auditions at Paramount Studios.
Terry got her first role in the 1934 film, Ready For Love. That same year, she appeared in Bright Eyes alongside Shirley Temple. Even though Terry was featured in more than 15 films over the years, her name never appeared in the credits. In fact, the only movie she ever officially received credit for was The Wizard of Oz — and even then she was listed as “Toto” rather than Terry.
Becoming Toto in The Wizard of Oz
Terry was an incredible animal actor, and she even performed all her own stunts! Although tenacious, she was still quite a small dog, which also meant that she could be quite fragile. A few years after her Hollywood debut, Terry was on set for The Wizard of Oz and one of the Wicked Witch’s guards accidentally stepped on her foot! The injury led to a few weeks of rest and recuperation in the home of Judy Garland, who portrayed Dorothy in the film. The famous actress quickly fell in love with the little dog, and even offered to buy her once filming was done. However, Spitz refused to sell Terry. Turns out, the little dog was making $125 each week (around $2,700 in 2023), which was more than many of her human co-stars!
When The Wizard of Oz opened in 1939, Terry attended the premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The film was a hit with its innovative use of technicolor, musical and story elements, and very memorable characters. It became a favorite for both critics and casual viewers alike and was even nominated for six Academy Awards. The Wizard of Oz became so popular that a few years later Spitz officially changed Terry’s name to Toto. According to the Library of Congress, The Wizard of Oz is still the most-watched Hollywood film to this day!
Terry continued to act in several films throughout her lifetime. Her son Rommey also went on to become a Hollywood star as well. Terry passed away on September 1, 1945. Spitz had her buried at his Ranch in Studio City, Los Angeles. Unfortunately, in 1958 the grave was destroyed due to construction on the Ventura Freeway. However, a few decades later fans got together and created a fundraiser for a new memorial to honor the iconic pup. The Hollywood Forever Cemetery provided a special VIP plot, and the artist Roman Gale sculpted a life-sized statue. The memorial was dedicated on June 18, 2011. Even Baum’s great-grandson attended the service to pay his respects.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Marina Plevako/Shutterstock.com
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