Category Archives: Rin Tin Tin

The True Story of Rin Tin Tin

By Linda Cole

Rin Tin Tin is probably the most recognized and famous German Shepherd dog of all time. In the 112 year history of the breed, his bloodline is the oldest continuous line and has remained relatively unchanged over the years. Had it not been for a corporal in the United States Army during WW I, Rin Tin Tin most likely would have perished in France.

Rin Tin Tin was just five days old when he and his four siblings were found in a bombed out dog kennel outside of Lorraine, France. It was September 15, 1918; Corporal Lee Duncan and his battalion were walking through the area when he noticed the damaged dog kennel and convinced the others they should check it out. They found five pups and their mom alive in the kennel. They had survived an aerial bomb drop. Duncan picked a male and female from the litter. The three other pups and mom, Betty, were taken back to camp by the other soldiers, but sadly none of them survived.

Duncan named his pups Rin Tin Tin and Nannette after small French puppets called Rintintin and Nenette that were given to the soldiers by French children for good luck. Corporal Duncan was impressed with how the German war dogs performed, so he started working with Rin Tin Tin and Nannette to train them to perform just like the dogs he had seen. The German Kennel Master in charge of the kennel where the dogs were found had been captured by the Americans. Duncan went to visit him in the prison camp so he could learn more about the German Shepherd breed and Betty and her pups.

After the war, Duncan made arrangements to have his pups sail home with him aboard a ship on a 15 day trip to New York. During the voyage, Nanette came down with distemper. By the time the ship sailed into New York harbor, she was very sick and died before he could get her proper care. Duncan went on to his home in Los Angeles with Rin Tin Tin, the only survivor from the bombed out kennel.

1928 movie ad

Rin Tin Tin began his movie career in 1922. While at an unsanctioned Shepherd Dog Club of America show, he wowed the crowd with his ability to jump a fence 11 feet 9 inches. A man named Charles Jones paid Duncan $350 to shoot Rin Tin Tin in action with a new moving picture camera and afterwards, Duncan decided to pursue a movie career for his dog. Duncan knew his dog was talented. Convincing Hollywood, however, turned out to be challenging.

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