Underdog was a great show because it had humor in the same vein of Rocky & Bullwinkle, but also because it featured such great characters. Mild mannered Shoeshine Boy became the mighty Underdog, who had to deal with bizarre villains and strange plots. The whole thing was full of humor that was both dark and somehow kind of wholesome at the same time, and Underdog was a cartoon dog that the nerds, wimps and wallflowers among us could relate to. Underdog was a great Superman parody, but also worked very well in its own right, and was a delight for dog lovers and comic books fans alike. It also helped that the show was hilarious and had a great theme song.
This little guy comes from Rocko’s Modern Life, an early-to-mid 90s series about a wallaby, his best friend (a portly steer) and his dog. The show was extremely surreal and sometimes kind of grotesque, but it always had genuine warmth to it that many similar shows lacked. Spunky sort of acted as an anchor to the strange things that happened to his owner by reacting to them exactly how a real dog would. He often chewed up expensive items, ate disgusting things and dug holes in the yard—but at the end of the day, he was still the light of Rocko’s life. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Barnyard Dawg was the mouthy, mischievous Southern rooster Foghorn Leghorn’s primary nemesis in the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoons. Their rivalry was a never ending series of painful, dangerous and sometimes deadly pranks—but Barnyard Dawg always looked like the more sensible one of the two. He dealt with boxing bantams, diminutive hawks and nerdy chicks (all of whom probably tried to kill him at some point) with the practiced stoicism and stubborn practicality of a 1950s dad. He was a perfect foil to the loudmouthed Foghorn Leghorn and a delight to watch.
Santa’s Little Helper
The Simpsons are a television institution, and Santa’s Little Helper is their family dog—he had to be on this list. This friendly Greyhound often serves as the real emotional core of any episode he’s featured in, which only adds to the TV program’s irreverent brand of humor. His exploits (such as becoming a police dog or a Duff Beer mascot) are often based on real life events, which just opens up another avenue for laughs. Above everything else, SLH is just a regular dog in a crazy, crazy world.
As a kid, I was briefly obsessed with Inspector Gadget. The bumbling detective had a cybernetic body full of cool tools and equipment, but he could never solve a case without his niece and her dog. Brain, the dog of the hour, often bailed Penny and Gadget out of trouble and was the real hero of the show. Though Penny was no slouch in the crime solving department either, Brain’s courage, practicality and tenacity always won the day. He was a master of disguise and had all sorts of cool gear built into his collar. I also always related to his grouchy demeanor.
Krypto the Superdog
Krypto was born in DC comics, but made his debut in television in 2006. Though I’ve only seen an episode or two of that show, I’ve loved Krypto since childhood. What’s not to love about a friendly, white dog that has all of Superman’s powers and abilities? He also hangs out with a human family, shares his Krptonian best friend’s weakness to Kryptonite and works alongside Ace the Bathound.
Krypto represents the goofier side of superhero comics, but he’s a great character that reminds us of why we love dogs in the first place.
This list wouldn’t be complete without the Jetson family’s dog, the clutzy and simple-minded Astro. Astro was extremely loyal and spoke the same “r”-heavy English as Scooby-Doo. Astro was truly the dog of the future, and was accustomed to all of the luxuries that a space age life could provide him. He was a best friend to Elroy, and although he annoyed George to no end, he was a steadfast companion to the family’s patriarch. Really, some of the best slapstick gags in the show were centered on Astro, and his strange manner of speaking is still memorable to this day. He also appears in a Kanye West video.
The faithful French Bulldog companion of Jonny Quest, Bandit got his name from the black marks around his eyes, which resemble a robber’s mask. More than any other dog on this list, Bandit was often faced with real danger and remained brave during the most daring spy escapades. Bandit is also the only dog on this list that starred in a relatively realistic, action-oriented television series, which in itself is rare for cartoon dogs. Bandit reminds us of why we, as humans, picked dogs for our companions in the first place—they are tough, loyal, brave and capable of facing even the most dangerous situations with a wagging tail.
Scooby-Doo, the cowardly Great Dane detective, is the center of a gigantic media empire. Since 1969, Scooby has melted our hearts with his supernatural exploits, love of sandwiches and fearful nature. He proves that large dogs are not all fierce and courageous, and that some of them are just big softies. This list could not be complete without this kindhearted cartoon dog, as he’s likely the first one that came to your mind when you saw the article’s title. He’s a household name and a pop culture icon for both kids and adults.
Hong Kong Phooey
Hong Kong Phooey is another dog with a humble alter ego, Penry the police station janitor, who becomes a Number One Super Guy whenever there’s trouble. This 1974 TV show shares elements with both Underdog and Inspector Gadget—the hero is a superdog in disguise, but he’s also clumsy, bumbling and a few doctorates short of a super genius. His sidekick and friend, a cat named Spot, usually ends up saving the day. Hong Kong Phooey’s trusty Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu never failed to get laughs from me and the show’s whole casual attitude toward Kung Fu movies, superheroes, spy movies and animal comedy made me a fan for life. Hong Kong Phooey epitomizes the loveable screw-up, which might describe plenty of dogs in our own lives.