What Kind of Dog is Benji?



Published: 23 Aug 2022

Benji movie poster

You might remember Benji as the lovable dog in the 1974 film or the 2018 remake. His long brown coat, those adorable large brown eyes, and his charm on the big screen have never failed to make the hearts of people flutter. However, nobody can get an accurate guess on what breed Benji the dog is. Some people mistake Benji for a Basenji, the barkless dog. However, the only thing in common between Benji and a Basenji is the similarities in their names.

In the movie Benji, Benji is a stray dog who lives alone but is loved by the townsfolk. He is especially fond of Dr. Chapman’s children, Cindy and Paul. Dr. Chapman, however, is fearful of Benji carrying dangerous diseases, which made it difficult for Cindy, Paul, and their nanny Mary to openly care for him.

When a group of bad men kidnaps the children for ransom, Benji and his girlfriend, Tiffany, come to the rescue. This makes Dr. Chapman care for the two dogs and adopts them in the end.

Benji’s dog breed has become a popular conversation between dinner tables since the original film’s release. Like you, we’ve also gone through different theories on what type of dog Benji is. You’re probably reading this because you’ve grown tired of guessing as well. You never have to debate with your friends and family again, because we’ve found the truth about Benji’s breed.

Image from Netflix
Table of Contents

A Stray Dog of Mixed Breed

There’s no clear answer to what kind of dog was Benji. This is because he never had a specific breed, to begin with. A stray dog is almost always a mixed breed. The same can be said for Benji the dog from the movie and the dogs who portrayed Benji in the movies. What we do know is that Benji is called a mixed-breed mutt.

Joe Camp, the creator of Benji, does mention that he was a mix of a Tibetan Terrier and a Spaniel. It’s unclear whether Joe Camp was referring to the character or the original dog actor, Higgins the Dog.

In the movie, Benji is a stray dog. His mixed-breed lineage was accurate in the film as most strays have no clear breed. What we do know is that Benji is lovable, friendly, and kind in terms of personality. This can be a clue to a part of his DNA since there are dogs known to be more affectionate than other dogs. He also had long brown fur, which can be traced to specific dogs as well. However, being a mixed breed means that Benji has no major breed mixed in him.

Since he has no actual breed, you could say Benji was one of a kind. After the death of the original dog actor for Benji, the character was portrayed by several other dogs such as Benjean, Higgins’ daughter, Moochie, Odola, Sally, and Sue. A fun fact about this is that only Higgins the Dog was the male actor for the role of Benji.

Higgins the Dog

It’s only natural that we focus on the original Benji when it comes to knowing Benji’s breed. Higgins the Dog was from the Burbank Animal Shelter. Frank Inn, a highly successful animal trainer, took Higgins from the shelter and raised him. This was Higgins’ lucky break. Not just because he found a new home to be cherished, but also because Frank Inn was a famous animal trainer in Hollywood. Frank Inn taught animals to act on screen and Higgins the Dog was one of his most successful talents.

Frank Inn believes that Higgins the Dog is 100 percent a mutt with a mixture of a schnauzer, a poodle, and a cocker spaniel. Meanwhile, the Burbank Animal Shelter believed he was a border terrier. Adding Joe Camp’s theories of Higgins being a mixture of Tibetan Terrier and Spaniel, it’s only natural that people still don’t know what breed Higgins or Benji was.

Higgins the Dog was known for his breakout role in Petticoat Junction. It was also the reason he was hired to become Benji in Benji. In both roles, Higgins the Dog and Edgar Buchanan were lovingly attached. Buchanan was even able to teach Higgins the Dog a specific trick that they used for Benji. 

Higgins the Dog went on to have a litter of puppies. His most notable offsprings are Benjean and Mac. Benjean replaced Higgins the Dog after he died. There were some differences between Higgins the Dog and his daughter, but they were similar enough for even the editors of the cover of Benji to confuse the two. Meanwhile, Mac was able to land a role as Tramp in the TV series My Three Sons.

Benji’s Other Films

Now that we know about Benji’s dog breed. Why don’t we learn more about the movies that centered on him and the dog actors who played him after Higgins the Dog? Listed below are three movies that continued after Benji.

For the Love of Benji

After the events of Benji, Higgins the Dog dies a year later. His daughter, Benjean, takes up the role of Benji in For the Love of Benji in 1977. Most people won’t notice the difference between Benjean and Benji. If you compare the two films, however, you will notice that Benjean has a grey patch of hair while Higgins the Dog does not. Higgins the Dog and his daughter also have different barks. Higgins the Dog’s bark was rough and low while his daughter’s was like a yelp.

In For the Love of Benji, the Chapmans are on a flight to Greece with Tiffany and Benji. Cindy and Paul express concern for their beloved pets, worrying that they will be separated during the flight. While Benji is being placed on the conveyor belt, the villainous Dietrich drugs Benji and places a code within Benji’s paw.

Chaos ensues when Benji and Tiffany become lost in the Athens airport. Benji manages to escape from his cage and is taken in by a British couple named Ronald and Elizabeth to their home. Benji manages to escape the couple and returns to becoming a stray dog. He even befriends another stray living in ancient ruins.

Eventually, Benji reunites with the Chapmans after Dietrich is caught by an agent named Stelios. It turns out that the map imprinted on Benji were coordinates for a meeting place with a German scientist who discovered how to multiply oil barrels.  The ending features Benji spending time with the Chapmans on the beach. Tiffany is once again shown on the screen. However, she is now with her new set of puppies fathered by Benji.

Benji the Hunted

In comparison to For the Love of Benji and Benji, the movie centers on Benji being aware that he is a movie actor. This movie also features Frank Inn, Higgins the Dog and Benjean’s actual owner. A massive search is deployed when Benji goes missing after he and Frank’s boat capsizes while fishing. Benji awakens to find a female cougar shot nearby. Unfortunately, the female cougar had orphaned cubs. Benji takes them under his wing and tries to feed them by stealing food from a nearby hunter.

In the movie, Benji has to face off dangerous predators such as a black wolf, a large bear, and another female cougar with cubs. Throughout the running time, a large helicopter flies around searching for Benji. Frank Inn even spots Benji and tries to take him home. However, Benji first ensures that the three cubs are safely adopted by the female cougar and her other cubs. To do this, Benji tricks the dangerous black wolf into falling off a cliff.

Benjean was really young when she starred in the role of Benji for For the Love of Benji. As a result, she was able to reprise her role in Benji the Hunted as well. Following the release of Benji the Hunted, many lawsuits occurred. Vestron Video sued Buena Vista Home Video, Embark Productions and Releasing, Benji/Tracker, Disney, and Airline Containers with different claims. A few years after the lawsuits were concluded, Mulberry Square Productions sued Vestron Video for breach of contract.

Roger Ebert praised the film on the TV show Siskel & Ebert & The Movies, where Siskel stated that he favors Benji the Hunted more than Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Ebert insisted that he judged both films fairly.

Benji: Off the Leash!

In 2004, Benji: Off the Leash! Was released to the public. It was Moochie’s turn to shine. Moochie was a stray dog with a similar background to her character in the film. In the story, producers are searching for the next Benji to star in their film. Hatchett, a villainous dog breeder, abuses his dogs and his family. He constantly forces his primary breeder, Daisy, to give birth. Hatchett’s son, Colby, cares for Daisy without Hatchett’s knowledge.

Unfortunately, Colby is caught taking care of Daisy. Hatchett takes away Daisy and her pups but abandons the fluffy light-colored puppy from Daisy’s newborns. The fluffy dog befriends another stray called Lizard Tongue. After managing to get Lizard Tongue a new home, the pair rescue Daisy from Hatchett’s evil clutches.

Daisy is given life-saving surgery and is spayed. Hatchett is furious but finds out that the puppy he abandoned has become the producers’ choice as the new Benji. Hatchett insists that Colby lie to the producers about Benji’s experiences under Hatchett. However, Colby bravely tells the truth and is given a new life with the producers.

The end of the film further promotes the whole idea of Benj. They do so by showing the animal shelters they used in the film, telling people that adopting dogs is better than getting them from inhumane animal breeders.

Benji (2018)

Benji returns to the big screen in the 2018 remake. Joe Camp’s son, Brandon Camp, produced the remake with Blumhouse Pictures. The story follows the original 1974 version. It was released theatrically in China with a gross of $585,333. Netflix streams the film internationally.

Like the original, Benji is a stray living in an abandoned house. He is warmly welcomed by all the people in his neighborhood. However, he is particularly fond of the Hughes family. When villainous people attempt to kidnap the Hughes children, Benji comes to the rescue and saves them by leading everyone to the location of the children. The movie ends with Benji becoming an official member of the Hughes family.

Unlike the original, however, Benji has changed the Chapman family into the Hughes family. Additionally, there is no longer a character named Mary, who was the nanny in the original. The father, Dr. Chapman, has also been removed. They were replaced by Whitney Hughes, a working mother to Carter and Frankie Hughes.

Other Appearances

Benji also cameoed in several movies and TV shows. After Benji, he appeared in a brief cameo in the 1976 movie Hawmps!, which was about the United States Cavalry introducing camels as a substitute for horses. He also appeared in The Double McGuffin, a mystery film by Joe Camp. Benji also starred in Oh! Heavenly Dog. However, it’s actually him portraying the dog, Benjamin Browning.

Benji appeared on television a total of four times. He first appeared in Benji’s Very Own Christmas Story, a TV special aired during Christmas that was nominated for an Emmy. He then appeared in two TV shorts called Benji at Work (1980) and Benji Takes a Dive at Marineland (1981).

Benji was also on a TV series called Benji, Zax, & the Alien Prince in 1983 under Hanna-Barbera and Mulberry Square for CBS. It had a total of 13 episodes and was repeatedly aired throughout the 1980s, garnering financial success. There are also two documentaries about him: Benji’s Life Story (1976) and The Phenomenon of Benji (1978).

Benji’s Possible Mixed Breeds

Since Benji is a mixed-breed mutt, it’s impossible to single out a breed that resembles him the most. However, there are breeds that have a large contribution to Benji’s physical appearance and personality. The Tibetan Terrier, the Cocker Spaniel, the Schnauzer, the Miniature Poodle, and the Border Terrier are the ones his family and co-workers often mentioned. Listed below are the breeds and their similarities to Higgins the Dog’s appearance and Benji’s personality.

Tibetan Terrier

Tibetan Terrier
Image from Pixabay

The Tibetan Terrier is one of the most commonly mentioned breeds for Benji. The Tibetan Terrier, also known as the Holy Dog of Tibet, has been watching over Buddhist monasteries for centuries. The breed is known to be highly intelligent, friendly, and sensitive. Many people confuse the Tibetan Terrier for its smaller relative, the Lhasa Apso. However, Tibetan Terriers are larger than the Lhasa Apso. Tibetan Terriers also have a squarer stance in comparison to their cousin breed.

It’s no surprise that many confuse Benji for a Tibetan Terrier. You can find purebred Tibetan Terriers with similar fur color patterns as Higgins the Dog! Tibetan Terriers are extremely healthy dogs with little to no complications. They have large paw pads that are used to help them walk around the steep mountains that Tibet has.

You don’t have to live in the mountains to own a Tibetan Terrier. This is because Tibetan Terriers are known to easily adapt to different places, even small apartments. Tibetan Terriers are extremely energetic and require large amounts of activities to shed off the energy they have stored inside them.

If you’re planning to own a Tibetan Terrier and have kids, there shouldn’t be a problem. Tibetan Terriers, like Benji, are extremely fond of children. However, you should be mindful of some shedding from their furs and the constant grooming that a Tibetan Terrier needs.

Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Spaniel
Image from Pixabay

It is also theorized that Benji is part Cocker Spaniel. A Cocker Spaniel is a breed of Spaniels that are the smallest in the Sporting Group. Just like Benji, Cocker Spaniels are average in speed but have impressive endurance. They’re also both happy, friendly, and energetic. Animal breeders recommend Cocker Spaniels as great companions for children and athletes. This is because Cocker Spaniels require a large amount of running in their daily activities.

Cocker Spaniels were bred as hunting dogs. However, their large black eyes and soft ears made them too irresistible to civilians. The United Kingdom originally bred them to hunt the Eurasian Woodcock. The Eurasian Woodcock was also the reason why they were named Cocker Spaniels.

There are two types of Cocker Spaniels. The first one is the English Cocker Spaniel which originated in the United Kingdom. The second one is the American Cocker Spaniel, which was bred to hunt American Woodcocks instead. Whether Benji had an American Cocker Spaniel or an English Cocker Spaniel blood in him is up to debate.

American Cocker Spaniels were only considered a different breed from the English Cocker Spaniels in the 1970s. Coincidentally, at the same time, Benji was released.

Miniature Schnauzer

Miniature Schnauzer
Image from Pixabay

There are three Schnauzer breeds: the miniature, the standard, and the large. Benji is associated with the Miniature Schnauzer. Miniature Schnauzers have little health complications, live long, and don’t shed as much despite having long hair. They’re small, making it easy for anyone to lift them up. However, just like Benji, they’re extroverted in nature. Miniature Schnauzers have wiry-like coats with dark colors. They’re also easily trainable just like Higgins the Dog.

Miniature Schnauzers are also known to be courageous without being violent. This type of personality can be seen with Benji in all the movies he’s in. An example would be stealing quail eggs for the cougar cubs rather than killing a rabbit in Benji the Hunted. Another unique personality trait of Miniature Schnauzers is that they can tolerate being alone. However, neglect is never understandable. It’s important to keep an eye on your Miniature Schnauzer’s weight. This is because the breed is known to gain more weight than other dog breeds.

Just like Benji, Miniature Schnauzers are protective and make good guard dogs for children. They don’t look exactly like Benji, especially with the fur, but their bread-like features are strikingly similar.

Miniature Schnauzers were first bred in Germany during the 19th century. They were produced through crossbreeding Standard Schnauzers, Poodles, and Affenpinschers. The first recorded Miniature Schnauzer was the female Findel from 1888, who had black fur.

Miniature Poodle

Miniature Poodle: Benji
Image from Pixabay

We can understand why people thought Higgins the Dog had Miniature Poodle blood in him. This is because Miniature Poodles can also have the same color as his hair and have the same eyes as Higgins the Dog.

Miniature Poodles, just like the Miniature Schnauzer, are the smallest of their breeds. They’re smart, affectionate, and athletic dogs that are also hypoallergenic and rarely smell bad. Unfortunately, Miniature Poodles receive more attention than other dogs. This is because of their fur. Miniature poodles have curly fur that rarely shed off, making them recommended pets for those with allergies. However, Miniature Poodles still need constant grooming for their fur. Especially since the fur can matte and hurt the pet if left uncared for.

Buying a Miniature Poodle would amount to $900 with it doubling if you want it to have an impressive pedigree. They can live in small houses as long as they’re given daily walks. However, it is recommended that they have a backyard to play in. It’s important to note that Miniature Poodles can develop anxiety. This means that meeting different people every day will make it difficult for your pet to relax. Unlike Benji, Miniature Poodles find comfort in familiar situations and need to be properly introduced to other pets or family members.

Miniature Poodles were bred in France. This is because the aristocrats of France adored them. By the 1800s, the breed was perfected and was recognized by American Kennel Club.

Border Terrier

Border Terrier: Benji
Image from Pixabay

The last of Benji’s possible DNA could come from the Border Terrier. Higgins the Dog was cherished by the Burbank Animal Shelter. They listed him down as a Border Terrier because of Higgins the Dog’s physical appearance and personality.

Higgins the Dog’s fur colors are extremely identical to a Border Terrier’s. His nose and eyes are also similar to the breed. However, Higgins the Dog had his hair grown longer than a Border Terrier’s usual hairstyle. In terms of personality, Benji also had the Border Terrier’s tough but affectionate nature.

Border Terriers were called the Border Terrier by the late 1880s. This is because Border Terriers accompanied hunters in the Border Hunt, Northumberland. By the 1920s, Border Terriers were recognized with The Moss Trooper, a Border Terrier, being the first registered in the Kennel Club.

Benji and Border Terriers have strong willpower and are incredibly fast. Benji is an incredibly fast dog as seen in For the Love of Benji and Benji: Off the Leash! Border Terriers are also adaptable as long as they can exercise with long runs or playtime with children. Additionally, this purebred dog can still be found in animal shelters. This is probably why the Burbank Animal Shelter consider Higgins the Dog as a Border Terrier.


We hope you learned a thing or two about Benji the dog, the canine actors that portrayed him, and the possible breeds that Benji’s actors might have been. Higgins the Dog didn’t have a specific breed. In fact, he was a stray puppy that was taken care of in an animal shelter. Regardless of his background, Higgins the Dog succeeded in life. He found a father in Frank Inn, a great friend in Edgar Buchanan, a boss in Joe Camp, and has been stealing the hearts of many children since the 1970s.

Pets are only with us for a limited amount of time and Benji taught us to learn to care and love for our pets while they are still around. You can’t find an exact copy of Higgins the Dog but you can adopt a similar one.

There’s a silver lining in finding a dog that looks similar to Higgins the Dog. The Benji remake had a crew searching for a dog all across animal shelters. In three months, they found Moochie, who looks extremely similar to Higgins the Dog. You can try your luck at some animal shelters to find one similar to Higgins the Dog. Even better, find a connection with one of the strays.

The whole message of Benji is adopting changes not just your dog’s life but yours as well! Higgins the Dog’s own life story resembled Benji’s. So who’s to say that another Higgins the Dog isn’t out there waiting for you?