Your heart will melt reading Peter Falk's sweet description of the first time he met Columbo's dog
"I didn’t know it was going to be that kind of dog.”
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Although Peter Falk worked tirelessly to create the qurkiest detective TV had ever seen, it wasn't until the second season of Columbo that the Emmy-winning actor's character was complete.
That's when viewers first met Columbo's dog in the season premiere episode, "Étude in Black," giving the audience a glimpse at the softer side of the bafflingly genius investigator who's so self-sufficient he often kept hard-boiled eggs in his rumpled trenchcoat pocket.
It happens in a scene where Peter Falk's famous character is unexpectedly shown not questioning a witness or investigating a suspect, but in a vet's office. Before him, we see a "million years old" Basset hound resting on the table, and after the vet confirms the dog's bill of health, Columbo explains he's just adopted the dog because the shelter said the dog was at the end of his life.
The whole episode continually dwells on Columbo getting to know this new companion, struggling to find the perfect name for this suddenly beloved beast, but in this first scene, the bond between detective and dog was sealed anyway, when he says to the vet, "Cute, isn't he?"
"Cute" was actually the very word that initially turned Falk off to welcoming a dog in Columbo's universe. The actor famously balked at the idea of the dog when the episode director Nicholas Colosanto (who famously played Coach on Cheers) first suggested it. In an interview with BBC Television in 1993, Falk recalled, "He said, ‘I think it would be great, the dog.' I thought he was talking about some cute dog and I thought it’d be too cute, you know? I said, ‘No, forget about it, Nick.’"
After that, nobody said a word to Falk again about the proposed pup. So when he showed up for a three-day shoot, he was surprised when Colosanto waved him over and said, "Come on over into this room here." Following the director, Falk described a moment when they got to a door and Colosanto stopped suddenly to warn the star, "You’re gonna see the dog."
Now, everybody knows that Falk was a very particular actor when it came to the character of Columbo, so it makes his completely organic reaction once the door flung open all the more precious:
"And there’s this dog. And he’s laid out, and he can hardly walk, he’s half dead, he’s a million years old, and he’s irresistible," Falk said in the interview. He went on, smiling big, and relenting that Colosanto's instincts were good. Falk said, "I mean, you fall in love with this thing. And I said, ‘Okay, all right.’ I didn’t know it was going to be that kind of dog.”
In "Étude in Black," the vet asks Columbo, "Say, how old is he?" and Columbo answers, "Kinda hard to say." Then Columbo asks the vet for advice on what to call the dog. The vet said, "There's a name I've always heard and I've never seen a dog that had it: Fido!" Columbo repeats uncertain, "Fido." Fans know the detective didn't end up going with the vet's unoriginal suggestion, though.
Later in the episode, Columbo gets an earful from a little girl who lectures him for leaving his dog in his car as unbeknownst to her, he was questioning suspects. "This happens to be my first dog," Columbo admits, accepting her advice to crack the window next time. When she naturally asks his name, Columbo tells her the dog still doesn't have one. "What do you think of Fido?" he asks. The girl is not impressed saying, "Oh wow, how'd you ever think of that one?" before walking away from the uncharacteristically clueless dog owner. The scene closes with Columbo hesitantly trying out a different dog name "Beethoven" (two decades before the St. Bernard would become a movie icon in 1992).
Then toward the end, we see Columbo back at the vet, where the dog gets his rabies shots and Columbo finds out his dog needs a license. "Cop'll arrest you if he finds him," the vet cautions the homicide detective. Columbo says, "All right," and the vet asks, "Did you name him yet?" Columbo responds, "No, I was thinking of watching him and giving him a name that fits what he did, but all he does is sleep and drool. This dog needs a name that will give him some stature."
That name ended up being simply Dog. And Falk ended up becoming incredibly attached to the original dog who played him. Falk said, "You know the thing about that dog is, most people don’t know that the first Dog was really old." He went on, "At the end of the first year, he died, so we had to get a new dog." The new dog actually was a rescue dog, completing the circle on the droopy character's TV legacy.